Breaking news out of Augusta: Dustin Johnson has withdrawn from the 2012 Masters, meaning we’ll have to wait at least one more year for Johnson to complete the “Buckle Slam” a feat previously accomplished by only Greg Norman. Hopefully’s DJ’s back will recover in time for him to shoot 78 on a Sunday at a Major later in the year.
The biggest news on Tuesday at the Masters, barely edging the traditional Tiger/Fred practice round, is the announcement of the pairings. Wednesday is Par-3 Day, but today is the best day to digest the field and begin speculating. Here’s a complete list of the pairings. I’m not going to share them all, because honestly, you should be spending a decent part of your afternoon at the Masters website all week. The Green Jackets showed some restraint this year. I don’t see one epic threesome in the whole lot. If they put two big names together, they really showed threw in a random with the third. For a brief moment Sunday evening, I had visions of Tiger/Phil/Rory, but I guess the committee is hoping some version of that plays out over the weekend. Some groups…
8:45 AM: Adam Scott, Bo Van Pelt, Martin Kaymer. The 1st group of legitimate contenders of the day. A lot of people like Van Pelt as a sleeper, Scott had a chance to win last year, and Kaymer has never come close to figuring out Augusta National.
8:56 AM: Steve Stricker, Stewart Cink, Paddy Harrington. The most boring pairing of all-time.
9:18 AM: Jason Day, Bill Haas, Kyle Stanley. A lot of people like Stanley to eventually win a Masters with his length and work ethic. Jason Day nearly won last year, but hasn’t been on his best form since the Presidents Cup.
10:24 AM: Charl Schwartzel, Keegan Bradley, Kelly Kraft (A). The defending champion in the traditional pairing with the U.S. Amateur Champion and they’re joined by Keegan Bradley making his Augusta debut. Experts love the potential of Bradley’s towering ball flight at Augusta. Schwartzel still has the flawless swing, but not the results since last year’s Masters.
10:35 AM: Tiger Woods, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Sang Moon Bae. There’s going to be way too much “Mechanic” on my TV on Friday afternoon.
10:46 AM: Luke Donald, F. Molinari, Nick Watney. The world number one needs a good result in a major. Perhaps no one has ascended to #1 with a poorer record in the majors than Luke Donald. Nick Watney has been a disappointment so far this year, but seems to have a good knack for Augusta.
12:58 PM: Lee Westwood, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk. A feature pairing from 2001. Lee Westwood running out of chances to avoid being Colin Montgomerie Part II.
1:42 PM: Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Angel Cabrera. Perhaps the best group of the day. Three distinct styles will be fun to watch. Bubba’s GIR rate should serve him well at Augusta, but he’s yet to completely figure it out, Rory has to return to the site of last year’s implosion with the added pressure of being a co-favorite.
1:53 PM: Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, Peter Hanson. Last group going. Real nice pairing for Mickelson who likes to go late on day one. He gets buddy and last week’s winner Mahan to tag along the first two days. If those two can feed off each other, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them paired again late on Saturday.
Ok, that’s a quick look at the field. Now some random stuff before getting to the big news, the definitive and jinx-laden Top-10.
1. The course is being described as “lush.” There’s some chance for rain Thursday/Friday and then the air is supposed to dry out. I’d expect low scores to start and then a leveling off for the weekend. Also, because of the warm spring, the azaleas have already bloomed. Bummer.
2. The Original Big-3 (Nicklaus/Palmer/Player) kick off the tournament with a ceremonial tee-ball. The new Big-3 (Tiger/Phil/Rory) are runaway favorites to win this event. Tiger is 5:1, Rory 6:1, and Phil 12:1. Phil is clearly the best bet there. Biggest long shot in the field? Ben Crenshaw is 5,000:1. The question about all this hype surrounding Tiger, Phil and Rory is, what if they all flame out? Will this be the most disappointing Masters ever? I think it has that potential. Endings like the one last year can be great, but that’s not what the public wants this time around.
3. Speaking of last year’s ending, it was another close call for the Australians. The Aussies have a particularly tortured history at this event, thanks in large part to Greg Norman. Last year a breakthrough looked inevitable until Schwartzel birdied the last four holes. Could the streak end this year? Adam Scott is probably the best bet, but he hardly has the reputation as a closer. I think the drought lasts at least another year.
4. I like Hideki Matsuyama to repeat as low amateur. A lot of attention will be on Kraft and Patrick Cantlay, but Matsuyama finished 27th last year and is already a winner on the Japanese tour. He won a 2nd consecutive Asian Amateur to make the field and could once again out-perform Ryo Ishikawa. Ishikawa had the flair and hype, but Matsuyama looks like the better bet long-term.
- Low Lefty: Phil Mickelson
- Low American Under 30: Keegan Bradley
- High American Under 30: Rickie Fowler
- Low Euro: Lee Westwood
- High Euro Under 50: Darren Clarke
- Low Score For the Week: 65.
- High Score For the Week: 83.
- Will There Be A Hole-in-One on 16: YES!
- Will There Be a Playoff: NO!
- Will Jim Nantz Make an Easter Pun: YES!
Ok, enough of that. Let’s get down to brass tacks. Here’s a shot in the dark at the Top-10:
- Phil Mickelson (-11)
- Lee Westwood (-9)
- Justin Rose (-7)
- Tiger Woods (-7)
- Robert Karlsson (-6)
- Keegan Bradley (-6)
- Rory McIlroy (-5)
- Robert Garrigus (-5)
- Sergio Garcia(-4)
- Bo Van Pelt (-4)