Monday, April 2, 2012

2012 Masters preview

By Mr. Flatstick


The 2012 Masters is upon us and the dominant theme is evident. Transcendent superstar Rory McIlroy looks to challenge Tiger Woods for the right to be called The Best Player Alive. Rory’s 2012 campaign has been sublime with three top-3 finishes in three PGA Tour events, along with a number of top 5 finishes worldwide. For the first time since 2009, Tiger Woods won a PGA Tour event with a new swing, a new putting style and some renewed mojo. All the while, three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson has looked formidable with a gripping beat-down of Woods at Pebble Beach earlier this season to prove he cannot be ignored.

My winner prediction is based off a dream scenario – that two or more of these elite players battle on Sunday. Either Tiger or Phil would have to be considered the favorite in a duel vs. Rory. They’ve both proven they can close in these cases. Rory is a great front runner but hasn’t shown he can cope with Sunday stress in a tight major championship. Neither does he have many overall professional victories. This is not to denigrate his 2011 US Open title, but that was a landslide sans any gritty Sunday drama. However I do feel he’d learn his lesson and be able to apply his schooling promptly. Tiger owns a PhD in psychological warfare and Phil is the crowd favorite among the Augusta patrons.

If the battle was Tiger vs. Phil, I’d take Tiger only if he was leading going into the day. Despite some near misses, his major championships have been earned while leading after 54 holes. The foolhardy choice would be to presume he’d change this trend 15 years into his career. If they were tied, I’d go with Woods simply because of his recent form. Just note that nothing elevates Phil’s game like a chance to thwart his nemesis.

Throughout its history, The Masters has been seen the dominant world players own the majority of its titles. But there are plenty of instances where a professional can win the tournament with a world-class display of ball-striking and putting – resume be damned. When Tiger was winning at Bay Hill two weeks ago, NBC displayed a graphic that said 78 different professionals had won a PGA event since Tiger’s last win in the fall of 2009. That illustrates how many capable professionals exist with the ability to not just compete - but to defeat these global fields of the best golfers alive.

When ranking the 2012 Masters Field, I weighed several criteria. These include OWGR (Official World Golf Ranking), 2012 OWGR points earned, career performance, ability to contend deep into majors and my personal thoughts about the respective professional’s game and its relationship to Augusta National. OWGR rates players over two years so it cannot be solely used. Also, major championship golf exposes any player with a flaw in his game.

The National is a long course with damning greens that penalize the mundane ball-striker. Length off the tee helps as the long player (by tour standards) can reach all the par five holes in two shots, thus turning the course into a par 68. Further, the greens will severely punish iron shots left above the hole so distance control is a necessity.

The course’s primary defense has always been wind – and as of tonight, there is little wind forecasted. Therefore I expect overall scores to be low, with the winner being very low (I’d say -16 winner this week). Only a player that can dominate a world class course & field has a chance to win this week. There is some rain forecast but the unparalleled agronomy at Augusta should render that inconsequential, with perhaps a mild advantage to the longer player. Shaky putters need not apply. They may post a top 20 but they’d need an elite week of ball-striking to contend.

As for the field, any player who’s won in 2012 should be considered game. While players in their first-year at Augusta often struggle, there are a number of them in fine form and shouldn’t be dismissed this year – especially reigning PGA champion Keegan Bradley. My darkhorse selections are Geoff Oglivy and Paul Lawrie.

Please listen to FDH Lounge Mini-Episode #107 with Rick Morris and myself for more info and feel free to tweet at me or email for any help in your 2012 Masters pools. Good luck.

Know the Field…

Prior Masters Champions

Tiger Woods (4 wins) Phil Mickelson (3)

Charl Schwartzel Zach Johnson

Fred Couples Vijay Singh

Angel Cabrera Trevor Immelman

Tom Watson (2) Mike Weir

Ian Woosnam Bernhard Langer (2)

Mark O'Meara Jose Maria Olazabal (2)

Sandy Lyle Craig Stadler

Larry Mize Ben Crenshaw (2)

Returning Pros

Aaron Baddeley Thomas Bjorn Jonathan Byrd

Paul Casey K.J. Choi Tim Clark

Ben Crane Jason Day Jason Dufner

Simon Dyson Ross Fisher Rickie Fowler

Sergio Garcia Anders Hansen Peter Hanson

Charles Howell III Ryo Ishikawa Fredrik Jacobson

Miguel Angel Jimenez Dustin Johnson Robert Karlsson

Kyung-Tae Kim Matt Kuchar Martin Laird

Edoardo Molinari Francesco Molinari Kevin Na

Sean O'Hair Ryan Palmer Ian Poulter

Alvaro Quiros Chez Reavie Rory Sabbatini

Adam Scott John Senden Scott Stallings

Henrik Stenson Bo Van Pelt Scott Verplank

Nick Watney Bubba Watson Lee Westwood

Gary Woodland

1st Time Pro Invitees

Sang-moon Bae Keegan Bradley

Kevin Chappell Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano

Harrison Frazar Robert Garrigus

Webb Simpson Kyle Stanley

Brendan Steele

NOTE: No player since 1979 (Fuzzy Zoeller) has won the Masters in their 1st attempt. However, due to course knowledge shared by peers and that today’s pros have more income & ability to test the course throughout the year, I feel we’ll see this trend thwarted in the near future. Course knowledge does represent a significant obstacle – but remember each year on Tour several young pros do win on courses they haven’t played.

Amateurs Title Amateur Ranking

Patrick Cantlay US Amateur Runner-Up #1 ranked amateur in the world

Hideki Matsuyama Asian-Am Champion #4 (2ND Masters, 2010 Low-Am)

Corbin Mills Public Links Champion #5

Kelly Kraft US Amateur Champion #7

Bryden Macpherson British Am Champion #50

Randal Lewis Mid-Am Champion #400 approx

2012 Tour Winners

Louis Oosthuizen (Euro Tour) Steve Stricker

Mark Wilson Johnson Wagner

Brandt Snedeker Kyle Stanley

Paul Lawrie (Euro Tour) Phil Mickelson

Bill Haas *Hunter Mahan (two 2012 wins)

Rory McIlroy Justin Rose

Luke Donald Tiger Woods

2012 Invitees With Other Major Championship Victories

Keegan Bradley 2011 PGA

Darren Clarke 2011 Open

Rory McIlroy 2011 US Open

Martin Kaymer 2010 PGA

Louis Oosthuizen 2010 Open

Graeme McDowell 2010 US Open

Y.E. Yang 2009 PGA

Stewart Cink 2009 Open

Lucas Glover 2009 US Open

Padraig Harrington NUMEROUS (2009 Open most recent)

Tiger Woods NUMEROUS (2008 US Open)

Angel Cabrera 2007 US Open

Geoff Ogilvy 2006 US Open

Phil Mickelson 2005 PGA

Vijay Singh 2004 PGA

Jim Furyk 2003 US Open

David Toms 2001 PGA

Paul Lawrie 1999 Open

Mark O'Meara 1998 Open

Sandy Lyle 1985 Open

Tom Watson NUMEROUS (1983 Open)

Past Champions Not Playing in 2012

Jack Nicklaus Arnold Palmer Gary Player

Nick Faldo Raymond Floyd Billy Casper

Fuzzy Zoeller Tommy Aaron Jack Burke Jr.

Charles Coody Doug Ford Bob Goalby

Weather (as of SUN eve):

^ 40% chance rain THUR-FRI

^ Almost no wind forecast

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