US Masters Preview

US Masters Preview: The Battle of the Internationals at Augusta

by Nick Sculley
I’m not usually one for making bold and outlandish statements, but this year’s US Masters is shaping as the most hotly-contested in decades. Luke Donald recently regained the world number one ranking from the hottest property in world golf Rory McIlroy. American Hunter Mahan is coming off a win at last weeks Shell Houston Open, and Tiger Woods enters the Masters coming off a last-start victory for the first time since 2009. South African pair Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel must be considered contenders, with the former finishing third in Houston last week whilst the latter is the reigning Masters champion. And let’s not forget the three Aussies, Scott, Day and Ogilvy, who came close to breaking the biggest hoodoo in Australian sport in 2011. All in all it’s shaping as a fantastic tournament.
The weekend has finally arrived; Masters weekend. The number one event on the golfing calendar falls on Easter weekend on 2012, which should ensure that no man or woman has to lose their jobs after being late for work watching the finishing stages of the best four days in golf. The scene is set for an outstanding tournament; only Dustin Johnson, who withdrew with a lingering back injury, is the only player from the world’s top 30 ranked players absent this week.
The current landscape in world golf is intriguing to say the least. We have one of the tightest battles at the top in recent memory in which a tournament win for either one of Donald and McIlroy can assure them of number one status for at least one more week. And let’s not forget the most famous world number seven in world sport, Tiger Woods. Woods finally secured his first official tournament since the 2009 JBWere Australian Masters when he romped home to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill for the seventh time a fortnight ago. Because of that win, Tiger enters this week’s first major of the year as favorite ($6 with Sportsbet Aus). Ahead of the likes of Donald who, in 2011, had one of the most dominant seasons the world has ever seen and McIlroy, the most exciting young talent in world golf. Add to that list Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Mahan and Schwartzel and you begin to wonder just how Woods can be favorite in this ultra-competitive tournament. We all remember how dominant Tiger has been in the past but he is no longer the same player. He may get back to that level one day, and if he is to dominate the sport once again he will even have to exceed those past glories. The fact of the matter is the sport of golf is in incredible shape talent-wise at the moment, and I don’t believe that Woods will be able to perform under the weight of expectation this weekend at Augusta. I’m happy to be proven wrong, but I prefer several others in this instance.
My Selections
Rory McIlroy ($6.50)- For all intents and purposes Rory should already have one green jacket in his keeping. McIlroy entered the final round last year with a four-stroke lead and turned after nine still leading the tournament. What followed was an epic fade-out which McIlroy says he laughs about now; if you don’t laugh, you cry I guess. McIlroy put those demons to rest by taking out the US Open a few months later and looks primed for an assault on Augusta once again.
Charl Schwartzel ($41)– Schwartzel produced the lowest round on Sunday at the Masters last year to claim the title, which was capped off by four consecutive birdies to dash the hopes of the chasing Australian contingent. Has done little wrong in the lead-up and is sure to be in contention again at Augusta. His fourth placing last month at Doral behind only Justin Rose, Bubba Watson and McIlroy shows he is primed for this.
Luke Donald ($17)- Luke Donald: world number one and winner of both the US and European tour money lists in 2011. The only reason Donald is not a $5 chance in this year’s Masters is because he is yet to win a major, despite finishing in the top ten at both the Masters and PGA Championship. At odds of $17 with Sportsbet Australia he looks great value.
The best of the rest would be Americans Bill Haas ($91) and Hunter Mahan ($31).
Australian Hopes

In 2011 three Australians finished in the top five at Augusta. So far, in 2012, no Australian has won on the PGA Tour and, more worryingly, no one has really come close. John Senden ($151) looks to be in the best form among the Aussie contingent however I’m unsure whether his short game will hold up across the four days at Augusta.

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