Its greens place a huge premium on accuracy, so expect the winner this week to be determined more by the quality of their approach shots and the amount of greens in regulation they hit, (the last 10 champions averaged 49 or more during the week), than simply putting numbers alone.
With conditions set to be cool and blustery for the opening two days, it may impact on players’ ability to reach the par-5s in two shots, giving great wedge players an early chance, but with temperatures predicted to be in the mid-70s later in the week, expect the longer hitters to dominate again.
Three from Europe you should look out for
A recent winner at the Valspar Open, no-one doubts Casey’s ball-striking pedigree, but he has consistently struggled to deliver, especially on the putting greens in major championships.
In recent years, this has meant that Casey has flown under many peoples’ radar, but a strong finish to last year and a winning start this year may mean he is about to fulfill his potential.
Casey’s game is ideally suited to Augusta, as, when on form, few hit can hit the ball with as much control or precision. With two top-six finishes in his last two visits and good form going into this week, he may well be one to watch.
Another man in great form, McIlroy has meticulously planned his schedule to make sure he has come into his “Rory Slam” in the best possible form. While starting his season strongly, his early form in the US disappointed, but any fears for him were laid to rest a couple of weeks ago when winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational spectacularly.
On form, McIlroy is a very intimidating prospect and, even though he has regularly fluffed his lines at Augusta, his recent dominant putting display bodes very well for this week. We know he can live with the pressure and that he will not be intimidated by anyone. The question remains as to whether or not his putting form will continue, or if he can be patient enough to give himself a chance of his “Slam”.
Rose has become an incredibly consistent player on the world stage over the past number of years and, with a US Open and an Olympic title already in the bank, no-one will underestimate his credentials to win this week. As methodical as Rose can be at times, his brilliant approach play and putting give him an advantage at Augusta and his form over the years suggests he will win a Green Jacket sooner rather than later. That said, he needs to keep playing aggressively if he is to stand a chance this week.
Three from America
No-one it seems is more revved up by Tiger Wood’s return to form than his great adversary Phil Mickelson. At 47, he is very much in the last-chance saloon, but if his recent win at the WGC Mexico is anything to go by, then no-one should underestimate his chances this week. With so many of the best players in the world currently on form, Mickelson knows that he will have to be at his best this week. That means playing to his own strengths, which as usual means nothing can be taken for granted, but if he can somehow get himself into contention over the first three and-a-half rounds, then few would bet against him winning his fourth Green Jacket.
As strange as this pick may seem, Reed is a big-time player with a lot of playing experience around Augusta from his collegiate days. While he is flying under the radar at the moment, it will have stung him that his recent form hasn’t been better and it is only a matter of time before his pedigree shines through once more. Though his game is not as long or as powerful, his game management and short-game skills are up there with the best and he thrives under pressure.
He will be motivated by Tiger’s return. I expect him to compete hard this week.
It is hard to believe it is 21 years since Tiger won his first major championship at Augusta, a victory which sparked a period of domination few if anyone have ever matched. With all of his trouble and surgeries behind him, a fit-again Woods comes back to Augusta this week confident he is a contender for one of the biggest prizes in the game.
While the distance and clubhead speed he is producing are generating much talk, his advantage this week lies, as it so often has, in his ball-striking ability and a short game that is every bit as good as it was in his heyday. Winning this week would be a phenomenal achievement — perhaps his greatest — but no-one has Tiger’s experience and a strong start may just have everyone nervously looking over their shoulders.