Nothing says spring like the Masters tournament. The sights of Augusta National are as familiar as any sporting ground. Hogan Bridge which connects the 12th fairway to the green over Rae’s Creek. The azalea’s blooming behind the 13th green. Butler Cabin where Jim Nantz of CBS does his interviews. The Eisenhower Tree located on the 17th fairway, famous for former US President Dwight Eisenhower consistently hitting the tree on a regular basis with his tee shot. Yes, there is no place like Augusta National. And there is no golf tournament like The Masters.
Unlike the US Open or the British Open, a golfer must be invited to play at The Masters. Past winners get a lifetime invite to the hallowed tournament. Grand Slam winners from the past 5 years are also invited. Other participants include the last 3 winners of The Players Championship, the winner and the two runners-up in the US Amateur championship, the top 16 finishers and ties of last year’s Masters, the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, the US Amateur Public Links champion, the top 8 finishers and ties in last year’s US Open, the top 4 finishers and ties in both The British Open and The PGA Championship, the top 30 money earners in the 2012 PGA season, winners of at least one tournament in the PGA tour since the 2012 Masters, all players that qualify for The Tour Championship and the top 5o ranked golfers in the world.
The favourite going into the tournament is Tiger Woods. With three wins under his belt this season, Woods is looking to win his first major since the 2008 US Open, and he hopes to don his first green jacket since 2005. Everyone knows about Tiger’s failing personal life over the years, but since he started his relationship with Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, Woods has seemingly found his game again. Tiger loves Augusta National so he should be a factor this weekend, which will make the executives at CBS very happy.
Bubba Watson is the defending champion, but hasn’t won a tournament since his epic triumph one year ago. His second shot on the second playoff hole from the trees, is one of the best shots in Masters history. A big hitter who can drive the ball with length, Watson’s game is well-suited for Augusta. However, he needs to find his game, if he wants to defend his title.
One player who everyone should keep their eye on is Rory McIlroy. The native of Northern Ireland looked like he was going to win the 2011 Masters, but an awful final day, as he shot 80 at 8 over par. McIlroy has recovered from that debacle winning the US Open later that year, and winning the most recent major, last year’s PGA Championship. McIlroy is another big hitter whose short game has improved dramatically over the years. He will win a green jacket at some point in his career, it’s just a matter of when.
Phil Mickelson is another golfer to watch. Perhaps the most popular player with the fans on tour, Mickelson also enjoys playing Augusta, as he has donned the Green Jacket three times in his career, in 2004, 2006 and 2010. Another long hitter with plenty of distance off the tee, Mickelson feels very comfortable at Augusta and should never be counted out of this tournament.
The course itself is difficult but playable. It has been lengthened over the years, especially Tiger Woods famous destruction of the course in 1997. While long, there are opportunities for shot making. Amen Corner is the most famous part of Augusta. Holes 11, 12 and 13 consist of golf’s most riveting and challenging holes. Hole 11 is a 505 yard par 4, in which birdies are very difficult to come by. Water guards the green on the left hand side while a bunker guards the back end of the green. The 12th hole is a 155 yard par 3 that has shaken many nerves of golfers. The green is famously guarded by Rae’s Creek, where many Masters dreams have died over the years. While short, the 12th is a dangerous hole that must be approached with caution. The 13th hole is a 510 yard par 5 that is a dogleg left with opportunities for eagles and birdies. It also has opportunities for bogeys and double bogeys. The fairway is narrow, with trees surrounding the playing space. Nearing the green, a tributary guards the front of the green, while bunkers and the blooming azaleas are hazards for the golfer at the back and left of the green. The hole is filled with risks but the rewards can be high.
Two more holes that are underrated but have decided many Masters are 15 and 16. The 15th is a 530 yard, par 5 that plays pretty straight, but is fraught with danger. Long hitters have a wonderful chance to drive the ball to set themselves up with a short second shot. Water guards the front of the green while a bunker guards the right hand side. The 15th has seen heartbreak from the likes of Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros. But it also has seen some remarkable shots from the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. The 16th is a 170 yard, par 3 that has seen more aces than any other hole on the course. That doesn’t mean the hole doesn’t have its menaces. Water is the fortress at the front of the green, while bunkers surround the left, right and back sides of the green. But the green itself is just as daunting. Hole placement is critical as the sloping green can wreak havoc with the players. This will be a hole to watch.
The first major of the season is always one to watch. Golf is the most unpredictable of sports. A golfer could rise out of nowhere and claim victory. While the favourites should be in contention, anyone can win this tournament. There is no event quite like The Masters.
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