Masters roundtable: Staff debates 5 key questions
AUGUSTA, Ga. – With the first tee time at Augusta National less than 24 hours away, our large staff on the ground at Augusta National got to debating some key questions facing the field starting Thursday.
So we narrowed it down to five questions, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, old-timers, anchoring and breakthrough performers. (If you want more on our staff picks, click here)
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1. He has only won once at Augusta National since 2002, but is this Tiger Woods' tournament to lose?
• Jeff Babineau, Editor: There’s a lot of great players in this field, so it’s difficult to say this tournament is one guy’s to win or lose. But honestly? Yes. With the exception of last year, he’s been able to stay in contention at Augusta when he hasn’t putted that well. So now that he has his short stick working and his confidence back, no reason a fifth green jacket would be out of his reach.
• James Achenbach, Senior Writer: Get over this Tiger Woods fascination, please. He is absolutely the best player in the world, but there are other players who can beat him. And don’t forget he won Doral and Bay Hill with help from some phenomenal putting. So the Masters is Tiger’s tournament to win, but not to lose.
Tiger Woods at the Masters
Take a look back at Tiger Woods at the Masters tournaments through the years.
• Beth Ann Baldry, Senior Writer: Woods is the man to beat this week. He has three victories so far this season and his putting, well, let's just say it's on point. No one on Tour is putting it better than Woods right now. He might not ever be the man he once was, but that doesn't mean it won't be epic.
• Adam Schupak, Senior Writer: Anyone who wins three times before the Masters has to be the prohibitive favorite. When it is Tiger, c’mon. He’s intimidating again and more importantly holing putts. But wins No. 75-77 will feel very hollow if he doesn’t produce at the majors. That’s pressure, and no one has handled pressure better than Tiger.
• Sean Martin, Managing Editor, Golfweek.com: Everyone tees it up Thursday on equal footing, but Woods will tee it up Thursday feeling a bit like the leader because of his recent form. He didn't handle being the front-runner well in last year's majors. It seemed like the self-imposed pressure to add to his 14 majors might have gotten the best of him. He knows his swing better with each month that passes, so that will help him this week, but I always bet the field. Golf is too fickle a game to put all your hopes on one player.
• Jeff Rude, Senior Writer: Yes. His new normal again is his old normal - not the rehab normal. He is more equipped to win here than he has been since 2005. He has won six of his last 19 PGA Tour stroke-play events. He's worth a bet at 3-1.
• Jim McCabe, Senior Writer: If he had a nine-stroke lead at 54 holes, as he did in 1997, I would say yes, but could we please wait till he at least gets into such a position before we explore such silliness?
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2. Who has the best shot at breaking through to win his first major?
• Jeff Babineau, Editor: Justin Rose. Augusta National is a big-hitter’s ballpark, and he’s been here enough to know it well. If not here, still convinced he’ll get a major SOMEWHERE in 2013.
• Beth Ann Baldry, Senior Writer: Ian Poulter. Mr. Clutch at the Ryder Cup is due to get this major monkey off his back. He only has two top 10s at the Masters in eight appearances. Surely there's something in the closet that pairs nicely with green.
• Adam Schupak, Senior Writer: Sticking with my winner’s pick of Justin Rose, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one of the other Brits – Ian Poulter, Luke Donald or Lee Westwood – finally closes the deal.
• Sean Martin, Managing Editor, Golfweek.com: I like Justin Rose's chances. He's held the lead after four rounds here, and he's up to No. 3 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He's finished no worse than eighth in his last three PGA Tour starts, and is coming off a runner-up in his last start, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. His last three Masters finishes: T-20 in 2009, T-11 in 2011 and T-8 in 2012.
• Jeff Rude, Senior Writer: Adam Scott. He came close a couple of years ago. He should have won the Open Championship in July. He's ready to win a major. And he would do so with a long putter just days before some think the USGA will announce an anchoring ban.
• Jim McCabe, Senior Writer: Tianlang Guan – or Jason Dufner.
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3. Has Rory McIlroy figured it out enough to contend this week?
• Jeff Babineau, Editor: Yes. He’s not fully there with his game, obviously, but his extra work (and good finish) in Texas at least gives him a little spark. Augusta is a magical place; if he can get off to a good start, he certainly can contend.
• James Achenbach, Senior Writer: Are you serious? Rory McIlroy will win the Masters seven times, eclipsing the record of Jack Nicklaus.
• Beth Ann Baldry, Senior Writer: Like all great players, McIlroy can flip a switch at any moment. And as the young Northern Irishman has shown, when he's on at majors, he can blow away the field. That's not likely to happen this week, given the number of top players in form, but his young mind can overcome a patchy start to the year. Plus, Caroline will be on the bag today; his heart will be happy.
• Adam Schupak, Senior Writer: The first round will be key for Rory. If he plays well, I think he can ride the momentum and contend, but I’m concerned he might have one day where the miscues get the better of him.
• Sean Martin, Managing Editor, Golfweek.com: Rory McIlroy's problems were swing- and rust-related. He seems to have gotten enough reps to find a little form. Now the question is if he can overcome some tough memories at Augusta. There was the final-round 80 in 2011 and then a 77-76 weekend last year that dropped him from third place to 40th. I expect to see him on the leaderboard this week.
• Jeff Rude, Senior Writer: Yes. He found something on the range last Thursday in San Antonio, then tied for second. He needed that. Golf needed that. It's significant that he feels comfortable working the ball both ways again.
• Jim McCabe, Senior Writer: Yes, but with an asterisk. I think he has figured things out with his swing and the driver, but I'm still not so sure he has unlocked enough mysteries to Augusta National.
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4. Which "old-timer" this week reminds everyone that he's still got game?
• Jeff Babineau, Editor: Vijay Singh. He’s a past champion here, and still has the length to be a factor.
• James Achenbach, Senior Writer: Padraig Harrington has still got it. Can I call him an old-timer? I say Harrington beats all the other 40somethings and 50somethings and elder Watsons in the Masters.
• Beth Ann Baldry, Senior Writer: Steve Stricker, Tiger's putting guru, is due here. He's never finished higher than a T-6 at this venue, but his shortened schedule could equate to a fresh perspective. Has two runner-up finishes in 2013.
• Adam Schupak, Senior Writer: Bernhard Langer can still golf his ball. Look for him to long-putter his way to a good round or two on the 20-year anniversary of his second green jacket.
• Sean Martin, Managing Editor, Golfweek.com: Fred Couples. The 1992 champion has finished sixth, 15th and 12th in his past three appearances at Augusta National. He held the first-round lead in 2010 and was the 36-hole leader last year.
• Jeff Rude, Senior Writer: Fred Couples. He's 53 and led midway here last year. He knows how to maneuver around Augusta National as well as anybody. He hasn't been playing that well, but he knows how to get the most out of this place.
• Jim McCabe, Senior Writer: At 43, Angel Cabrera. Of course, that's only when he's on his favorite stage, which he is this week.
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5. What would a victory by Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley or another player anchoring his putter do to the ongoing anchoring debate?
• Jeff Babineau, Editor: It would turn up the heat, oh, about a thousand degrees. Sad thing is, anchoring is perfectly legal here this week, but any winner who anchors would have to live with the asterisk that would accompany such a victory. Do green jackets come with scarlet letters?
• James Achenbach, Senior Writer: Golf does not need any more controversy. It needs unified growth. The chances are substantial that a golfer with an anchored putter will win a major championship in the next three years. However, it is likely that anchored putters will be legislated out of existence for 2016. The decision probably has already been made.
• Beth Ann Baldry, Senior Writer: Nothing. Another long-putter victory isn't going to sway the direction of this train. Just another paragraph in the game story.
• Adam Schupak, Senior Writer: It won’t make a difference. It might lead to more debate and bluster, but the decision on anchoring is sealed and all that’s left is the announcement to make it official.
• Sean Martin, Managing Editor, Golfweek.com: I'm not so sure that we can call the anchoring situation a "debate." It seems like a done deal, and so I don't think a win by any of the anchorers in the field will change a thing.
• Jeff Rude, Senior Writer: It won't matter as far as a decision being made. That ship has sailed. Announcement soon. It will stir up debate, though.
• Jim McCabe, Senior Writer: Send Peter Dawson into convulsions, then into a Greco-style wrestling match with Ted Bishop.