Thursday, April 11, 2013

MASTERS EVE: The quiet before the storm

Good morning --- weather forecast calls for rain this afternoon and clear the rest of the week. Sky is gray now (9 am EST). We'll see...Looks like weather could jack around with this afternoon's schedule, and tomorrow's...

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It’s a bit after 7 on Masters Eve, twilight in North Georgia on the evening before America’s favorite golf tournament. Wisteria guards the Butler Cabins, mowers groom and fairway sweepers sweep and the grass is the kind of green you get only in early April, a deep, glowing, happy green.

The azaleas were quiet last year when Bubba Watson hit a historic hook to win the 2012 Masters in overtime. They’d bloomed too early for the tournament. Not this year. Augusta National is lit up in pink and red and white and rose. A bit past prime, but still fabulous. Bubba, on the other hand, is a 33-to-1 longshot to defend his title.

Oh well. Win some. Lose some.

But you can bet your hat it’s going to be somebody’s day. Somebody’s week. Somebody’s 2013 Masters. 

Maybe it will be the course that beats everybody. The winds and weather – it’s supposed to rain hard Thursday morning, then be pretty and warm – will have a say, for sure. Always does, if only for a gust or two on 12 that comes out of nowhere and puts a tee shot in the water.

Maybe it will be a single shot – one like Bubba’s on 10 last year – that puts the exclamation point on an unlikely victory. Or maybe it will be decided half by fate and half by nerves and will and talent and who wants it most but panics the least in the all-American tournament every pro wants to win.

The favorite is Tiger Woods. You remember Tiger. He’s that guy who’s already won three times this season and is taking rather serious aim, it appears, at green jacket Number 5. That is one less than Jack Nicklaus’ total of a sweet half dozen, a third of his 18 majors. Tiger has 14 majors. He hasn’t won here since 2005 and hasn’t won a major since limping along on a bum knee to win the U.S. Open in 2008 somewhat dramatically, as he has the knack for doing.
If you recall, Tiger was hitting every putt in sight when he was ranked the world’s best player. He’s doing that again. And he recently regained that No. 1 ranking. And Augusta National demands you putt well. Which adds up to … what? We’ll see. The last time he’d won three times in the season coming into this tournament, he finished 15th.

The odds on charm-bracelet-sized fan favorite Rory McIlroy is 8/1, followed by Augusta’s adopted favorite son, Phil Mickelson, 10/1. Justin Rose (20/1) and Charl Schwartzel (22/1) round out the top five.

Odds on Shreveport’s David Toms winning are, according to Vegas, anywhere from a 200/1 to 750/1, right in there with the Tim Clarks and Trevor Immelmans of the world. Fellow LSU alum John Peterson, a Masters rookie, is 1000/1 and will tee off first today in the 77th Masters. (UPDATE: Watched Peterson par 1 and 2; he's even through 4. David parred No. 1...)

Actually, he’ll tee off after the ceremonial tee shots by The Big Three of Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, who played as a threesome and drew huge cheers at the Par Three Tournament here Wednesday. Each of these former champs has been in the position that Toms and Woods and McIlroy and the rest of the field are in today. Each knows Augusta’s quiet on Masters Eve, and each knows that, come Day One of the tournament, when that Georgia sun comes up and patrons start filing in by the thousands, it’s a whole different ballgame. That’s when the roulette wheel really starts spinning.

As always, it’ll be fun during the next four days to see who’s able to make the most noise.