by Jeff Skinner
Sunday at The Masters…we’ve waited for it all year. Since last year’s head to head battle with Phil and Tiger going at each other, Kenny Perry’s stumble down the stretch and Angel Cabrera’s fist pump to celebrate his victory, Sunday at The Masters is here again and it looks to be an absolute dandy.
If Saturday’s play is any indication of the quality of what we’ll see today we are all in for an extraordinary Sunday afternoon. Rarely does any player come from way back in the pack to claim the green jacket so the winner will most likely come from the top five players and all are capable of going low and creating their own historic win.
Fred Couples created one of those classic “Augusta Roars” when he chipped in for eagle on fifteen and finished with a very good 68. He is five back of leader Lee Westwood but is he out of it? I think not. With the way the eagles are flocking around Augusta National there is no telling how low Freddy and his nubby soled shoes can take him. He’s fifty years old and he and Tom Watson have shown that age isn’t necessarily a disadvantage. This is his favorite place of all and if he can hang in there and those golfers ahead of him stumble a bit he could sneak in for his second green jacket.
K.J. Choi has probably had the most difficult challenge of any player this week. He has been paired with Tiger all week and will be side by side with him again today. This pairing has suited him well as he is tied for third with none other than Woods. Choi was considered the best player from South Korea for years but Y.E. Yang stole his thunder last year when he became the first Korean to win a men’s major at The PGA. He’s four back of Westwood and capable of making his share of birds. His victory would give South Korea back to back major titles and cast a new light on golf in South Korea.
Tiger Woods has been one of the few golfers that could make changes to his game during a round of golf. During the middle of his round he lost any sense of pace on the greens. It caused him to lose three strokes to par over four holes and he had three three putt greens. He found his stroke on the back nine when he ripped off three straight birdies to get him to eight under par and tied with Choi in third place. Tiger has never come from behind to win at a major and he’ll have his work cut out for him today. Regardless of his finish today, considering his situation of no tournament golf and all the outside pressure, his performance this week is borderline miraculous. One thing is for sure: Tiger is a golfing machine. Much like the shark in Jaws, as Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) described it: “what we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine.” Tiger is at home on the course and he is a golfing machine. What we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, a golfing machine. Whatever his personal issues are, they appear to be irrelevant to Woods when he is on the course.
Phil Mickelson played an amazing round of golf yesterday: a five under tally which had three bogeys, four birdies and two eagles. He electrified the Augusta crowd, which are Phil’s people anyway, and climbed up the leaderboard to sit one stroke behind Westwood. Going out in the last group is important to Phil. He knows the advantage of coming down the stretch and being able to see what he needs to do. No player will feel the crowd’s support as much as Phil. The past year has been tough on Phil and his family as they deal with Amy’s and his mom’s cancer. If Phil pulls off the win there won’t be enough Kleenex in the state of Georgia for all the tears being shed on the eighteenth green.
Lee Westwood has been in the hunt for a major before but this will be his sternest test. A one stroke lead in the final round of The Masters isn’t really much of a lead at all. The back nine at Augusta can turn a good round into a bad memory in the second it takes to splash a ball into Rae’s Creek. Westwood has all three rounds in the 60’s and if he can pull that off today he may be slipping into that green jacket. A Westwood win would be a bit of redemption. Westwood has made the trip back to the world’s elite after falling below number 200 in the World Rankings. His first major would be proof that the changes he made in his life have paid off. English golf is back in a big way and Westwood is their best. He’ll need his “A” game and a steady hand to combat his opponents and the nerves that face every golfer on the back nine at Augusta.