by Jeff Skinner
Since the last putt dropped at the 2011 PGA Championship this is the day we all were waiting for. Sunday at The Masters holds a unique place in golf. This is the day that changes lives. This is the day that can make a career or just as quickly end one.
The leaderboard is stacked with skilled golfers all willing to give it their all as the most pressured packed day of the year unfolds at the back nine at Augusta. Each of the top ten golfers is poised to take their shot at immortality, to be a Masters Champion.
10. Paul Lawrie: Lawrie is in the midst of a career resurgence brought on by pressure from his boys. They wanted to see if their dad still had it. The 1999 Open Champion would like to show his kids that he fits into a green jacket.
T6. Lee Westwood: Westwood has long been called the best player without a major. He is striking the ball well and leads The Masters in Greens in Regulation but his nemesis has always been his putter. He’s averaged 33 putts per round this week. Champions need to putt well at Augusta and Westwood has struggled reading the greens.
T6. Henrik Stenson: On Thursday Stenson had the lead and was on his way to an opening 67 but a horrific, snowman 8 on the last hole cost him dearly. If he had parred the 18th he would be one stroke back instead of five.
T6. Padraig Harrington: Paddy Harrington is the only player to change his swing more often than Tiger. The three time major champion may have found the right combination now and his putter has suddenly got very hot at Augusta. That can be a deadly combination at The Masters.
T6. Hunter Mahan: Mahan is the hottest American golfer right now with two wins and a boat load of confidence. Could he be the first Masters Champion to wear a flat brim cap? The green jackets would love that.
5. Matt Kuchar: Kuchar has been hitting plenty of fairways and greens, he’s second to Westwood in GIR, but the usually reliable putter has failed him this week. Can’t putt, can’t win at Augusta. He’ll need the putter to show up today if he wants a chance at the championship.
4. Bubba Watson: Bubba’s ability to shape shots and hit it a ton has left him in good shape for the final round. But he’ll need to steady himself when he hits a bad spell today. Everyone has a bit of trouble on Sunday at Augusta and Watson hasn’t handled adversity well of late. A calm head and a steady putter are needed today.
3. Louis Oosthuizen: Last year’s Open Champion has a solid stroke that will serve him well today. He and Hanson lead the pack in par 4 birdies and he is also tied for the lead in birdies on the par threes. He is such a solid player but never in the conversation in pre tournament picks. He’s a big part of the conversation now.
2. Phil Mickelson: It’s all about the putter at Augusta and Phil’s has been red hot. He leads the field in putting and no one thrives off the Augusta crowd like Phil. No one on top of this leaderboard knows Augusta better than Phil. He’s motivated to win his fourth green jacket at the golf course he loves the most. The crowd will be his all day and if he needs some extra pop he can feel great going into the back nine. He’s been nine under over the last two rounds over the final nine holes.
1. Peter Hanson: He’s never led the final round of a major but he played like a champion on Saturday. He has two top fives in WGC’s this season and he has been hitting it on all cylinders this week. He leads the field in birdies and he’s second to Phil in putting for the week. He did say he realizes that leading a major brings all kinds of pressure and that Phil will be the crowd favorite. But he also said he pretends that some of those cheers are for him. He’ll need his A game for sure to finish the day wearing the green jacket.