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The first three months of the year are always a busy time in the world of sports. March Madness, the Super Bowl, MLB Spring Training, NASCAR, and the march to the NHL playoffs highlight the television listings. Only a few viewers realize that the PGA Tour season begins sometime early in January. Despite the early tournaments, pro-ams, and practice swings, golf really doesn’t come to the national forefront until the Masters in early April.
Well, it’s early April and professional golfers are once again descending upon the well-manicured fairways of Augusta National Golf Club for the Tour’s first major of the year.
The frontrunner for this year’s prize is obvious. Phil Mickelson, the reigning champion, is coming off a big win at the Shell Open in Houston last weekend. Mickelson, who has three green jackets to his credit, looks to be a contender once again. Mickelson has three top-ten finishes in eight tourneys this season, and his 69.83 scoring average is among the Tour leaders. Being the favorite puts a big target on his back. The arrows flying toward Mickelson will be coming from many different archers this weekend. Besides Phil, only two other players have finished in the top ten at both of the past two Masters – Tiger Woods and…
Hunter Mahan. That’s right, Hunter Mahan. Mahan has carded -7 weekends the past two seasons, ending tied for seventh in ‘10 and tied for fifth in ‘09. Mahan has once again flown under the radar this season, with five top tens in nine events. He has been on the cusp of greatness on the last two Saturdays at Augusta, only to have inconsistent final rounds do him in both times. With a break or two, Mahan could once again be in the mix. The hunt should be the place for Mahan on Sunday afternoon.
Then, of course, there is that Tiger guy mentioned earlier. To say that the reinvention of Tiger Woods has been an adventure would be an understatement. Woods’ game has shown flashes of brilliance, as noticed in rounds at Doral and in Dubai. But somewhere along the way, Woods finds a way to digress with one bad round. But Augusta National does something to Tiger. Just stepping foot on the course makes him a contender; after all, he does hold the course scoring mark for the championship. Without dramatic strides (his putter has been maddeningly inconsistent), Woods’ game may be a couple of months off from making a legitimate charge at this Masters.
Ninety-six other players will set off Thursday morning on the chase for the Masters championship. Only one can come out with the title. Will Phil dazzle the masses again? Or will a Tiger find his prowl again?
On Sunday afternoon, as people around the country sit down to enjoy afternoon barbeques, the folks at Augusta National will hand out a new green jacket. Somewhere, someone in the crowd will make the clever observation: “It’s Mahantime!”