This weekend, the Masters, the first of the four major golf tournaments gets underway with quite a different narrative than in previous years. In the beginning of the 2014 PGA season, we’ve seen previous Masters winners and yearly favorites such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and defending champion Adam Scott struggle through injuries and inconsistent play.
Just recently, Scott failed to capitalize on a chance to move to No. 1 in the world by blowing a lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational to American Matt Every. Scott’s performance at the Invitational has mirrored his play during the early part of the season, which does not bode well heading into perhaps the most revered tournament in golf. Even though repeating is uncommon at Augusta, the last being Woods in 2001 and 2002, Scott still remains a likely contender but will have to put together a full 72 holes, especially with the putter which has failed him so far this year.
Mickelson has arguably had a worse start to the year than Scott, in large part due to injuries. This past weekend at the Valero Open, he came in looking to make a statement. Instead, Mickelson was forced to exit early in the fourth round with an oblique injury, which was bad news for the lefty who was already recovering from a back injury he suffered at the Farmers Insurance Open in late January. If there is one thing we know about Mickelson though, it is that we never count him out. Even though he’s failed to finish in the top-10 of a tournament this year, he is still coming off three wins last year and has the ability to regain that championship mentality at any moment.
As for Woods, he now becomes the least intriguing storyline heading into the Masters. As he searches for that elusive major title, something he has not won in over half a decade, Tiger has been battling injuries, particularly his back. Prior to the injury, Woods had been playing at an average level but showed signs of improvement. Despite this, the odds were not in his favor entering the Masters as he’s had little to no tournament experience over the last month; he has also displayed signs of rustiness after large gaps of sitting out. The world’s No. 1 golfer suffered a pinched nerve in his back, forcing him out of the Honda Classic in March and prevented him from competing in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. On Tuesday, the 14-time major champion officially pulled out of the Masters, leaving fans waiting for another tournament to get a good sense of what to expect from him this season. What we already know is that Tiger is not the young man that swung out of his shoes on every hole. He’s lost some of that swagger he had wearing the Sunday red, and simply he’s just not the same player. However, if he improves his health and is able to regain some momentum from his good play last year moving forward, he could finally win that elusive major this summer and be in for an unexpected breakout year.
With a group of elite players battling injuries, including others such as Hunter Mahan and Bubba Watson, the green jacket remains open for the taking. In other words, if I was a betting man and was given the choice between either Scott or Mickelson against the field, I’d take the latter. In other words, I like the odds of players such as Zach Johnson, who has been hot of late, Jason Day, who has been knocking on the door at Augusta for the past few years and even Rory McIlroy, who has showed signs of resurgence early in the season. This is a deep field this year at Augusta, one full of talent. As much as we would like to see Scott and Mickelson go head-to-head down Amen Corner, I do not see that scenario playing out. What I see more likely to happen is someone like Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar or even the young Jordan Spieth, who have momentum and tournament experience this year, stealing the spotlight at Augusta. Apart from Spieth, each of these players have been in the thick of things in past major Sundays, and Furyk himself has a U.S. Open win under his belt. With the tournament wide open this year, it’s going to be an exciting Masters and a great way to kick of the official start to the golf season.