The Green Jacket Means More Than Ever

Since 1934, few tournaments can claim to captivate the attention of the world (including those rarely interested in golf) like The Masters. The iconic green jacket has become a staple symbol of American sports, a tradition as ingrained in the tournament as milk after the Indy 500 and the Lombardi Trophy after the Super Bowl — if not more so. But even with the unparalleled imprint it has left on golf and sports in general, the green jacket means more than ever.

Six of the top seven ranked golfers could reach No. 1 in the world with a win at the Masters. The only member of the top-seven who can't do so is Paul Casey, because of the number of tournaments in which he has played. That Means that Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, and yes, even Tiger Woods, could be sitting atop the world rankings by this time next week. Of those six, only Mickelson and Woods have ever won the tournament, and they sit at No. 3 and No. 7, respectively, prior to their tee times Thursday, yet have a chance to be No. 1 if they don the green jacket on Sunday.

In the last 10 Masters tournaments, Mickelson and Woods have combined to win six, so they might seem under normal circumstances to be obvious picks as the favorites. But both golfers are far from their comfort zones right now. Woods is obviously in the worst stretch of his professional career, and seems to prove more and more with each passing tournament that golf is a game played between the ears, where he is far from okay. Mickelson had exactly a dozen chances last year to reach No. 1 in the world with a win, and failed to do so every time.

Given that the only golfers who have been historically good at Augusta and can reach No. 1 in the world this weekend don't look like good picks to win it this year, the tournament may be not only be as wide open as it has ever been, but may also be more important than it has ever been, especially for Kaymer, Westwood, Donald, and McDowell.

Those four golfers not only have an excellent opportunity to win their first Masters, but any of them could be the No. 1 golfer in the world if they do, and one can only hope that if that happens, the story doesn't devolve into an analysis of the psyche of Tiger Woods. Frankly, I don't care if his head is right. I want to see multiple golfers have an excellent weekend and be rewarded because of it. If Tiger does that, good for him — but I don't tune in to CBS on Sunday afternoons to see the same thing people monitoring TMZ see — I tune in to see golf.

I think the majority of fans of the sport agree with me on this point, and that's exactly why this tournament is so important. Given the relative craziness that could ensue if any major shift should take place at the top of the rankings, and the increased probability of that happening this weekend, the Tiger Woods drama might finally, mercifully, take a back seat to something truly important.

The 2011 Masters doesn't just mean someone will wear the iconic green jacket, and it doesn't just mean that a new No. 1 is likely to be crowned — it means that golf could once again be less about a single man, and more about the game itself. It's not that Tiger hasn't been eclipsed in the rankings already, but rather more that the way the rankings could be shaken this weekend would be a bigger story than it has in the past. I mean, seriously — how many people outside of golf's most dedicated fans knew Martin Kaymer was the No. 1 golfer in the world?

So even if you usually don't or never have before, tune in to the Masters this weekend. Because this year, the green jacket means more than ever.

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