Thursday, April 5, 2012

Breaking Down the Masters 2012

By Angus Saul

It's the beginning of April now, and so what better time than to look at the candidates for the 2012 Masters in Augusta. Last year saw the complete and utter meltdown of tournament favorite Rory McIlroy and saw Charl Schwartzel claim his first and only major.

This year it is tough to pick out anyone as an out and out winner. Last year's four majors were filled with surprises, record-breaking rounds, and first-time winners, and this year could easily be more of the same.

With that in mind, I've made some conservative picks, and a few that a little more "out there."

Title Tip: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy vowed not to collapse in the same way he did last year. You could see in the way he was playing, every shot was painful to hit. Not in an injured kind of way, but it was painful as a spectator. It must have been agonizing for him. Had that been my round, I'd have thrown my trust five iron into the nearest water hazard and stormed off the course. It's a credit to him that he actually persevered and finished.

He bounced back, though, and he recently reached number one in the world, if only for two weeks. If he can make a repeat performance of his first couple of rounds at Augusta last year, he could be well in with a shout. No longer does the Northern Irishman let leads slip.

He's my pick for the tournament.

Title Tip: Luke Donald

For the current world number one, this would be a maiden major. He's never done better than tied third in a major, and that's what he's managed at Augusta. But that was back in 2005, back when there was no pressure.

This time, though, he says he doesn't even need to play his best to win. He has his strategy, and that will be enough. Must be the confidence of a number one talking, because I think he does need to play his best. The other main challengers aren't going to hand him anything. He's got what it takes, but he needs to find some brilliant form.

If he plays his best, start to finish, he could scrape home a win.

Outside Chance: Charl Schwartzel

It would be rude not to pick the defending champion, but it's difficult to see Schwartzel taking home the title again. It's not that he's not good enough, he's done it before, but it was a solid round that did it for him, as everyone else collapsed. This year, it'll be those with a little extra flair that will prevail.

Outside Chance: Tiger Woods

Tiger's performance two weeks ago at Bay Hill was enough to win him the title, and he claims to be back on form. Better, he claims to be in a world-beating mood, and in the same form that won him his first Masters in 2001.

Tiger has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons these last two years. Maybe he can pull it together and get a headline back in his favor. For me, he's an outside chance. He could blow it early on, but if not, he's not one to crumble under pressure in the late stages.

Outside Chance: Lee Westwood

You can't really just come out and say, "No, the world number three stands no chance." But that's how it feels. He came second at the Masters just two years ago, and he's consistently been one of the top guys on tour for a while now, so he does have a shot. He's been number one on more than one occasion.

But that's the problem though. A very consistent, and a very solid player. There's not really much in the way of a spark, or creative play. He needs to produce that this time around. He needs to maybe take a few more risks and hope they pay off.

Outside Chance: Phil Mickelson

There have been too many first-time winners in a row, and whilst a lot of people are tipping Stricker or Mahan. Steve Stricker; a player who hasn't even come close to a major since the '90s, and Hunter Mahan; who's never done better than tied sixth, and never managed better than tied for eighth at the Masters.

Phil Mickelson has won majors before, and more than once. He's won the Masters three times. Most recently in 2010. He might not be on the best run of form at the moment, but he's always picked it up for the majors, managing tied second or better in all four. The Masters is as much his turf as it is anyone's. The big lefty will be looking to beat Schwartzel, along with everyone else, and claim back what is his.

Dark Horse: Martin Kaymer

Kaymer is a little like McIlroy. He's been number one, and he's won a major before. So the pressure isn't on for him to break his duck. He might sound like a safe bet to go deep, and maybe even win it.

Think again. He might be number four in the world now, but he's never done anything of note in Augusta. He's never reached the final day. Maybe the course just doesn't suit his play, but with wet and windy conditions this year, an adventurous and long-hitting Kaymer might have the edge over more experienced tour members.

Don't expect Kaymer to win, but expect the unexpected from him. This year, he could go a lot deeper into the tournament than he has before — maybe somewhere around tied for ninth?

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