I’ve been writing columns like this one going on 10 years, and before last year, I never had a player who I believed couldn’t win a major championship actually win it. I like to write about who I believe can win, who I believe won’t win, and who I believe will win.
Of course, last year, in two out of the three columns I wrote like the one you’re about to read, I missed badly, writing that neither Zach Johnson nor Angel Cabrera could win the Masters and the U.S. Open, respectively.
You’d think a shot to the broadside of my credibility — two of them, even — would make me rethink this whole process.
Here we go.
Who Can Win
Tiger Woods -5
I know, I know. Real tough pick there, Podlogar. But notice I’m just saying that he’s capable of winning his fifth jacket. He’s not my pick to click, but he’s too darn good to think he doesn’t have a shot. That’s the thing with Woods. Even though he will start the final round six back of the lead, he’s Tiger Freaking Woods. Think of it as handicapping the field. It’s level now.
Sure, he’s never come from behind to win a major on the last day, but does anybody really think that will last forever? And with high winds expected on a softer course because of Saturday’s showers, his talents will be that much more in play. I can see him shooting 70 and everybody else going down in flames.
Steve Flesch -8
He’s only three shots back of the lead, and if he walked down Horner Blvd. wearing a T-shirt that said “Hi, I’m Steve Flesch”, we still wouldn’t recognize him.
But he could be this year’s Zach Johnson, methodically taking what the course gives him and not trying to do too much. It worked last year.
And besides, he’s left-handed. Something about lefties on Augusta National lately.
Paul Casey -7
Sometimes, the course just fits a player.
Not that Casey isn’t an accomplished player, he is. But when you’re thinking about Masters favorites on Wednesday night, you don’t immediately think of him.
But like a Fred Couples, or a Retief Goosen, or a Phil Mickelson, he just seems to play well at Augusta National. He tied for sixth in 2005 and tied for 10th in 2007. He just seems to be in the mix. Let’s just say he’s capable.
Retief Goosen -2
He’s miles back, but he’s a good pick for the “Most Likely to Play Well Early and Post a Score Before the High Winds Pick Up and Wreak Havoc” award. Too much talent and too good at Augusta (T3, T3, T2 the last three years to go with a second place in 2002) to put aside.
Who Won’t Win
Phil Mickelson -2
Too far back, and even though Lefty is one of the few players you could envision making eagle at both 13 and 15, he’s also just as likely to drive into the woods at No. 1 and double bogey or plop one in the water at 11.
Mickelson played beautifully on Friday, marching through the pines and azaleas with a masterful round of four birdies and 14 pars. Lovely stuff.
But when Mickelson feels like he has to try to make something happen at a major, he bites off more than he can chew. He’s a bomber, and that will help on the softer course, but he’s too loose to put together a 65, which is what he would need.
Shoot par on Saturday, and he’s in the aforementioned group. Maybe next year.
Stewart Cink -4
Cink is a really good player, and it’s not insane to think he could win a major before he’s done.
But as he has proven over the last year, he won’t do it if Tiger is in the mix. They’re friendly, but Cink folds whenever Woods is around. Anybody remember the World Match Play? Ecchhh.
Zach Johnson -2
A good showing in his Masters defense. Another who seems to just know how to get around the track. If only he didn’t implode on 17 with a double on Friday. He’s just too far back and won’t be able to go low enough to post.
Boo Weekley -2
The aw shucks attitude will come in handy on Sunday. That’s about it.
Andres Romero -2
This guy is scary good and scary young, at just 26. He contended in the British Open last year and he might turn into what we all hoped Sergio Garcia would become. Too far back this year, but watch this guy.
Brandt Snedeker -9
This kills me, just kills me.
Snedeker is one of the nicest guys around, and if you don’t want to take my word for it, ask his former coach Press McPhaul and the Herald’s Jonathan Owens.
But I think the rain hurt Snedeker more than any other player at the top of the leaderboard. He isn’t the longest hitter on Tour, and a soft and hilly 7,480 yards is not only daunting, it’s detrimental to his game. Now wind will be in play, too. Ugh.
Still, when he stepped onto the 11th tee on Saturday, Snedeker held a one-shot lead. By the time he hit the 14th tee, he was three shots back of the lead after three straight bogeys.
Give the 2007 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year credit, he responded and bounced back with three birdies in his last five holes, kind of reminiscent of Mickelson’s surge on Sunday in 2004. He showed tremendous guts, and with his putting stroke and tight swing, maybe he can hold off the nerves a little. And if he does hang in there, and if Woods fails to make a serious move, Snedeker will easily ascend to the crowd favorite, what with the flowing blonde locks and goofy smile.
I just don’t see it happening.
(And if you don’t think this is all a ruse given my recent bad luck in picking winners, well…)
Who Will Win
Trevor Immelman -11
There hasn’t been a wire-to-wire winner at the Masters since Raymond Floyd did it in 1976.
But Immelman has far and away been the week’s best player, the only one to fire three rounds in the 60s. And he may even have the luck of Fred Couples on his side, what with the spinner on 15 that somehow stayed on the bank and out of the water.
He’s got the game — he was the 2006 Tour Rookie of the Year — and he’s been steely tough all week. He’s also got a pretty nice cushion.
But here’s the big thing. Last year, just a few months ago, in fact, Immelman was facing the worst when he was diagnosed with a tumor. For a week, he didn’t know whether it was benign or not. So for a week, Trevor Immelman was facing his own mortality. Even after he got good news, he still had complicated surgery. And now he’s back.
I’ve heard it said several times by major league baseball players from the Dominican Republic. “Pressure?“ they say. “Pressure isn’t trying to get the big two-out hit in the bottom of the ninth. Pressure is hitting enough to get off the island and feed my family.”
I think Immelman has that going for him on Sunday. The old adage is that the Masters doesn’t really start until the leaders make the turn on Sunday. That’s when the pressure hits them the hardest.
Immelman just may hit back.