It’s that time again.
No, not another gushing Carolina column, though with the close of the college basketball season and the hope surrounding the start of a new baseball season, the annual rite of spring has fully entrenched itself with the playing of The Masters.
And you know what that means — another one of my major championship columns in which I try to decipher a crowded leaderboard and tell you, faithful reader, who will don the green jacket at dusk on Easter Sunday.
So here we go with my thoughts of who can win, who won’t win and who will win The Masters.
Who Won’t Win
Phil Mickelson -4
This doesn’t have anything to do with Lefty’s fragile major tournament psyche since the Way-Left Winged Foot debacle in 2006. I get the feeling Mickelson will be one of those guys who will have the ability to contend at Augusta all the way up until he’s 50. Seriously, in more than a decade, I think he’ll make a charge a lot like Tom Watson did when he nearly knocked off Ian Woosnam.
But the two-time champ won’t win this week, not because he doesn’t have the talent to throw up a 64 or a 65, which is what it would take, but because he’s just too far back and would need help from the top of the leaderboard. And when Lefty presses to try to shoot a low number, he usually goes the other way.
Steve Stricker -7
I don’t doubt that Stricker has the game to win a major. He’s been the PGA Tour’s comeback player of the year twice, and he tends to linger in big tournaments.
The problem is that he typically fades — no, make that fall flat on his face — on Sundays. He’s a great putter, but he’s a choker.
Todd Hamilton -6
I’d be stunned if he won, since he’s only won twice on Tour.
Of course, one was the British Freaking Open, beating Ernie Els in a playoff, so he’s proven he can win a major. He’s been as steady as they come — no real low numbers but no big ones, either.
Shingo Katayama -6
His game fits Augusta, but until he does it and closes the deal, can you really expect him to make a charge? Maybe he has a chance only because nobody will be looking for him to make a run.
Tim Clark -5
He’s a lot like Stricker in that he probably has the ability to pull it off. Only one problem — Clark has earned more than $12 million on Tour, but has never won. Nobody has won more money without a victory than Clark. He’s always around the leaderboard at The Masters, so maybe he breaks through here, but who can pick that?
Anybody at -4
Sorry, too far back, except for…
Who Can Win
Tiger Woods -4
OK, so he’s never come from behind on Sunday to win a major. Blah. Blah. Blah. And he’s on a surgically repaired knee in his first major after 10 months. Blah. Blah. Blah. And he hasn’t made a putt over 10 feet this week, or so it seems. Blah. Blah. Blah.
But he’s Tiger. So if there is somebody who can nail down the 65 and scare the death out of the field, it’s him.
Rory Sabbatini -6
Yes, he’s another guy who tends to fade on Sunday. But he’s a mouth, and sometimes a mouth believes more in himself than anybody else does.
Jim Furyk -8
I almost put him in the above group.
Surprised? OK, but while Furyk is indeed one of the best players in the world, he’s also stumbled badly on the closing holes in two of the last three U.S. Opens. And he bogeyed 17 on Saturday after pulling within two shots of the lead. I’m beginning to wonder how he handles the heat.
Still, at the same time, that means he’s put himself into position to win two of the last three Opens. That should count for something.
Chad Campbell -9
He’s only two shots back going into Sunday and has played at the top of the leaderboard since he started the tournament with a record five straight birdies. He almost won the PGA Championship, but Shaun Micheel beat him with a dart on 18, which was followed by the worst fist-pump ever.
One concern — since his opening 65, when he had a shot at the course record, Campbell, who was third at The Masters in 2006, has two birdies on the last two holes this week, but he also has four bogeys and doubled 16 on Saturday. Which guy shows up late Sunday evening?
Kenny Perry -11
As always, any guy in the final pairing has a chance to win a major. And Perry qualifies.
Perry was one less stroke on Saturday away from playing all three rounds in the 60s, and despite being 48, I don’t think age matters with him. He’s played his best golf after his early 40s, so why couldn’t he break through with a major?
I just don’t know how I would feel about Perry winning. While I like that making the Ryder Cup team meant everything to him, I’m not sure I like how he got there — by abandoning the British Open to chalk up points in a minor PGA Tour event.
Who Will Win
Seriously, how is this happening? Since Cabrera won the Open in 2007, he’s almost fallen off the golf earth, not even ranking in the top 75 players to play at Doral a couple of weeks ago.
And though he’s a bomber who can navigate Augusta so well because he’s hitting shorter irons into every green, Cabrera’s always been nothing more than a streaky putter. And at The Masters, you would think that would catch up with him.
But there’s been a couple of days of rain in the area this week, nullifying the terror of the slick greens just enough. And Cabrera is tough as nails, having stared down a Tiger charge at the Open in 2007. He also has three top-10 finishes at Augusta.
And one more thing: On the Saturday before Cabrera won the Open, I lumped him into the Who Won’t Win category.
I owe him one.