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Saturday, April 10, 2010

News Flash: Augusta Under the Union Jack

Today we got the rounds I expected yesterday -- tough pins, pesky winds, low scores. So what do we make of this? How far is too far back? Who still has a chance... and whose chances died today?

Will the Union Jack still fly over Augusta come Sunday night? It's hard to argue against it right now for a very simple reason: We've had an easy day and a hard day... and Poulter and Westwood have treated both exactly the same. With a two-stroke lead at -8, the chances of one holding the trophy are pretty good if they can keep it up. It's true that neither has a major, but Westwood's been knocking on the door for the last couple of years, and he's been learning from his mistakes. More than that, if you listened to him after the round, you know he thinks the Brits have been underestimated and wants to prove it.

And what else can you say about Poulter? After being ridiculed for being too full of himself, he's backed it up with performance. Since Faldo made the controversial call to put him on his Ryder Cup team, Poulter has simply shown up to play. I don't know of a better compliment I can pay him.

Two back, at -6, it gets interesting. Neither Barnes, Kim, nor Choi have a major, but they've proven they can hang with the best. And then you've got lightning in a bottle -- Woods and Mickelson. Two shots is nothing when you're that explosive.

Finally, at -5 you've got Yang, who's proving his win over Tiger at the PGA was no fluke. (Bear in mind, he's the most recent major winner and yet he's flying so low, you need sonar to find him.)

I'm inclined to believe the winner will come from these eight guys. You've got four of the Top 7 on the world rankings, as well as #14 (Kim). Yang is #28 but is also the most recent major winner. Only Barnes is an "unknown"... except he's a U.S. Amateur champ and he was T2 at last year's U.S. Open, so he knows what it's like.

I'd love to say Watson, Couples, and Perry had a realistic chance... or Haas, Mahan, and O'Hair... or past champion Trevor Immelman. There are other good players around these guys as well... but I just don't see it. There's a two-shot gap between the Top 8 and their closest pursuers, Kjeldsen, Watson, and Couples, but I'm afraid there's too much talent in that Top 8 to give the trailing pack the help they'd need to win.

As for my picks... Ernie pretty much shot himself out of it today with that double at 15. I think he's officially back, but he's not quite in shape for a Masters win. (I wouldn't rule out a major this year, though.) And Schwartzel has made a good first showing for himself, but that 76 today took him out of contention. (At least he made the cut, unlike some of the favorites.)

So who do I think will win? That's tough, because this is without question the best leaderboard we've had all year... and not just because Tiger's on it. Tiger and Phil are definitely the wildcards here; they can go hysterically low if they get it going, which I think is likely if they get paired together Sunday. The problem with explosive players is that they can implode as well, and I'm not convinced that won't happen to both of them.

The one prediction I feel comfortable making is this: The Masters title will be won by someone from the U.S., Britain, or South Korea. At this point, all of the Top 8 are playing extremely steady golf, which is unusual. Only Westwood has a double among them, as well as the most bogeys... but he also has the most birdies. I'm putting him in the Woods/Mickelson category of incendiary players. One of those three is probably the most likely to win.

So I'm picking Ian Poulter to win. Why? He's playing the best of the "almost always steady" players. He has made no eagles, but no doubles either, and he has only 3 bogeys against 11 birdies. Only one of those bogeys came during that tough second round. (You could argue he should have made that putt, but you could say the same about some of the other bogeys the Top 8 made Friday.) Who knows, maybe we'll get to see those Union Jack pants of his come Sunday!

And I have to salute Matteo Manassaro. The 16-year-old Italian became the youngest amateur (heck, the youngest person) ever to make the cut or (come Sunday) get the Low Amateur's Award. Bravo, Matteo! Molto bene!

1 comment:

  1. The Union Jack will fly on Sunday...!!

    But, at Piccadilly Circus, not at 1008 Magnolia Drive, Augusta, GA 30904.