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Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Battle for Amen Corner

The Masters is upon us with large field of Gentlemen Challengers teeing off on Thursday morning.  This Masters, in my opinion will be the most exciting than we've seen in years.  For those that don't follow Golf all that much, I'll explain why having this on the television throughout the weekend rather than some early baseball games or maybe some more pathetic NBA television match-ups might be your best bet in a search for weekend sports excitement.


There have been years past when, I'll be honest, it wasn't worth watching.  Golf has become relatively new to me as I spent little time playing and no time watching due to the excuse that it could ruin my baseball swing, which my brother will attest to, as I was younger.  However, as a retired athlete from major sports that dominated my playing days, Golf has withstood the test of time and I've become more and more interested in watching Tiger, Rory, Phil, or Graeme, as well as dedicating countless hours to playing myself and truly trying to improve at something that has always been outside my grasp as an athlete.

This blog is dedicated to laying out 5 solid reasons why the Masters should be what your eyes are glued to all weekend. 

Reason #1:  The Man, The Myth, and The Legend
Do I even need to repeat the millions of people who cover this sport for a reason? Tiger is coming off his first win since 2009 after his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weekends ago where he seemed to do the, "Tiger thing," which of course is to play competitive Golf Thursday and Friday, post a great score with much tougher pin locations on Saturday and bury the field, then play solid golf not pushing himself to hit tough shots on Sunday and maintain his lead. (One thing Rory showed the world that he learned after his collapse at last year's Masters.)


For those that loved Tiger and then found out he had a, "sickness," and quickly turned on him finding a new golfer or falling in love with a new flavor (Rory or Graeme), you should be ashamed of yourself and will quickly learn that Tiger may have been down in 2009-2011, but is certainly not out.  I'm reminded of the 25 ft. putt on 18 at the U.S. Open in 2008, with a torn ACL, Tiger sinks the put and takes home his 14th Major Championship of his career.   It had been several months since Tiger's last win, but sure enough, two weeks before the U.S. Open, Tiger won a tournament and played some of his best golf throughout the weekend of the U.S. Open only to be crowned the Champion over Rocco Mediate. 

Sure, Tiger had a rough couple of years, but what most people don't realize is that he had a rough couple of years in 2003 and 2004 where he didn't win any majors either.  As a huge Tiger fan, who will be watching throughout the weekend and whenever he can on Thursday and Friday, Tiger winning the Masters for a 5th time, more than any golfer not named Jack Nickalaus.

Reason #2:  The Young Gun
This kid is truly unbelievable.  Since falling apart at the Masters last year, Rory has taken the golf world by storm and has quickly become the #1 player in all of Golf after winning the U.S. Open and then posting 8 consecutive top 10 finishes including his win the first week of March at the Honda Classic where he held off Tiger on Sunday to take home the trophy.  He looks as though he just may be a step ahead of everyone with the way he can bomb the ball like a young Tiger and now play the conservative, "don't give away a lead," style of a seasoned veteran, he seems to be the early favorite. 

Rory has shown on two different occasions that he isn't bothered by Tiger Woods being on the course and having a majority of the gallery following Tiger rather than him, even if he is the #1 Golfer.  The fact of the matter is, is that we all want to like Rory and truly enjoy his career but in order to do so, he will have to stop valuing the European Tour over the PGA Tour and start to play in more than just the minimum tournaments that allows him to be eligible for, "OUR," majors, which is the first step to truly becoming the next greatest star of the game.

Rory has played this course very well and for 72 holes last year looked like he was going to walk away with it and take the first of many of his career majors.  However, after the first couple of holes at Augusta, you could see that there was a part of Rory missing, the part that tells you, you’re up 5 strokes, just hit it close, two putt and get out with a par and maintain your lead.  Some athletes are glad to not have that part of the brain. Tom Brady is one of them, who just wants to pile on points and TD after TD. But this is not football, this game is more technical and mental than any other sport, and truly requires you to gage your risk vs. your reward in “a major” situations.  As young as he is, that falter at the Masters has truly helped Rory become the best golfer that we've seen since late 90's-early 2000's Tiger Woods.  There really is no reason why Rory can't win this tournament and continue to build on his legacy and chase for the elusive 18 Majors, other than of course the guy standing next to him with 14 Major already in his pocket looking to prove that he isn't done.

Reason #3:  The Old Lefty
If there is one player that has truly learned the hard way on how to win Majors, it's Phil Mickelson.  To have such a phenomenal career be over looked and doubted as Tiger hoists trophy after trophy and puts on jacket after jacket, Phil has truly taught himself better than anyone else in the game how to handle Tiger Woods and use that raw emotion Tiger feeds off of against him when it matters the most.  Just as it seems as though Tiger would win another tournament, here comes Phil, just when you want to pick Tiger over the field in 2007, here comes Phil.  And I quote, "The man has Alligator Blood," (Thanks Teddy KGB). 

Sure Phil doesn't have the most majors, the ability to crush the ball of the tee, but what he does have may be the single most important part of a golf game when walking the course at Augusta, a short game that is unmatched by anyone other than potentially Rory.  The way Phil can chip, save himself from danger, and putt can give him a real chance at wearing the second Green Jacket of his career.  Those potential GIR misses, (Green in Regulation), can spell disaster for some of the best golfers, but not Phil. 

Phil has already hoisted one trophy this year at the Pebble Peach PRO/AM where his putting was incredible.  Posting putting rounds of 23-24-21-23 is just terrific putting.  Now, as we know, Phil is not a hot starter. He is a strong finisher.  So for all of you Phil fans out there, don't expect him to come out and cruise through Thursday and Friday with a lead or a share of it.  Phil is most definitely a Saturday, Sunday man, who will keep himself close enough the early days to put himself in a position to win with strong rounds and solid putting on the back half of the weekend.  Good luck Phil, but don't make out with your wife on TV after winning a Jacket this time.


Reason #4:  THE FIELD!!!!!!!
Each year, we look at majors and say, how could you pick against Tiger, Rory, Phil.  Those guys have been interchangeable as the years have gone on.  Since 2010, thanks in part from Tiger losing himself in injuries and family matters, the World #1 ranking has changed 8 times.  Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel, Steve Stricker, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Justin Rose have all had their hands on the #1 since 2010. 


Finally, we can't walk into a Major and say, "it's his to lose."  The reality is that it is truly, "anyone's to win."  Rory faded last year.  Is Tiger truly back?  Will Phil Putt like we know he can?  Can Graeme get back to the top?  All of these statements or questions truly make this the most exciting Masters there has been in years. 

Hunter Mahan won the Shell Houston open last week against a strong field that included Mickelson, Westwood, and Donald.  Is he prime to win this week?  He sure will come into this tournament with a boat load of confidence.  Adam Scott took the last 6 weeks off as he did prior to last year's Masters and was only two strokes behind Rory before falling to Charl Schwartzel who looked like he was putting into an ocean birdie-ing the last four holes which are arguably the toughest of the entire course. Is Adam primed for the Green Jacket?

I love the field and Golf has truly grown as a sport since Tiger's absence giving confidence and careers to hundreds of players that would have been frustrated with the game if they had to sit through what Malone and Stockton did, watching MJ and Pip hoist Trophy after Trophy.

Reason #5:  IT'S THE MASTERS
I don't watch Hockey, but I'll watch a few games of the Stanley Cup if the final is close.  I don't play Soccer, but the World Cup is interesting.  I don't fully understand Rugby, but I watched the U.S. lose to a team they've beaten a record 7 consecutive times.  Countless women and men who know nothing about football will watch the Super Bowl and people who don't follow baseball all year, suddenly pick their favorite to win the World Series.  When the NBA playoffs role around, people who, "hate the NBA," watch the playoffs and root for teams. 

Why should golf be any different?  You have the opportunity to watch individuals truly do something that is truly impossible in the eyes of those that play every once in a while and win the world's most highly touted golf tournament and, "trophy," the GREEN JACKET.

-ACLARK- aka Rock Chalk JayHawk
I hope you all enjoyed my post.  Those people that told you to never bet with your heart, didn't believe enough each time they lost.


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