To me, the Masters represents golf's ideal. The tournament is rooted in the game's traditions -- Augusta National is the epitome of inland-style links golf -- and yet the course conditions are more routinely flawless than they are anywhere else in the world. Augusta also brings out the best players -- and, in the par-3 12th, par-4 third, and par-5 13th, has three perfect holes among many fabulous ones. Golf may not be a game of perfect, but the Masters is as close as it gets.
Greatest Shot, Greatest Call
Jack Nicklaus's 5-iron at No. 16 on Sunday in 1986 was maybe the most perfect shot I've ever seen. The TV commentary was flawless, too. Jim Nantz knew how much time Jack normally took to get over a shot, and he had prepared remarks that would lead right up to a second or two before Jack pulled the trigger. He set the stage brilliantly—and then Jack backed off. So Jim asked Tom Weiskopf, "What's going through Jack's mind now?" And Tom famously replied, "If I knew the way he thought, I'd have won this tournament." What's overlooked is what Tom said right before Jack swung: "Your destiny is right here."
Greatest Dark Horse?
Masters winners generally come from within the World Top 25. Kevin Na is amazing around the greens and could easily be the biggest surprise contender. Louis Oosthuizen came so close in 2012, losing to Bubba Watson in a playoff. Patrick Reed possesses the necessary power and bravado. Lee Westwood hits so many greens—he could be the next Mark O'Meara or Darren Clarke and win a major in his forties. I'm keen on Brooks Koepka, who improved in each of his 2015 major starts and whose combination of length and skills around the greens is the modern template.
Greatest Buildup: 2016
I don't know how you could arrange the chess pieces any more perfectly than this year. You've got Jason Day trending toward top form. Rory McIlroy came in fourth last year, his best-ever Masters performance. Jordan Spieth has finished second and first in his two Masters starts. Then you've got Rickie Fowler, who couldn't have closed out wins more dramatically than he did last year at the Players and the Scottish Open, and Bubba Watson, who's custom-fit for Augusta National. Finally, there's the course, which historically has been kind to old folks, so there's real hope for players in their forties, too. April can't get here soon enough.
Greatest Prediction For the Big 3
Jordan has a wonderful ability to hit high iron shots and work the ball in any direction. He's amazing on and around the greens and has astounding poise. He's that rare player who skipped the apprenticeship before joining the elite. Rory lacks Jordan's scrambling ability. And Jason is still learning how to hit softer, more calibrated approaches—Jordan is miles better at that. I see Spieth as the overwhelming Masters favorite.