Masters week is here. That means springtime is here somewhere and golf matters.
Every Masters story will have a reference to one of the following: the cathedral of pines, azaleas, Magnolia Lane, dogwoods, wisteria, the old oak, the ghost of Bobby Jones, Amen Corner, green jackets, Rory McIlroy and the career Grand Slam or Tiger Woods.
By the way, Magnolia Lane may be the most famous short road in the world. It is 330 yards long, runs from Washington Road to the Augusta National clubhouse and was first paved in 1947. The way CBS will show it this week, it may as well be the Road To Heaven, and no doubt every view of it will be accompanied by tinkly piano music.
Ah, what the hell, it’s Masters week. Enjoy it.
I’ve got my green T-shirt on so let’s dip into the Van Cynical Mailbag:
Van Cynical, Does Tiger get the next spot in the Masters Thursday morning tee shot ceremony?—Brian Norman via Twitter
Ouch. Why is it that nobody named Norman likes Tiger? I’m flaggin you 15 yards for piling on, Norm. I don’t see Tiger ever hitting a ceremonial tee shot. You can check back in 30 years and see if I’m right. I’m not even sure Tiger would return to Augusta each April for the past champions dinner if he’s not competing in the tournament.
Van Cynical, The first time Tiger has a chip with a tight lie and he’s gotta stop it quick, what happens?—Bustinpar via Twitter
He putts it. If there’s a bunker in the way, then I think he goes into full flop-shot mode, Busty, and plays a full swing shot that he won’t get flincy on.
Deep Sicks, What’s the over-under on Tiger’s finish? I’m thinking 39th is about right.—Kokomice via Twitter
That’s a helluva call, Wee Mice Mon. Bookies don’t predict outcomes, they simply gauge public perception and set betting lines so an equal amount will be wagered on both sides. The Masters is a small field, it’s the easiest cut in golf to make and Tiger can find his way around the National in the dark. Thirty-ninth or better seems like it should be a snap and yet… This is a different Tiger than we’ve ever dealt with before but in a previous life, it was always stupid to bet against him. I have a tough time forgetting the old Tiger. Betting against him just feels… unwise.
Synchronized Cynical, What under-the-radar European player could do well this week?—Jim O’Neil via Twitter
I was a big fan of Paul Casey’s game a few years ago before he had assorted issues, including injuries, that dropped him out of the top 100 like a brick through tapioca. He’s playing good golf again, finally, and is a delightful guy. I ran into him recently when we both happened to be guests at Seminole the same day. He lost the Honda Classic in a playoff and has quietly climbed back into the top 40 in the world rankings so I don’t know if he qualifies as off-the-radar anymore, but Casey has a history of low rounds at Augusta. Despite ending a long victory drought, Padraig Harrington isn’t exactly a topic of conversation these days, either. He’s still off the radar and could make some noise.
Van Cynical, Toughest shot at Augusta? Second into 11, tee shot at 12, out of the chute at 18 with the lead or ten feet above the hole on 9?—Ragan via Twitter
Which mortal among us wouldn’t love to have the chance to skank any of those shots, Rags. That tee shot at 18 is more difficult than you think because it calls for a fade off the tee and the player hasn’t been asked to fade a tee shot since maybe No. 1 (the 11th is so long now, it’s pretty much a straight ball). I’ll stick with No. 12 mainly because of the danger. You dunk one in Rae’s Creek, you’re probably making a double bogey but you’ve also got a chance to rack up a 7 or worse. The danger factor there ranks higher than the others.
Van Cynical, Seems like there is an unusually large number of players that could realistically win it this year. Deepest field ever?—Lionel Mandrake via Twitter
Deepest? I don’t think so, it’s more like simple parity and a sign that nobody has really set themselves apart as a favorite. It would be Rory but he hasn’t looked sharp. Ditto for Bubba Watson. Jimmy Walker and J.B. Holmes are two hot players the public doesn’t really see as potential Masters champs. There’s a lot of guys clumped together behind Rory who look as if they might be able to win a Masters or a major but until they do it, we don’t know if they really can. I do agree with your observation that there may be more legit contenders this year than in others, even if it may feel that way only because Tiger and Phil were head and shoulders above the rest for so long that there weren’t many other contenders.
Van Conical, Do you think Tiger will… just kidding. Any additional amateur exemptions on the horizon for the Masters, like for the NCAA champ? Who’s the next geezer to hang it up?—Jeff via Twitter
I don’t see more amateur exemptions coming. The NCAA golf championship is more focused on the team title and therefore may not produce its best individual winner so the Masters likely won’t reward that. In the so-long-forever department, Ben Crenshaw is bagging it after this week. Tom Watson would have, too, but didn’t want to steal any spotlight from Gentle Ben so look for Watson to bow out next year.
Vans, Why is No. 12 a great hole if hitting the right club is largely luck? Isn’t golf supposed to be a test of skill?—Lionel Mandrake via Twitter
Perhaps I should have used the words cunning or experience instead of luck. Savvy Masters veterans and caddies learn to read the fickle wind, Ducky. A few years ago, SI hired a scientific team to study Amen Corner and its tests determined that a common wind direction was downward — the air flows over the hill behind No. 12 (that’s Augusta CC behind the fence) and by the time it’s over Rae’s Creek, the wind is blowing downward from the elevation. It’s also been known to blow clockwise in that open area in front of the 12th green. In addition, luck is an element in the game of golf. The bounce, the lie, the roll — it’s known as the rub of the green and it was a bigger part of golf back when the game was played on the ground in olden times compared to today, when players play it through the air.
Sick cycle, Who’s your dark horse pick? Jonas Blixt or Gary Woodland?—Mr. Fairway via Twitter
If he hadn’t dinged up his ribs a few weeks back, it would’ve been Brooks Koepka, a big hitter of the Woodland variety. We haven’t heard much from Blixt or GW of late, Fairlawn. My default pick for Masters dark horse is always Zach Johnson. Nobody ever expects him to win anything even though he’s already snagged a Masters. Getting the ball in the hole trumps every other golf skill and The Zach Attack does that.
Van Sickle cell, In response (to your Tweet about beer costing a dollar more this year and Payday candy bars no longer being sold at Masters concession stands), Payday just let go of 2,500 employees.—Chad Rucker via Twitter
You’re losing your touch, Rucksack. You forgot to drop the Capt. Obvious-approved irony punchline—guess who’s NOT going to have a payday next Friday?
Vans, How about the Masters Moon Pies?—Tony Korologos via Twitter
To each his own, Topo Gigio. The Masters didn’t start for me until I downed that first fried chicken sandwich. They replaced that, I think for insurance liability reasons because they were made by a bunch of local ladies who fried chicken day and night, with some kind of pre-fab chicken sandwich that is awful. And now the Payday bar? They’re going to sell baby carrots in a baggie, I hear. Good luck with that. The Snickers bar will still be available, I’m told.
Van the Man Cynical, I love Augusta and sitting in the sun eating egg salad and chocolate milk. Is blowing chunks a Masters-approved expression?—CapBozo via Twitter
It is not an approved expression, Cap, so you won’t hear “blowing chunks” on the CBS telecast, and it is even a less-approved activity. It’s not in any patron rules book but I bet if you blow chunks on the golf course, especially in the cathedral of pines, you will be escorted off the property, badge or no badge.