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Dustin Johnson arrives at the Masters as the favorite to win
The GOLF Live team breaks down what's changed in Dustin Johnson's game to make him so dominant--and such a heavy favorite to win at Augusta this week.
By Alan Shipnuck
Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Welcome to Masters week. Let's get right to it. An all-green, all-Augusta mailbag.

"What do you think ANGC tournament officials would do in the Lexi situation if Rory, DJ, Jordan or Jason Day was two ahead with six holes to play?" -- Gavin (@McShoo)

Notwithstanding poor Roberto de Vicenzo, the Masters has a very long history of offering its stars generous rulings, whether it's Arnold Palmer's embedded ball, Rory McIlroy kicking the sand, Ernie Els's free drop deep in the forest or Tiger Woods not getting DQ'd. So, I'm guessing the dude who received the phone call or email would try to pretend it doesn't exist. If that was impossible, perhaps because multiple folks were alerted, the green coats would finagle a compromise where the two-stroke penalty for mismarking the ball would be applied but the additional two strokes for signing an incorrect scorecard is waived. They always find a way to protect the players…as long as it's not a defenseless 14 year-old boy.

"Has an ANGC official ever reprimanded you for anything you wrote, said, or did on the grounds?" -- @ShutFaceGolf

This is a sensitive topic and, at the advice of my bosses, all I can say is that twice I have been escorted off the grounds and my absence at the 2013 Masters was not my choice.

"What is your favorite Masters concessions item? I know everybody talks pimento cheese, but the egg salad is top notch." -- Jeff (@jeffshelman)

Bingo. I put a few BBQ potato chips atop the egg and liberally apply Texas Pete's, an excellent hot sauce I've only ever seen at Augusta National. If I'm feeling really frisky I might add some pickle slices, too. But one of the beloved perks of having a WORKING PRESS badge – there are other subcategories – is that we have access to the clubhouse. The upstairs patio is one of the great hangs in golf, populated mostly by club members and tournament competitors. You have a view of the first tee and all the schmoozing under the Tree, and the past champions locker room is adjacent to the patio so those guys are always coming and going. The full club menu is served but the key item is the peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream. At a truck stop off I-20 it would be spectacularly delicious. Sitting on the clubhouse patio, with the Masters playing out at your feet, it may be the best dessert in the world.

"Does Jack in '86 remain the most exhilarating Masters win of all time?" -- @MarkEglinton

It's hard to say no, but people forget that Big Jack won it sitting in the clubhouse, as a series of pretenders (including Greg Norman and Tom Kite) faltered on the closing holes. So, it's certainly the most unforgettable victory in tournament history but the ending wasn't very artistic. Exhilaration, to me, means a wild finish. Sunday at the 2011 Masters was the craziest day I've ever experienced in nearly a quarter-century on the golf beat, with eight different players claiming a share of the lead and then Charl Schwartzel blowing them all off the golf course with four closing birdies. If a bigger name/more charismatic player had done this we'd still be singing songs about that day. But unfettered exhilaration demands that the right guy wins *and* loses, so I think the best choice might be Sunday of 2004: Ernie Els's two mid-round eagles to take control of the tournament and then an up-and-down for the ages on 15; Phil Mickelson's mid-round stumble followed by an epic rally in Amen Corner; and, finally, the muthah of all walk-off putts.

2013 Masters Augusta

The Big Oak Tree standing behind the Augusta National clubhouse is one of the Masters' iconic symbols.
EPA/ERIK S. LESSER

"The most vivid memory from my first trip to Augusta National: standing on 10 tee and looking down to the fairway and thinking, ‘Oh my god.' Yours?" -- Howard (@hriefs)

Yes, that's an amazing spot. Really, the whole view is awe-inspiring. I remember stepping out of the clubhouse and being blown away by the vast expanse of the course, all of it falling away toward Rae's Creek. But an even more indelible memory from that week were my accommodations. As everyone knows, there aren't many hotel rooms in Augusta so the SI contingent rents a bunch of houses for the writers and photographers to share. Now they're vacuous McMansions, but at my first Masters, in '94, the houses were much smaller and more eccentric. I actually had to share a room with my then-colleague Sally Jenkins. (Separate beds, I should clarify.) I got in late and slipped into the darkened room. When I awaked the next morning I was greeted by the beady eyes of a raccoon. I shrieked like a schoolgirl. As it turned out, this raccoon was dead, and had been stuffed and mounted on the wall. Sally, ever the considerate hostess, draped something over it for the duration of our stay, sparing me the horror of staring into the raccoon's soulless eyes.

"Most overrated tradition at The Masters?" -- Dan (@djdonof)

Gosh, that's tough because there are so many to choose from! I really don't care what the past champ serves for dinner, and neither do the other guys in the room – almost all of them just order a steak off the club menu. The Par-3 tourney used to be a really cool event, a chance to watch pros of various vintages work magic with their wedges. Now that it's a glorified daycare center I'm out. In theory I like that past champs keep coming back but ever since the course was supersized it's painful to watch them labor to break 80; with the course playing long and soft this year, plus gusty winds, we might need a break-90 watch for some of these cats. Driving down Magnolia Lane is a special experience but I'm over it now that every jabroni in the field videotapes it and puts it on social media. The green jacket retains its mystique but the worst three minutes in sports is the stale Butler Cabin ceremony and the always-awkward chit-chat by the chairman. ("Seve, how tall are you?") Am I leaving anything out?

"Can we get an over/under on Spieth's career green jackets?" -- Eric (@ehowell10)

3.5.

"Thoughts on patrons who wear golf shoes at PGA Tour events?" -- Patrick (@phkeane)

When I become Supreme Leader they will be the first ones up against the wall.

"Hate to ask, but besides 12/13, are there any holes that would be great at any other location? Wonder this every year. #AskAlan" -- Kris (@oiler3535)

Number three is a really cool little risk-reward driveable par-4, if the tees are up. I like 5 - the green is mini-golfesque, but I think that's why I enjoy watching the players struggle there. Eleven has been compromised but is still pretty cool. The green at #14 is so wild I think that hole would work anywhere. Sixteen is made mostly by the amphitheater, and where it falls within the round, but I always enjoy par-3s where you can feed the ball toward the flag. But I agree with your thesis – there are a bunch of overrated holes at Augusta National.

"Who is the most underwhelming champion of all time and why is it Vijay Singh in 2000?" -- @SNESdru

Haha, c'mon now, the big Fijian is a legit Hall of Famer, and his win has historical importance as it denied Tiger the Grand Slam. Surely you're forgetting about Gay Brewer (which I always thought would make a great name for a niche magazine) and Trevor Immelman. The latter won maybe the worst Masters ever, in 2008, shooting a final round 75(!) which was more than enough on a boring Sunday when none of the top seven finishers broke par.

"Let's assume ANGC is destroyed by some natural disaster. Where should they have the Masters until it can be repaired?" -- Brent (@brdmarti)

It has to be Cypress Point. It has the shared Alister MacKenzie pedigree, the same air of hyper-exclusivity, and even a similarly modest white clubhouse. Maybe hosting the Masters would finally convince CPC's fusty membership to build a few new back tees, too.

"Who do you think will have a better Masters Tournament among the Latin America players: Cabrera, Grillo, Vegas or Gana?" -- Nora (@noraventu)

I think J. Vegas will make a spirited run. The course is going to be long and soft and only a handful of guys fly the ball farther, and Vegas has been playing really solid golf, having made 11 straight cuts and posted three top-15s in his last four stroke-play events. No ones love El Pato more than me – in another #AskAlan I'll tell you about my crazy trip to his hometown in Argentina -- but I think Vegas is the guy.

Jhonattan Vegas

Can Jhonattan Vegas contend this week? It's not a crazy idea.
Stan Badz/PGA Tour

"Michael Campbell won a major more recently than Tiger last won a Masters... Nicklaus said Tiger would win 10 green jackets. What grade do you give him for his 4?" -- Mark (@mocycling)

B. Maybe a B+. That's pretty harsh, considering only one man has won more. But Tiger had his four jackets by age 29. And after taking his last one, in 2005, he rolled up seven top-six finishes at the Masters but could never get across the line again. (Four of those were pre-fire hydrant.) Funny that the same guy can be both the most dominant golfer of all time and one of the game's greatest what-ifs.

"What's the over/under on how long it takes the last group to play on Thursday if it gusts to 30?" -- Bob (@BobEstesPGA)

They should be finished by dark…on Friday.

"Which scribe, aside from yourself, are you rooting for in the Masters media lottery?" -- @GeneMenez

I'm not even entering the lottery this year because the day after the Masters is the beginning of my kids' spring break and I have to hurry up and fly cross-country so I can meet them poolside. Therefore, I'm rooting for massive thunderstorms to wipe out the entire day of golf for the scribes, because, yes, I really am that petty. As for the obvious follow-up, I won the lottery in 1996, playing the course with Greg Norman's entrails still scattered about. This was pre-Hootie but it doesn't matter that much – scribes are compelled to use the 6,200-yard member's tees, from where the course plays very, very short because of the fast fairways. (And I was lucky to play ANGC before the tacky rough sprouted, back when the course was a real racetrack.) The greens really are terrifying – I had five three-putts, including a disappointing par on number 15. Back then I was probably an 11 or 12 and shot an 88. It was a blast. Once you win the lottery you can't enter it again for seven years, clearing room for other dreamers. All of whom I'll be rooting against this year.

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