There’s an extra week on the schedule this year. This week is the Shell Houston Open, then comes the Valero Texas Open, then the Masters. The point is, it’s time to start thinking about the Masters.
Who’s ready and who isn’t? Let’s check those world rankings:
No. 1: Tiger Woods. Three Tour wins already, six in the last 12 months, and he’s already committed Tiger Interruptus on Rory McIlroy’s reign at No. 1. The Rory Era is now on hold. Tiger is back on top. The only thing you need to know about Tiger is that he’s putting great again. He’s your new Masters favorite. Ready
No. 2: Rory McIlroy. The Boy Wonder has had only one good round in 2013, the last day at Doral when he shot 65 in tough conditions. And he wouldn’t have had that if that WGC event had a cut after 36 holes, because he would’ve missed it. A new home in a new country, new clubs, a new ball, a new $250 million deal and an ongoing romance with an international tennis star—yeah, that’s a bit much for anyone. Not Ready
No. 3: Justin Rose. It’s indicative of how little everyone else has done that Rose has quietly become World No. 3 despite not having won anything in over a year. Oh, wait, I’m forgetting that huge Tyco Skills Challenge in November. My bad! Justin is doing his best Luke Donald impression and top-tenning the daylights out of his opponents. He had eight top-10 last year, including the win at Doral, and he’s been fourth, eighth and second in his last three tries, respectively, in 2013. His track record at Augusta is better than you think—fifth, eighth and 11th among his last five—and he’s often fast out of the gate there with three first rounds in the 60s. Ready
No. 4: Luke Donald. The Brit breezed from Tampa, after a fourth-place finish, to Malaysia, where he picked up some nice appearance money and missed the cut. He hasn’t made any waves yet this year and, like Rose, also hasn’t won in more than a year. He doesn’t look sharp. He needs to stay out of the left rough, where he’s been a regular visitor, and start hitting greens—incredibly, he ranks a dismal 156th in that stat. Not Ready
No. 5: Brandt Snedeker. He was the Flavor of the Month briefly after two runner-up finishes and a win; then a rib injury sidelined him for a month. He returned at Bay Hill, shot a pair of 76s and went home. On the plus side, he’s starring in a funny MasterCard commercial with Tom Watson, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell in which some average hacks make fun of his name. It’s cute. But Sneds? Not Ready
No. 6: Louis Oosthuizen. Shrek, as he’s affectionately known, won in South Africa in January but in the U.S. all he’s got are two missed cuts, plus a 33rd in the limited-field Doral event. He’s won all over the world except here, and he’s certainly got the game and the swing. Based on his double eagle on no. 8 on Sunday at last year’s Masters, he’s ready. But based on his results in the States this year… Not Ready
No. 7: Adam Scott. Tiger Woods — and Luke Donald and Lee Westwood before him — prove you can be No. 1 in the world without having won a major in five years, while Scott proves you can rank among the top ten without winning in two seasons. His last one came in August of 2011 in Akron. Scott finished third at Doral and last year pretty much fumbled away the British Open on the finishing four holes. His form looks good. Can he handle Augusta’s greens with his broomstick putter? Ready
No. 8: Steve Stricker. Wisconsin’s favorite son isn’t acting like a retiree. He may be onto something with his less-is-more schedule. He’s the Bruce Lietzke of his generation. Stricker played three times so far and he’s got two seconds and a fifth. Ready
No. 9: Matt Kuchar. You may not have noticed, but Kuchar has a win in each of the last four seasons. His latest was in the mitten-wearing Match Play event in Tucson. You may also recall his Masters charge last year when he stuck an approach shot to two feet for eagle on Sunday at No. 15. Ready
No. 10 Keegan Bradley. He’s long, relatively straight off the tee, and he hits it high—all perfect attributes for Augusta. How’s he playing? Fourth, seventh and third in his last three outings. Ready
The Van Cynical Mailbag
(Send your cynical questions every Monday to Van Cynical's twitter account, @garyvansickle)
Overall, is it good for Rory to lose the top spot, especially on the cusp of the Masters? Lowered expectations, etc.—Floyd W. Harris via Twitter
It can’t hurt. Just getting out of the white-hot spotlight, which now turns its glare back to Tiger, is a plus for Rors. He needs time to adjust to a new ball, plus the clubs, and on the swift, firm greens of Augusta, he’ll realize this switch was a bigger deal than he thought. When he still hasn’t won anything by July, he may even admit it.
Will a combo nickname for Tiger and Lindsey Vonn catch on, like Brangelina or Kimye? Tigesey? Linger? I’m not feeling it.—Putt and Pint Club via Twitter
I’m not a fan of celeb merger-names in general, although Billary for the Clintons was kind of funny. Using Tiger’s given name, Eldrick, you might come up with Elvonn or LindDrick. If we must do this, I’ll go with Tron… but let’s not.
Will Tiger win at Augusta and Merion or Augusta and Muirfield?—Mike Cook via Twitter
I admire your confidence, Cookie. Merion may be too tricked up for Tiger’s taste, although I could see him doing an encore of his Royal Liverpool performance when he ironed his way around the course. Muirfield doesn’t produce bad winners, although Tiger does have bad vibes there from 2002, when he was going to win the Grand Slam in a calendar year, no doubt about, until a freak storm came up just before he teed off in the third round and all but blew him off the course. I like Tiger better at Oak Hill in August for the PGA, actually. Here’s a crazy thought: Why don’t we wait to see if he wins Augusta first?
Will the Masters ever return to the old playoff-hole pattern of 10 and 11? Hole 11 has some good history (see: Larry Mize, Nick Faldo).—Brad Morgan via Twitter
I’m afraid TV says no, Brad. You’re right on, though, and somehow the Masters poobahs have ignored my repeated suggestion for a three-hole playoff using Amen Corner, 11, 12 and 13, which would be awesome. Because the Masters pushes the envelope with a late finish, it needs to stay on 10 and 18 because they’re on high ground and still getting a little sun while 11 and the rest of Amen Corner are at the bottom of the course and get dark first. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to see a playoff go to No. 12?