Experience will be the difference at this year's Masters

Experience will be the difference at this year’s Masters

If Mickelson is going to win this week, his iron play needs to be sharper than it was at Doral.
Simon Bruty/SI

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Masters is all about tradition, and this year is no different. The course is in fantastic condition and it looks like the weather might actually allow for the course to play properly.

Conventional wisdom says that when conditions are firm and fast — like those we are forecast to have this week — the number of golfers who can potentially win a tournament increases. The thinking is that the drives of short hitters will roll out more in the fairways, while the drives of big hitters will easily roll through the fairways and into trouble.

But I think this year’s event will actually feature fewer “genuine contenders” because so few players were able to play meaningful practice rounds in the cold, blustery conditions on Monday and Tuesday. To win at Augusta National, you must know the subtle angles of the course, where to land your approach shots and the nuances of the greens. So this year’s Masters will really be contested by golfers who have played here many times before.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, two of the favorites to win here this week, obviously have plenty of talent and experience. What each of these superstars will have to do to win is hit high-quality approach shots. When Tiger won at Bay Hill and Phil won at Doral, each pitched in several times after hitting wayward iron shots. Augusta is not so forgiving. Since the course rewards great shots, not good ones, neither Tiger nor Phil can win the Masters unless they improve their iron games.

Padraig Harrington could also contend, but is continuing to fly under the radar at Augusta. Although he started the 2009 season poorly by his standards, his form is improving. His key to success this week will be consistency. Padraig has got to string along pars, make birdies when he can and avoid mixing lots of bogeys and birdies. When Harrington is at his best, he rarely gives shots back to the course.

Finally, Geoff Ogilvy has been playing brilliantly all year long, and he has a blend of power and finesse that is well suited for Augusta. If the strong winds continue through the week, his high ball flight could become a handicap, but there isn’t too much to criticize when it comes to his game. The Big O just has to avoid making a big number — like the nine he carded on the 15th hole on Saturday in 2007 when he was in contention — if he wants to stay in the mix.

All in all, I have no doubt that the tournament is going to be thrilling. The Masters is always great theater, and that’s a tradition that I doubt will ever change.