1. BUBBA CAN DO IT AGAIN…
Defending champion Bubba Watson is a ballstriking savant. He shapes shots in an advanced way, a lot like Chi Chi Rodriguez used to. Instead of either hooding or opening the club at address, he waits until the ball is almost on the clubface and sort of squishes the ball with his hands to turn it over, as you'd do with a Ping-Pong paddle. The Masters is Bubba's best chance to win multiple majors, for a few reasons. He's a good putter, his misses aren't penalized as much as they are at the other majors, and with those amazing hands he can shape shots to make almost any hole suit his eye — and even Jack couldn't do that. If he's on at Augusta, Bubba just might repeat.
2. …BUT PHIL IS MY MASTERS FAVORITE
It's close, but in my book Phil Mickelson is the pre-tournament favorite, with Tiger a close second. Phil loves his new driver, as he showed with his win in Phoenix this year. He still has the game to win majors. Heck, he had a chance to win last year's Masters and he wasn't even playing that well. And as we saw in 2010, when he hit that amazing 6-iron off the pine needles on No. 13, Phil can hit pressure shots when he needs to at Augusta. Now, to rate Phil's and Bubba's miracle Masters swings, I give the nod to Bubba. His hooked wedge from last year's playoff came off a tougher lie, on a downslope, and he did it in sudden-death, when it mattered most.
3. TIGER'S GOT THE MAGIC BACK
Amazingly, it's been eight years since Tiger won the Masters. In 2012 he reminded me of an aging Olympic athlete who looks like he should win gold but is off in small, subtle ways. He's struggled with his putter in recent years. When you get older, it's harder to control the little muscles in your wrists and hands. Well, this year Tiger is much sharper on the greens, his chipping is great, and he's swinging better than he has in five years. It will come down to putting. Augusta's greens demand that you do three things perfectly: Make a perfect read, choose a perfect line and hit the perfect speed. Tiger is starting to look like Superman on the greens again.
4. RORY'S NEW STICKS WILL STALL HIM
Rory's switch to Nike clubs might cost him in the majors this year. They could be great clubs, but it takes time to adjust to a whole new set — especially when he had so much momentum late in 2012 with his old ones. Trust me: I switched to new clubs in 1976 and was never the same golfer. I wish Rory the best, but it might take three months to a year before he's fully comfortable with his new gear. It takes time to trust them under major pressure. You might have a 5-wood that you hit great on the range or in the first round, and then on Sunday… pull-hook! You have to have confidence to win the Masters, so he'll need some good finishes leading up to Augusta.
5. WOMEN MEMBERS ARE GREAT FOR AUGUSTA
I grew up in the San Francisco area, which is about as liberal a place to live as you can get. So when Augusta admitted two women members last year — former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore — I said, "It's about time." I absolutely applauded.
There are so many accomplished women who've played the game — Nancy Lopez, Annika Sorenstam, Juli Inkster, just to name a few — not to mention great women who love the game and play on weekends. Women are an asset to any club, especially people as accomplished as Rice and Moore. I hope even more women are allowed to further add to the ambience of Augusta.