What should we make of Tiger? Is this the year Rory gets his career slam? Which runner-up do you wish you could crown champion? And who will win?
We convened a panel of experts — Sports Illustrated senior writers Michael Bamberger, Alan Shipnuck and Gary Van Sickle, plus special contributor John Garrity and a Tour player who took part on the condition of anonymity—to analyze these and other topics in advance of the 79th Masters
Where is Tiger Woods at this point in his career?
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I’ll say one thing: I think Tiger has had enough.
John Garrity, special contributor, Sports Illustrated (@jgarrity2): Does he know he’s had enough?
BAMBERGER: Yes. The ultimate proof is that he lost a tooth and had to hold a news conference. Tiger is under constant surveillance, and it has all taken a toll. I watched him on the putting green at Augusta in 2013. I sensed he could tell everyone was looking at him, and he was so uncomfortable. In that way, he’s the opposite of Arnold Palmer and Phil Mickelson. Tiger’s had enough of all the prying eyes, prying cameras and prying questions.
Anonymous Pro: If I’m trying to put myself in his mind-set, which I don’t claim I can do, he’s playing so poorly that his ego has to be fragile. How fun can it be? The last thing I’d want to do is play in public.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): When he comes back, it’ll set up as the most important tournament of his career. He needs to show progress and remind himself and all of us that he’s still Tiger Woods. But he’s on really thin ice. If he starts yipping chips and looking like he did, he could be done forever.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Everyone is watching Tiger with a NASCAR eye, waiting for a fiery crash. If Tiger doesn’t want his game to be studied, kind of like an older Ben Hogan, or if he resentfully feels like the public doesn’t deserve to watch him anymore, I would totally understand that.
ANONYMOUS PRO: I don’t believe anything that’s being said about Tiger’s game. He said he’d hit “thousands and thousands” of chips before Phoenix, but what I saw there and in San Diego was a guy who hadn’t done a lot of practicing. He also said he was 100% healthy, and the next week that proved to be wrong too.
GARRITY: In the modern era the handful of major winners who lost their games never got them back—David Duval, Ian Baker-Finch and Seve Ballesteros.
VAN SICKLE: Don’t forget Sandy Lyle.
GARRITY: Sandy, yes. Seve was a fantastic feel player with unbelievable imagination and the same intimidating presence as Tiger, but when he lost his game, it was adios. Seve was never again even a shadow of his former self. Tiger’s problems now extend from the driver all the way through the putter.
SHIPNUCK: One more setback could be devastating.
ANONYMOUS PRO: He’s a shell of himself. He’s not good enough to compete at the level he used to or maybe even to compete on Tour at all. Which is a shame.
GARRITY: This isn’t a slump. It’s something far more serious. I don’t know if Tiger has the drive to think he can recover from it.
Can Rory complete his quest for the career grand slam?
SHIPNUCK: It’s a huge deal. Not only would a Masters win give Rory the career slam, it would also give him three straight majors and a chance to match the Tiger Slam of four straight, which we all agree is Tiger’s crowning achievement, along with those six straight USGA titles—three U.S. Juniors and three Amateurs.
BAMBERGER: Rory’s astounding length and accuracy make him an ideal person to win and win handily if he gets conditions like he got at the 2011 U.S. Open, when it was soggy. I could see him having a substantial 54-hole lead and not having to do much to win. He’s done that before in majors. Now he’s got the maturity to handle a big lead at Augusta.
VAN SICKLE: I’m not sold on Rory’s putting on those roller-coaster greens. He can roll it great, but at times, putting looks like the one hole in his game. If his stroke holds up for four days, though, it’s game over.
ANONYMOUS PRO: I don’t like Rory to get the slam this year. There’s way too much attention on it. Rory is the sexy story and the easy pick this year since Tiger isn’t a factor, but I don’t think Rory is in great form.
SHIPNUCK: Rory’s problem at Augusta is that he hasn’t played to his strengths. He’s only 21 under par on the par-5s. Short-hitting Zach Johnson played them 12 under when he won in 2007. Rory doesn’t have to win it with his putter. If his long game is fantastic, he could be five or six strokes up on Sunday. He just hasn’t summoned a quintessential performance with his long game there.
GARRITY: I don’t think Rory will do it this year. A guy winning three straight majors is such a rare thing that I’ll always bet against it, whoever it is. Rory will get the career slam sooner or later, and probably twice over, just not this year.
Which near-miss runner-up would you most like to have seen win a Masters?
BAMBERGER: Roberto De Vicenzo. It would’ve been great if he and Bob Goalby could’ve had an 18-hole playoff so there would be no tarnish on Goalby’s win or Roberto’s loss.
ANONYMOUS PRO: I’ll say Greg Norman.
VAN SICKLE: All right, but which time?
ANONYMOUS PRO: All of them. Well, you can’t take away Jack’s win in ’86, but Larry Mize chipping in the next year and Norman melting down against Nick Faldo in ’96 were brutal to watch. Then again, Norman’s legacy was built around his many heartbreaking defeats.
GARRITY: In ’87, Greg is the greatest player in the game without question. He was second to Jack in ’86, and then it looks like he’s finally got this Masters, and Mize chips in from 140 feet. Norman ends up with two British Opens, and the record never shows how truly great he was.
SHIPNUCK: People forget his previous major was the ’86 PGA when Bob Tway holed out to beat him on the last hole. It’s unbelievable that would happen to the same guy two majors in a row.
GARRITY: This question stimulated so much thought that I compiled a list of guys, like Scott Hoch losing to Faldo with the tragedy of missing a two-foot putt and your name happening to rhyme with choke. Or Len Mattiace, whose career ended up being defined by his playoff failure and, later, a skiing accident. But I’ll go with Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry as a field entry in the 2009 playoff with Angel Cabrera. Campbell would’ve fulfilled a prophecy that he was going to win a major and have a great career—which didn’t pan out—while Perry had a couple of chances, was a very popular guy and his not winning that Masters almost seemed unfair.
SHIPNUCK:I’d say Johnny Miller, maybe in 1975 when Nicklaus won that thriller. It hurts Johnny deeply that he doesn’t get to go to the champions dinner every year. The Masters would be more fun with Johnny knocking around.
VAN SICKLE: While Curtis Strange and Chip Beck could have prevented Bernhard Langer, I’m going with a guy who was a first-round coleader in his only Masters appearance and was paired for the first two rounds with eventual winner José María Olazábal. His name was Brandel Chamblee. If he’d won that Masters—he didn’t come close—he’d probably be on TV now.
Do you like the sideshows that are the par-3 tournament and the drive, chip and putt contest?
SHIPNUCK: I didn’t know what to think about the Drive, Chip and Putt, but it was on TV in my house last year and my kids were riveted to the screen. I get it now. It’s a great idea.
BAMBERGER: I like the Drive, Chip and Putt thing. I’m with Billy Payne that the Masters should grow the game and introduce it to new people. I applaud that. As for all the toddlers and girlfriends in the par-3 contest, it’s excessive and silly.
VAN SICKLE: I’d like Drive, Chip and Putt better if TV cameras weren’t right in the faces of these nine-year-old kids. It just has a feeling of exploitation that rubs me wrong. The event would be just as effective if it wasn’t shown live, but you can’t argue with attracting more kids to golf even if you’re putting them under pressure.
ANONYMOUS PRO: I’m a big fan of Drive, Chip and Putt. If you’re a kid, how cool is it that you get to do anything at Augusta, like putt on the 18th green? Regarding the par-3: How can I say this delicately? I wish it was more about shooting a score and less about the kids. One year I played in it, a guy in my group had his kid putt for him on every green. It was such a cool event before when almost everybody posted a score.
SHIPNUCK:Watching the best players hit wedges into those crazy little greens was such a good show. Now it’s turned into something that isn’t golf.
GARRITY: I’m a grandfather, so I really like the cute kids in the par-3 contest. The Drive, Chip and Putt kids aren’t as cute. They look like a bunch of sawed-off Ray Floyds trying to catch an agent’s eye or score a scholarship to Georgia or Oklahoma State. Both innovations are good for the club because we take the place so seriously, sometimes it has the atmosphere of a funeral home.
VAN SICKLE: I liked the par-3 when it was actual competition. Now it has turned into a televised hit-and-giggle show, I guess as a way to sucker kids and women into watching. I wonder what Bobby Jones would think?
ANONYMOUS PRO:These events are marketing campaigns aimed at improving the club’s image and saying, Hey, we love kids, we’re a welcoming club, we even have women and minorities as members.
BAMBERGER: Augusta National has always honored its past champions. So why not make the par-3 a semiserious competition for the past champions who no longer play the 72-hole event?
VAN SICKLE: One of the corporate partners could put up half a million bucks for the winner’s favorite charity. Then you’d see guys finish their rounds.
ANONYMOUS PRO: You want a good show? Just let Arnie, Jack and Gary play the par-3 contest, nobody else. I would watch every shot.
And the winner is …
BAMBERGER: I’ll go with King Louis, Louis Oosthuizen. He’s a remarkable and underrated talent who comes and goes when he feels like it.
GARRITY: I’ll take Jordan Spieth. At the Masters we seem to alternate between bombers and precision players as champions. It’s time for somebody to play the Zach Johnson role. Spieth has the intensity. He contended last year and wanted it so much, he clearly got in his own way. He’ll be in better control this time around. And his short game may be the best on Tour.
VAN SICKLE: A high draw is what it takes at Augusta, Nicklaus always said, but a high fade for a lefty works even better. Bubba Watson has proved it by winning twice, so he’s got a comfort factor. His short game this season has looked the best it’s ever been. I think he’s going to go green in triplicate.
ANONYMOUS PRO: Last year was the first time Jimmy Walker played in the Masters, and he tied for eighth. He played a great back nine in Hawaii and ran away with it. He’s won five times, he hits his long irons high, drives it straight and is a very good putter. Jimmy isn’t a sexy pick—I read that he’s 40 to 1. [Those odds dropped to 25 to 1 after his win on Sunday in Texas.] I’m not a gambler, but if I was, I’d put a hundred bucks on him.
SHIPNUCK: Someone has to pick Rory. It’s all laid out perfectly for him, the passing of the baton from Tiger, the career slam. He is clearly the world’s best golfer, but the casual fans are still waiting. Rory needs to win a Masters to impress them. And if Rory is going to win one Masters, this is the one.rnish on Goalby’s win or Roberto’s loss.