PGA Tour Confidential: The favorite after 36 holes at Augusta

PGA Tour Confidential: The favorite after 36 holes at Augusta

Tiger Woods shot a 5-under 31 on the back nine.
John Biever/SI

Every day this week, writers and editors from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine will address one pressing question about the Masters in a daily version of PGA Tour Confidential, our weekly roundtable discussion.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Fascinating leaderboard. Can the young guys continue to play loose on the weekend, or will one of the battle-tested vets pull it out? Will Tiger reclaim his throne? Can Westwood break through? Does Sergio have a chance? Is Phil too far back? Dustin Johnson showed up a day late but looks good now. What I’m asking is, with two rounds to go, who do you think will win and why?

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think it’s Rory’s time. He has been hailed as a transcendent player, and transcendent players win the Masters, even young ones. He has a wise head, a marvelous swing, and he’s been preparing for this his entire life. While Tiger is chasing Jack’s records, Rory is ready to take his first step in his pursuit of Tiger.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Hey, Rory, remember a few months back when you said you’d love to go up against Tiger in a major? Maybe that wasn’t the best thing to wish for. Because if Tiger is actually back in form anywhere near where he once was, he’s three times the pressure putter you are. Not a good sign. Is Tiger back or is he fool’s gold? That was a pretty easy 66 and Tiger, like the old days, complained about a couple of his bogeys. He wasn’t happy not being perfect. That said, I’ve tired of picking Geoff Ogilvy to win the Masters over the past few years. He might have won one or two if he would have quit throwing up a triple or two on the back nine. This time, with Tiger and Westwood and Rory hogging the spotlight, Ogilvy scoops up another leftover major … just like Winged Foot.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: I like the idea of Ogilvy winning the way he did at Winged Foot, with the game’s biggest stars crashing around him. But I think Rory is one of those rare players who has the talent, the training, and the ability to truly enjoy his time inside the ropes. Guys like that win multiple majors.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I believe Choi will win, Tiger will place and Phil will show. Please bear in mind that past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I’ll take Westwood. With all of the attention on McIlroy, Day and Tiger, Westy quietly went around in 67. He is in the perfect position to steal this thing. And I’ll add this: We’re in store for one of the biggest weekends in golf in recent memory. Time for one of the young guns to make a statement. Time for Tiger to show he’s not about to pass the torch. Should be fun.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: I can’t believe it, but I’m picking Tiger. When you look at that leaderboard, it’s like his name is written in capital letters. For the first time in a long time, Tiger looks comfortable on a golf course. Rory looks comfortable too. This could be a heck of a tournament!

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I’ll take Tiger, because his short game is looking much better and he’s swinging well enough with occasional flashes of brilliance, like his approach on 18. I am very tempted to take Rory, though. He looks very good, but I didn’t like seeing him miss putts today.

David Dusek, deputy editor, With so much golf to play, and so many good players in the mix, picking one guy to break away is brutal, but I’ll rake Rory. I just think he I destined to be a great player, to win multiple majors and be a force in the game for a long time. He’s playing so well and showing so much maturity. What better place to make his ascent than Augusta National?

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, I think McIlroy will win. One bogey through 36 holes and the way he’s carrying himself show me he’s more than ready.

Alan Bastable, senior editor, Golf Magazine: I followed Tiger on the back nine today and I liked what I saw. A lot. His driver is still erratic, but his irons were precise and he had the galleries in his corner. The place was electric. Plus, when he made birdie 3 at the home hole, he was as pumped up as I’ve seen him in months. Tiger wants it. If Rory doesn’t go nuts and run away with this thing, look for TW to post 68 Saturday and then reel in the pack on Sunday.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Last year Tiger suckered me into thinking he was back with that stirring back nine on Saturday at Pebble in the U.S. Open, but he still hasn’t put four good rounds together. I still think Mickelson is the man to beat. His short game was great Thursday and his driving was good Friday. I think he puts it all together this weekend.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: I would love for Rory to win, but his putting is a bit suspect. I’m going with someone under the radar: Geoff Ogilvy. I’ve always thought his game was perfect for Augusta. He hits a high, soft cut with his irons, which will be perfect for the firm greens this weekend. He hasn’t scored on the gettable par 5s. If he can convert for eagles and birdies this weekend, then hand him the green jacket.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Jason Day, hyper long and a good putter, will steal the thunder from the big names, and the Shark will be smiling wide on Sunday evening when, finally, an Aussie wears the green jacket.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I’m going to stick with our cover boy, Dustin Johnson. Followed him today and liked the body language. The 68 he shot on Friday could’ve been 64 or 65. I see him posting something like that in the third round.