We convened a panel of SI golf experts — senior writers Michael Bamberger, Damon Hack, Alan Shipnuck, and Gary Van Sickle — contributing writer John Garrity, and a PGA Tour pro (who participated on the condition of anonymity) to answer those and other questions
Over- and Underrated
Van Sickle: What are the most overrated and underrated holes at Augusta National?
Bamberger: The 11th is overrated. It was once a truly great, dynamic hole. It has been ruined by those clowns, if I may use that word, who put in all those trees and made it way too long. They’ve made it a survival hole instead of a strategic hole.
Anonymous Pro: I agree, the 11th is ridiculous. How many 505-yard par-4s do we play where you don’t even try to hit the green? Before, guys would take a risk and go for the green with a five- or a six-iron, but now more shots end up near the 12th tee than on the 11th green. They’ve overdone it.
Van Sickle: I’d throw out 3 as underrated. Jack Nicklaus usually laid up off the tee with an iron. Tiger tried to drive the green once, but hit into the woods and made a double. That green is nasty, and there are a surprising number of big scores there for a short [350 yards], supposedly easy par-4.
Garrity: You could argue the whole front nine is underrated because it wasn’t televised all those years.
Shipnuck: The hole I hate is 17. It’s such a nothing hole, especially after all the dramatics of 12, 13, 15 and 16. It’s an awkward, bad hole.
Hack: To me, the 13th is still underrated. I love it. It’s simply a great, exciting par-5 where anything can happen. On the back nine the 13th is where the action is.
Three of a Kind
Van Sickle: The par-3 contest has been turned into a TV show, and it’s a hit. Love it or hate it?
Hack: Didn’t Chris Berman announce it for ESPN last year?
Shipnuck: Yeah. Say no more.
Garrity: Sorry, but speaking for the grandfathers, it’s a winner. It’s the perfect venue for the older players to make an appearance and have some fun and not impact the tournament proper. It’s fun to watch.
Hack: It’s a chance to see Jack and Arnie play golf. It’s a good appetizer.
Shipnuck: Now that the cameras are on, every player has to find some cute five-year-old to be his caddie, even if it’s not his own kid. There’s peer pressure to out-cute each other.
Anonymous Pro: I’ve played in the par-3 contest, andpersonally, I think it’s fantastic. You see great shots, holes in one, and it humanizes the players when you see them out there with their kids. Imagine if there was a father-son touch football game the day before the Super Bowl. People would love it.
Shipnuck: It’s exactly like the Lingerie Bowl at the Super Bowl.
Women, Hear Them Roar
Van Sickle: Any candidates for the first female member at Augusta?
Shipnuck: Condoleezza Rice has to be a front-runner. She’s up for membership at Cypress Point, and that will help. Plus, she’s from the South. And there’s Darla Moore—she’s a buddy of Hootie Johnson’s, and she’s been on the cover of Fortune. She’s married to a billionaire investor, and with any female member, you have to deal with the husband too. She has the right significant other.
Bamberger: I have a nominee in mind—Christine Bamberger. [Laughter.]
The Big Letdown
Van Sickle: What’s going to be the biggest Masters disappointment?
Anonymous Pro: It could be Phil Mickelson, although I hope I’m wrong. I expected him to blow us away after his hot stretch at the end of last season, but his suddenly magical putting touch has pretty much disappeared. Using that heel-shafted putter makes it hard for him to be consistent because there’s so much face rotation required, among other variables. Phil isn’t driving it well, either. He even went back to his old two-driver experiment at Doral. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Shipnuck: The people expecting a circus are going to be disappointed. Sure, there may be some TV trucks on Washington Road and some paparazzi lurking, but on the grounds you’ll have no idea that any media firestorm is raging around Tiger. Fans will be polite; there won’t be any streakers. It’ll look like any other Masters.
Hack: Tiger was leading the evening news and entertainment news shows some nights. This story has surprised me by how much people care. Tiger, Tiger, Tiger—it’s all anyone wants to talk about.
Shipnuck: No question the Masters will be the highest-rated golf tournament ever, but it will provide closure in some ways. Tiger will get back into a golf routine. I didn’t even read the last batch of text messages he allegedly sent one mistress. They were morbidly interesting, but I’m ready to move on.
The Tiger Fallout
Van Sickle: Is it disappointing that no one else stepped up during the prolonged absence of Tiger Woods?
Shipnuck: It’s all in the police report. That’s all I have to say.
Garrity: Really, how often does anybody step up? Guys like Tiger are freakish. Maybe it’s an unreasonable expectation that just because Tiger is gone, the anointed Number 2 or Number 3 player will be on top of his game and win four or five times.
Bamberger: That notion of stepping up is a function of our relatively recent interest in the World Ranking, which didn’t exist until 20-odd years ago. Before that, Craig Stadler won one week, Hubert Green won the next, Andy North won the week after. There were no expectations of anyone stepping up except Jack. This is simply golf returning to its old form. It’s been a fun, entertaining year.
Shipnuck: In the post-Nick Faldo, pre-Tiger era, if you won twice, it was a banner season, and if you won one major it was fantastic. It made your career. Tiger has spoiled us and warped our expectations.
Van Sickle: Since Phil Mickelson hasn’t been a factor and Tiger has been missing, who should be the favorite at Augusta?
Shipnuck: This is the most wide open Masters of the Tiger Woods era. There are four or five guys you can make a case for, but it’s halfhearted. Ernie Els and Jim Furyk did step up for important victories and found their old putting strokes. They’re potential top five players in the world when they’re on, and they have a lot of high finishes at Augusta, but they don’t make anybody shake in their boots. Really, there is no favorite.
Garrity: That’s true if you accept that Tiger has been diminished in some way. I don’t accept that. He wouldn’t be playing if he didn’t feel he was ready to win.
Shipnuck: Tiger has won only one of the last seven Masters. He’s not the lock he was before they changed the course.
Hack: Tiger is more likely to miss the cut than he is to win. I have no idea what his head is going to be like. I don’t think he knows, either. This is not coming back from his father’s death or his knee. That’s why I thought Phil should be favored. I was shocked when Ladbroke’s installed Tiger as the favorite.
Bamberger: You’re telling me that if you had to put your house on the line, you’d pick someone other than Tiger to win?
Van Sickle: What do you make of Tiger’s quick return after he had hinted in his February statement that he might be out of action for quite a while?
Bamberger: It proves his disingenuous nature.
Shipnuck: He may have meant it when he said it.
Anonymous Pro: I can’t believe he’s back playing again if, as he said, family is the most important thing to him.
Hack: It shows how much the Masters means to him.
Anonymous Pro: This is the safest event Tiger can come back to, but how long can he hide from everybody? The throng around Tiger’s group will be crazy. You’ll know exactly where Tiger is for all 72 holes. He’s not only a golfer now, he’s notorious. People will stare at him on the putting green as if he’s a polar bear at a zoo.
Bamberger: Everybody built up unrealistic expectations of what a world-class athlete would be in his private life because of all the grandiose crap that Earl Woods fed us. Jordan and Kobe never had that. Earl’s whole Gandhi thing made us go crazy over what this kid was going to be. It was too much, way too much.
Garrity: The humiliation of those texts that Tiger allegedly sent the women, it seems on the surface as if he would never be able to recover from that. Bill Clinton had the Starr report, which was filled with all the most graphic stuff, and you thought, Nobody can recover from that for any role in public life. But Clinton did. People move on. Tiger’s legacy will be all the championships. I don’t think anything’s going to shake that.
Van Sickle: Sleeper picks to win?
Bamberger: Dustin Johnson. He does it all, from what we’ve seen at Pebble Beach—extreme length, the ability to put it in play, a beautiful putting touch. He simply looks like a Masters winner to me. He may turn out to be a Tom Weiskopf and never get it done, but I’m picking him.
Anonymous Pro: Dustin is one of the few guys I’ve played with who hits it as far as he wants to hit it, and at Augusta that’s a huge advantage. Even holes like the 11th aren’t long for him. He kills the par-5s. He’s a can’t-miss to win Augusta one of these years.
Shipnuck: Martin Kaymer had a nice finish at Doral; he hits the ball well; he’s one of best putters in Europe. He’s really unaffected. This is his third Masters. He’s ready to apply what he’s learned.
Garrity: You already know mine.
Van Sickle: Robert Karlsson. You pick him every major. He’s probably your pick for the Kentucky Derby too.
Garrity: He didn’t play in last year’s Masters because of an eye injury, but he’s already got a victory this year, in Qatar.
Hack: It’s hard to pick a guy who hasn’t won a regular Tour event, but I’m taking Tim Clark. He hits his long irons really well, and he’s been close.
Van Sickle: I noticed Fred Couples is listed at 100-to-1 odds. I’d jump on that. He’s won on the senior tour; his putting looks better; and his record at Augusta is remarkable. Plus, he still has the good hair.
And the Winner Is …
Garrity: Tiger. For the obvious reasons.
Van Sickle: I’m going to go with Angel Cabrera ….
Hack: Oh, no! That’s my pick!
Van Sickle: When in doubt, the defending champ is the default. He’s a long hitter, he’s a great iron player—why not?
Shipnuck: I’ll take Phil. We give him a hard time for being a nonfactor, but he seems to be fractionally on the uptick. He wants this one bad. He has great memories from last year’s final round.
Bamberger: If Amy is in the house, that’ll be a big plus.
Anonymous Pro: Can I take the field? With the setup there now, it’s a lottery. It could be anybody who has a hot week. Look at Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell last year. I don’t like anybody’s chances, so I’ll take Retief Goosen.
Bamberger: If you believe this Masters will truly be historic, it has to be Tiger.
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