AUGUSTA, Ga. — It’s all come down to the Big Six. In all likelihood, one of six men will win the Masters late Sunday afternoon. Anyone else would have to come from nine strokes back, and that would take a miracle.
Who’s going to win? Who’s got the best chance? Here’s what I think, but keep in mind that I’m the guy who had Georgetown winning the NCAA basketball championship in the office pool.
Tiger Woods. He’s your winner. For the 14th time in a major. I know, he’s six shots back and that’s a big hill to climb. There are two reasons for going out on this limb. One, he played superbly on Saturday. He was burning the edges, and if a few more putts dropped, he would have shot 66, 65 or maybe even 63. Second, the conditions may be difficult Sunday, lots of wind and not all that warm. Tough conditions favor the best ballstriker or, to be specific, the best shotmaker. To get the ball close, players will have to be able to hold the ball against the wind. Woods is the best shotmaker in the game, by far. And six shots can disappear in two holes at Augusta.
Woods has never won a major coming from behind on Sunday, but the players he is chasing have won a total of zero majors and have little or no experience playing in the final groups on Sunday at a major. That ought to be worth a couple of shots. Plus, the guys in front of him will surely have that extra little surge of worry when they see Tiger’s name inching up the leaderboard. He isn’t the guy to beat starting out, but he may be the man to catch by the time the leaders hit Amen Corner.
Trevor Immelman. He’s the next best bet. He iron play is superb. His putting has been an issue in the past, but he’s rolling them in at Augusta like he’s Ben Crenshaw reincarnated. Can he keep that up in Sunday’s pressure-cooker atmosphere? Immelman faltered early in the third round but he was rock-solid the last six holes. That’s a good sign. Besides, he’s got strokes to play with — six over Woods. If Tiger doesn’t pull it out, Immelman probably will. Especially since the Masters champion usually comes from the final twosome.
Brandt Snedeker. He’s part of the tournament’s highlight package for chipping in on the sixth hole Friday — from the green. He faced an awkward putt over a mound, and instead of putting he used his wedge and holed it from 50 feet, an amazing shot. So, he’s creative, and this guy can putt. That’s huge at Augusta. Don’t count him out. He could be this year’s Zach Johnson, a player who’s ready to go to the next level.
Steve Flesch. The lefthander is a true wild card. When he’s on, he can win anywhere, and he’s been on this week. Wet conditions and wind would seem to hurt a shorter hitter like Flesch, but that hasn’t bothered him so far. His swing is underrated, and the 40-year-old veteran seems to have mellowed a bit from his days as a mini-volcano. Again, this is only his fourth Masters. He has no experience playing late in the day at a major, so it’s difficult to expect him to pull it off, but the man has enough talent to shock all of us.
Paul Casey. It’s hard to believe he’s 30; he’s been a young star from England for a long time. Peter Kostis, his teacher, has long raved about Casey’s ability, and Casey has shown flashes of it in majors — notably last year at Oakmont and in the Ryder Cup. He’s got the power to handle the par 5s in the wind and make a move, but he also doesn’t have much experience in this Sunday spotlight. If he can minimize his mistakes, he can be a factor.
Stewart Cink. Seven strokes back, and starting one behind Woods, it’s hard to like Cink’s chances of wearing a green jacket. But he has consistently played well this year. His final-round meltdown at Innisbrook was tough to watch, and maybe it’s better for him psychologically to start from behind. He’s got nothing to lose. For that reason, you can’t completely count him out.