AUGUSTA, G a. — There’s no such thing as a not great Masters. Each is a treasure among golf tournaments. Saying otherwise would be like saying the Mona Lisa is just another portrait that hangs in the Louvre.
But this 2015 Masters, this one could be extra special, stuffed with huge storylines that leap off the page.
Here’s the rundown:
A Rory slam?
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy won the British Open last summer at Royal Liverpool to give him titles in three of golf’s four majors, then added a second PGA Championship at Valhalla in August for good measure.
Now he returns to Augusta seeking to become just the sixth man ever to complete the career grand slam, joining (in chronological order) Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
McIlroy led here going to the back nine in 2011, then almost hit one of the “cabins” (Augustaspeak for enormous five bedroom mansion with private security) with a hook and left an oil slick coming home with an 80 to tie for 15th.
Despite that, the young Northern Irishman is supremely talented. It’s not a question of if he will ever win a Masters, but when. His play since coming to the U.S. for a pre-Masters stretch of tournament has been middling, however, and this may not be his week. And for some troubling reason he’s shot at least one round of 77 or higher in his past five Masters.
A Tiger triumph?
The mystery inside a riddle wrapped round an enigma of this Masters is whether Tiger Woods can overcome years of scandal and back problems and knee injuries and deactivated glutes (his words, not ours) to contend for his fifth green jacket.
His game has looked promising in three practice rounds here so far plus a chummy appearance in Wednesday’s Par-3 contest (his first in 11 years) with his kids Sam and Charlie in tow. The “I’d ignore a train derailment” concentration has been missing, however. Instead, Tiger has gone around hugging people — fellow competitors, his former swing coach Sean Foley, girlfriend Lindsay Vonn (well, hard to blame him there) — and dancing to music in his headphones as he practiced.
Can someone, even as great as Woods has been make a run at the title here with just 47 competitive holes (many of them hacker class) under his belt this season? If it were anyone but Woods the collective “No way!” could be heard from here to the mighty Mississippi.
But it is Woods. And we do wonder. Whether you think he can or he can’t, if you care a fig about golf you will be attuned to what he does starting at 12:48 p.m. CDT.
Bubba, Reed and Spieth
There is no reason not to make Bubba Watson the favorite, other than the mathematical implausibility of winning three Masters in four years. Only Jack Nicklaus has done that. It’s hard.
But not impossible. Right-handers who draw the ball do very well here. Same goes for lefties like Bubba who fade it. Caddie Ted Scott of Lafayette said Watson’s shot type fits every tee shot but two — the straight seventh and right-leaning 18th.
So there’s no reason to count Watson out. Same for Jordan Spieth, who has been steady, rock solid good this spring, finishing first-second-second in his past three starts.
As for Reed, the former University High Cub is still a cub when it comes to majors — he played in his first four last year. He tweaked a knee a little over a week ago that he admitted is still troubling him. He’s a streaky player, which means streaky good. If he can wave a magic wand of a putter to tame Augusta’s rolling wave greens, he can’t be dismissed.
And the winner is ...
Dustin Johnson. Born just an hour up I-20 in Columbia, South Carolina, Johnson has somehow never really contended in the Masters despite the fact his game suits the place perfectly. He hits it really long and he draws the ball, two big advantages at Augusta.
Though his best finish here is a tie for 13th two years ago, he’s been in the top five in the other three majors. This year he has a win at Doral, a second and two other top-six finishes in six starts since returning from whatever led to his six month-long PGA Tour exile.
He’s back, with a new baby with fiancée Paulina Gretzky. The future son-in-law of The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, should get his shot at greatness this week.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.