The start of the Masters is now being counted in hours, and that means the questions get louder and louder about who will emerge from Augusta National victorious. While the champion is usually the story, there are always people that make late charges or choke on their own 6-irons that bring up plenty of stories as the cars pulls away from Magnolia Lane. We look at the 10 "what ifs" we are thinking about heading into the opening round of the Masters.
What if Rory McIlroy goes another Masters without a top-10? — If there is one young golfer in this world that we are sure of, it's Rory McIlroy. Already a two-time major winner, and by a combined 16 shots, Rory is the 24-year-old that seems very well versed in professional golf, and has been a factor at golf tournaments since he was a teenager. But, the Masters is the only major championship that McIlroy has never finished in the top-10, and after his Sunday 65 at the Shell Houston Open, an incredible round of ball-striking and putting, it seems he's coming in as ready to compete, and win, as he ever has been. But what if the kid has another disappointing week on these undulated greens, and struggles to keep it going all four rounds like we've seen in the past? Do we have to start wondering if his short game is good enough to win a green jacket? Considering how Rory has played this year, and how his game has seemed to be developing for this week and this week only, another down-the-leaderboard finish would be a huge disappointment.
What if Phil Mickelson wins a fourth green jacket? — Sure, it doesn't seem as likely as normal considering his recent injury, but there is something about Augusta National that tends to bring the best out in Phil. If he wins his fourth green jacket (in an 11 year stretch, mind you), he would tie Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods for the second most all time behind Jack Nicklaus, and he would definitely have a shot at a fifth considering how well this golf course sets up for him. If Phil gets this fourth it would be one of the best runs in the history of this event, and would cement him as the best late major bloomer to ever play the game.
What if Sergio Garcia actually wins a major? — Stop the presses, this could actually happen! Sergio is this era's best to never win a major, and the guy has as much talent as anyone on tour, but the once young star is now 34 and only has a few more of these to contend in when he's playing great golf. His weekend in Houston was disappointing considering how he played the first two days, but if Mr. Negative can push those thoughts out of his head he might actually have a shot this week.
What if we have zero weather delays for all four days? — Don't look now, but it could happen!
What if Patrick Reed actually competes? — Remember when Reed said he was a top five player and all the old fogies flipped out because HE HASN'T EVEN PLAYED IN A MAJOR YET!! Well, this is his chance, and even if you look past his three wins in the last year, you have to give the kid credit if he can card something inside the top-15 this week. The Masters tends to bring the cream to the top, so Reed will need to play well to keep the critics at bay. I suspect he will.
What if this Sunday leaderboard looked like the Kraft Nabisco? — Last weekend the LPGA's opening major had a leaderboard that had golf fans salivating. It was as good as it could have been, with the two biggest starts, Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie, paired in the final group with both tied for the lead. If we could get something like that, with Phil and Rory and Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson all near the lead come Sunday, it would bring the appropriate fireworks needed for a back nine Sunday push at Augusta National. The last few years haven't disappointed, and I hope 2014 is no different.
What if another left-hander wins? — Since 2003, five left-handers have left with the green jacket, turning the Masters into Southpaw Central. The need to hit a fade, and a controlled one at that, plays into the hands of a lefty and if another one wins it, we might even see the Augusta green jackets add a few more trees on the right side of some of the fairways to keep the lefties at bay. We've heard of Tiger proofing, so what could we really see lefty limiting if Phil or Bubba depart with another piece of clothing?
What if the 17th hole is completely fine without the Eisenhower Tree? — A lot was made when the Eisenhower Tree went down due to storms in late February, meaning one of the biggest obstacles on the way in was gone, but what people forget is the 17th's guard isn't a tree, but the green. If the holes continues to play tough, and create drama, will Augusta National even need to add something else there to wreck havoc on the player's tee shots? I think no, and I think the hole will be just as tough, and create just as much drama, as we've seen in the past.
What if we have a third straight playoff for the green jacket? — Never in the history of this event have we had three straight years where the winner was decided in a playoff, but with the field being this wide open and the finish continuing to get tighter and tighter, I could absolutely see extra holes happen at Augusta for a third year in a row. Is anyone complaining about this one? No and no.
What if we don't miss Tiger Woods? — The biggest draw in golf is not going to be competing this year for the first time since 1994 (not sure if you've heard), but is this such a bad thing? Sure, tickets sales might be down 20 percent, but isn't this a good thing because it allows a different group of people to go scalp tickets and see the most coveted course in golf? The last time Woods was a non-factor in the Masters was back in 2012 and I'm not sure if you remember but it was one of the most dramatic finishes with one of the most memorable golf shots in the history of the event pulled off by Bubba Watson in a playoff to win. Before that, it was in '04 when Phil Mickelson made a somewhat memorable putt on the 72nd hole to leap into the major championship scene and give us the golf moment of the decade.
Tiger is a huge draw, no doubt about it, and his presence at a golf event makes it feel different, but the Masters is the one tournament that can hold up to the absence of Woods and if we see another dramatic Sunday finish like so many are predicting I almost feel like Tiger not being there will be a sidebar, not a headline.
- - - - - - -