COMMENTARY | The Masters is here, and everybody is really a winner over the next four days.
The players win by simply getting another chance to play Heaven on Earth or, as it is formally known, Augusta National. Everybody else wins because it's the Masters, golf's unofficial opening day, the first truly meaningful tournament of the year.
But, while the Masters will be a sublime experience for all, I will narrow down Thursday's opening round to the five biggest winners of the day.
1. Tianlang Guan
What were you doing when you were 14 years old? Maybe you were in eighth grade, like our youngest competitor in Masters history, Tianlang Guan, is. Maybe you were at the top of your middle school's food chain. It was probably a phenomenal year. Maybe you were in high school, a hot-shot freshman who made a varsity team. You probably felt pretty slick at the time.
That's great and all, but here's what you did not do when you were 14 years old: You did not play Augusta National. You did not play in the Masters. You did not receive a personal invitation from Tiger Woods to play in a practice round. You did not finish your first ever major championship round at 1-over-par, one-upping a U.S. Open champ (Lucas Glover) and Open Championship winner (Louis Oosthuizen) while taking a two-shot lead on the most recent player to don a green jacket (Bubba Watson).
Even if the kid shot in triple-digits, he still would have been the day's winner. Because he's 14. And he's playing in the Masters.
This one shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. His opening-round 66 has him at the top of the leaderboard tied with Sergio Garcia and four up on the No. 1 player in the world, Tiger Woods. Every major championship seems to have its dark horse these days. Leishman, if he holds up throughout day two, appears to be the most recent addition to our ever-expanding list.
His best finish at the Masters is a missed cut in 2010 in which he shot 79 to follow up an even-par opening round, so a strong showing Friday would be a 180-degree turnaround from his previous appearance. Along with seeking his first major championship, Leishman could also become the first Australian to win the Masters. Imagine that: Marc Leishman, not Adam Scott or Jason Day, as our first Australian-born Masters winner. Something to think about as this one plays out.
3. Tiger Woods
Why not Garcia, Dustin Johnson or Rickie Fowler in this spot? Because this is where Tiger wants to be. He has posted a 2-under 70 opening round four times and gone on to win three of those (his other win came off a 74 in 2005 when he went on to beat Chris DiMarco). Sure, his opener was a little disappointing, considering the torrid rate he has been playing lately, but four shots back after the first day is quintessential Tiger territory.
4. Sergio Garcia
It's always with a little hesitation that I put Garcia at the top of many lists, no matter how well he plays in a four-hour span, simply because, by tour standards, the guy can't putt. There aren't many out there who can strike a golf ball like he does, as shown by his bogey-free 66, and he managed 18 holes without a single yip. If he can put together four straight rounds without fighting his putter, he could very well end his 14 years of major disappointment. But it's still day one. More proof will be needed on the greens to see if Garcia can hang around until Sunday evening.
5. Rickie Fowler
This one was a tossup between Fowler, Johnson, Leishman's dark-horse pal David Lynn, and Fred Couples. Why Fowler? He's been one of the tour's brightest young stars out of this new generation that has stormed the World Golf Ranking over the past two years.
But our 2010 Rookie of the Year -- an award he beat out Rory McIlroy for -- is still waiting for that breakthrough moment that some of his peers have been able to enjoy. McIlroy is the clear frontrunner of the up-and-coming generation, what with his decimation of Congressional to win the 2011 U.S. Open and his comfortable 8-shot triumph at last year's PGA Championship.
A green jacket could very well be the impetus Fowler needs to put his career in the same zip code as McIlroy's.
Travis Mewhirter has been working in the golf industry since 2007, when he was a bag room manager at Piney Branch Golf Club in Carroll County, Maryland, and has been involved, as a player, since 2004. Since then, he has worked at Hayfields Country Club, where the Constellation Energy Classic was formerly held, and has covered golf at the high school, college, and professional levels.
- Sports & Recreation
- Tiger Woods
- Sergio Garcia
- Marc Leishman
- Augusta National