It’s The Masters.
It’s the tournament that 10-year old’s all over the planet whisper to themselves they are putting for to win and don the green jacket. It’s the tournament for which the best players on the planet strive to win a coveted invitation to play. It’s the tournament for which the Azaleas and other flora blossom on command. It is one of the hardest tournaments to get into; yet perhaps one of the easiest of all tournaments to win.
Simple math and a dose of logic and intuition make the case. Most PGA Tour events begin with at least 140 players in the field. When Monday qualifier Corey Conners won the Valero Texas Open last Sunday, he became the 87th player in the field for the 2019 Masters, making it just one contestant more than the lowest ever field of 86 back in 1997.
No disrespect to Conners, who displayed remarkable control of his nerves and his swing to recover from a mid-round collapse and prevail at the Valero; but he’s got to be both out of adrenaline and still in a daze having just experienced a truly life-changing week. That said, winning this year will require beating only 85 opponents.
This year’s field includes a half-dozen amateurs — all of them very talented. While it would surely be exciting to see an amateur best some of the best players in the world, it just is not very likely.
Now, the Masters champion only has to beat 79 players.
Fred Couples will be a fan favorite for as long as he tees up at Augusta National; he likely will at some point become one of the honorary starters, following in the footsteps of the likes of Snead, Sarazen, Palmer, Nicklaus and Player. Something special happens to Couples when he arrives on the venerable Augusta National course, and hopefully this year will be no exception. A victory there would be one for the ages.
Like Couples, past champion Vijay Singh’s swing remains smooth and sweet, and he can still hit it long and move the ball in all directions. Also, like Couples, he’s a fan favorite. Maybe they both will make the cut; a win by either would be one for the ages and the aged.
Seventy-six trombones left in this big parade when Singh and Couples run out of air.
Sandy Lyle showed us last year that he can still compete, as did the methodical if not robotic Bernhard Langer. But this is not the Champions Tour, and changes (length) to the former nursery that is Augusta are sure to take their toll over four days.
Now there are 73.
Past champions Larry Mize, Trevor Immelman, Jose Maria Olazabal, Mike Weir and Ian Woosnam, along with Stewart Cink, who outlasted an aging Tom Watson in that memorable Open Championship in 2009 evoke great memories. If they survive the cut and play on the weekend, it will be most enjoyable.
Sixty-nine, and the field has not yet even been cut. So, cut the field in advance by the number of Masters rookies (16), including England’s Matt Wallace, who yesterday won the par-three contest.
Jack Nicklaus has said that by listening to fellow competitors he could fairly accurately predict which ones were going to challenge him and which ones were beaten before the tournament even began. That was not arrogance on the part of the legend, but rather a keen observation; it effectively reduced any field to maybe a half-dozen players whom Nicklaus felt he had to beat.
While not scientific, the Golden Bear’s record suggests he knew something. That said, the depth of talent in the game today might force Nicklaus to project at least a baker’s dozen who might be contenders.
The forecast calls for rain, which gives a distinct advantage to longer hitters. Make your own call as to how many contestants should be eliminated simply because Augusta National is “too big” for them.
Predicting Masters winners is a fool’s pursuit; projecting who will contend is fun. Winning The Masters? Easy. Once its done.