Favorites Schmavorites (archived from April 3rd, 2011)

It’s Masters week.

For a tournament that takes four days to complete, 72 holes to be exact, every PGA Tour player has spent weeks and months preparing for the beast that is Augusta National. It’s a common understanding that the sport of golf is exciting only to those that play it themselves, but the Masters seem to have the ability to make people turn on their television sets and watch on Sunday despite their lack of experience with the sport itself.

For every person that has picked up a club and attempted to hit a stationary ball into a gopher hole hundreds of yards away the Masters tournament is something more, it is the be all and end all. It is so prestigious that they don’t even bother giving away a measly trophy; the winner receives a green jacket, but it is more commonly known as a golden ticket; vaulting its wearer into the rarefied atmosphere of the greats. No matter what happens the winner will always be introduced as “Masters champion ______”.

This year there seems to be a breath of fresh air in the tournament, and everyone is taking notice but the odds makers in Las Vegas and old timers on TV. Yes, for the first time since he was a rookie, Tiger Woods is not the preemptive favorite on the money line, but that isn’t a giant move and by no means is it surprising. Since last year he has dipped to seventh in the world golf rankings. What is surprising is that his name appears on the favorites list in the first place, and in second place no less. Is it more news that Tiger isn’t the absolute favorite or that other people are surpassing him? Stupid question. The storyline of this week was set in stone the minute Tiger was named number two by the odds makers, and golf fans are just expected to deal with the chatter all week long.

Tiger left golf for a therapeutic sabbatical, only to return six months later to play in last years Masters, where he finished fourth. Since then there have been glimpses of his game returning, but ultimately nothing of the sort. His spot as a top 5 favorite will seemingly forever be a given because of his past greatness, but at this point it can simply be viewed a gift instead of a birthright. The odds-makers, along with the golf analysts, never want to admit that Tiger doesn’t have it. That’s not to say that he can’t regain his prominence in a sport that is flirting with passing him by, but he isn’t the tournament-winning machine that he used to be. Reality check, his last win was in 2009! The idea that he can win the Masters because he is familiar with the course doesn’t make sense; he still needs to hit the shots and that seems to be a problem at the moment.

Phil Mickelson, affectionately known as “Lefty”, played beautifully this past week at the Shell Houston Open, especially on Saturday and Sunday, and jumped up three spots to number three in the world golf rankings with the win. With his family’s health, as well as his own, apparently under control it isn’t crazy for Lefty to be the favorite. Let’s not forget that he is the defending champion and was the last player to win the Masters after winning the week before when he accomplished the feat in 2006. His position is warranted while the other is not.

Call if a force of habit, call it a lack of interest, call it whatever you want, but when you take an in-depth look at the top golfers over the last year Woods does not appear on it. The odds makers either don’t realize that or simply don’t care enough to do some actual research to come up with a legitimate favorites list. There is a new crop of players with some serious game that should be considered.

Martin Kaymer is currently the number one ranked player in the world and is not considered a top-10 favorite? He has yet to make the cut at Augusta, which he has played at three times, but he is much improved since last years showing. Lee Westwood has the sad moniker of being the ‘best player who has yet to win a major’, but that stigma might be playing with Vegas’ mind a little too much. Dustin Johnson has three top-10 finishes in his last five majors and is one of the longest players off the tee. With success at Augusta often resting on the par-5s that can come in handy. Bubba Watson is equally as long as Johnson, and if he can fix his putting yips he can also make a run at the jacket. Graeme McDowell has won four tournaments in the last nine months. His last two events have been lackluster at best, but four wins since last years Masters is not too shabby. Lastly, Luke Donald won the WGC match-play event earlier this year, and is number four in the world golf rankings. Do they have the resume of Woods and Mickelson? Absolutely not, but this group is relatively young and ready to pave their own golf history.

Each player has earned the right to be looked at as a serious contender, but the common fan will never hear about it because the media and odds makers love Tiger, Phil, and the generation they grew up with. Maybe it’s a familiarity thing, but the generation that they think is knocking on the country club door is making their way in, whether they like it or not.

Tiger used to rule the television ratings, but his time has passed considering a large amount of golf fans haven’t moved away from viewing him in a negative light. This torrid love affair with the past generation is confusing, silly, and off-putting. It’s time for one of the young guns to introduce himself to the world and possibly become a fan favorite. Here’s to hoping one of them can come through.

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