Outside Raleigh

Masters Preview

A Tradition Unlike Any Other. The Masters on CBS.

For my money, The Masters is the best sports weekend of the year. It’s the one event that really captures my attention from start to finish and will keep me on the couch for seven straight hours on Saturday and Sunday.

This year’s Masters should be outstanding as usual. Here are some of my thoughts as we get ready to head down Magnolia Lane again.

The Masters Is the Best Major. Period.

I grew up in Pinehurst — home of the 1999, 2005, 2014 and 2024 US Opens. I appreciate the bloodbath that is America’s National Championship. It’s fun to watch the world’s best struggle to break par, or even survive the tournament.

I enjoy waking up early to watch the Open Championship. Links golf, with the weather and the history, is really cool.

I also enjoy the PGA Championship, merely for the fact that’s it’s the last major of the year. There’s nothing that really differentiates the PGA like the other three majors, though. It’s produced a lot of one-hit wonders (Shaun Micheel, Rich Beem, Bob Tway, etc). I’ve been saying for years that it should go back to the match play format it ditched in 1958. The WGC Accenture and the Ryder Cup both produce exciting television. Imagine a major in that format.

But none of them hold a candle to The Masters. Unlike the other three majors, it’s held at the same venue every year. It’s got the green jacket. Champions get a lifetime exemption, so you’ll get to see Fred Couples when he’s 70 (and he’ll probably still finish in the top 10). The course is tough and will punish sloppy play, but the back nine leaves opportunities for guys to make a charge at the end. It produces some of the most exciting golf you’ll see.

Who’s the Favorite To Win?

Dustin Johnson has the be considered the overwhelming favorite this year. The world’s No. 1 player has won his last three tour starts — a ridiculous feat in and of itself — and is playing the best golf of his career. He’s always been a long hitter, but his game has really come together leading up to and following his US Open win at Oakmont last year.

Augusta can give long hitters an advantage. The two pars 5s on the back nine — 13 and 15 — are easily reachable in two for guys who bomb it. Tiger, Phil and guys like Bubba Watson and Angel Cabrera have had lots of success. DJ fits that mold. He’s got a top 10 and a top 5 in his last two Masters appearances.

The win at Oakmont was clearly a breakthrough moment after a bunch of painful close calls in majors. Johnson certainly has the talent to win a bunch more. He’ll be tough to beat this week.

Who Else Will Contend?

None of these are hot takes. Obviously the best players in the world have the best shot to win a major.

Jordan Spieth is going to be in the mix. He’s made three appearances at The Masters and could have won all three. He plays well here. He’s not playing the best golf of his life right now — he won at Pebble Beach in February, but has slipped to No. 6 in the world. The question is, how will he respond after last year’s collapse? I think he’s right in the hunt again.

Jason Day will play, after some doubt following his mom’s lung cancer surgery. He’s another favorite. He’s got two top 5s and a top 10 since 2011 and always seems to be a factor.

Another guy who isn’t as much of a household name is Hideki Matsuyama. He’s got two wins this season, the most recent coming in February at the Phoenix Open in a playoff against Raleighite Webb Simpson. Fun fact, he won the same tournament last year in a playoff. The 25-year-old Japanese star is currently fourth in the World Golf Rankings. He’s got a Top 10 and Top 5 in his last two Masters starts.

Rory McIlroy — No. 2 in the world rankings — should also be at the top of the leaderboard in pursuit of his first green jacket.

Who Are Some Sleepers Who Could Make Some Noise?

I sort of criticized the PGA for producing one-hit wonders, but The Masters has had its share, too. It’s also produced winners who appeared out of thin air. Danny Willett was the beneficiary of Spieth’s collapse last year. Trevor Immelman, Charl Schwartzel and Mike Weir were all lesser-known winners.

I’ve always liked Matt Kuchar at Augusta. Yeah, he’s getting old and isn’t playing his best right now, but he always seems to hang around. I’d like to see him get a major. Same for Lee Westwood, who has come close a bunch of times but just can’t seem to get it done.

There’s no Tiger, so no magical return to glory. Maybe next year. Probably never.

My dream? Angel Cabrera comes out of nowhere and wins his third major and second green jacket.

How Excited is Jim Nantz?

Hello friends. Seriously, does anyone have a sweeter gig than this guy? He goes from calling the NFL in the fall — with a Super Bowl mixed in every three years or whatever the rotation is. Then he calls the Final Four. Then like a week later he’s back in historic Butler Cabin.

The Masters is Jim’s wheelhouse. You can tell he loves it more than any other assignment, and he should. I just hope he raises his game when he calls the final putt. In my opinion, he hasn’t been able to top “Y.E. YES!” when Y.E. Yang won the 2009 PGA. Phil Mickelson’s “A win for the family in 2010” was pretty good. Here’s hoping he comes up with something memorable this year.

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