Michaux: This Masters is shaping up to be something special
With more ingredients than usual in the pot, there’s a palpable sense that the 79th Masters Tournament is poised to cook up something special.
The buildup has already exceeded itself.
Tiger Woods was frolicking with his children as he showed up for the Par-3 Contest for the first time in 11 years.
Rory McIlroy got ready for an assault on history with a boy-band idol carrying his bag.
Even six-time champion Jack Nicklaus conjured up a little bit of magic with his first ace at Augusta on the fourth hole of the Par-3 Course.
“Never thought I would get to see Jack Nicklaus make a hole-in-one,” said 21-year-old Jordan Spieth, who already had the thrill of playing his final practice round with the retiring Ben Crenshaw and the returning Woods.
Heck, the club even brought the Eisenhower Tree back from the dead by grafting two living pieces of the once-broad loblolly to existing pine saplings to create offspring of the former 17th-fairway sentinel for future generations of club leaders to use as they see fit.
From the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals on Sunday to the overall-clad offspring caddying for their elders on Wednesday, it’s all been kids’ stuff. Now comes the big show with more potential plot twists than a nighttime soap opera.
The beauty of it is that there is a true sense of wonder about what might emerge from the next four days.
In a survey of 90 members of the media on the eve of the event, the overwhelming sentiment leaned toward something new happening this week. Only 13 picked a former winner, with defending champion Bubba Watson receiving six votes and Adam Scott four. Longtime stalwarts Phil Mickelson and Woods had one supporter each.
There is a thirst for new blood in the Masters Club. Spieth, who came so close to becoming the youngest winner last year, was the decisive favorite with nearly a third of the votes (26). He was followed in succession by a string of green-jacket wannabes: McIlroy (12), Jason Day (11), Dustin Johnson (9) and Jimmy Walker (6).
You could makes cases for and against every one of them, and a dozen others.
Even McIlroy – the betting favorite as he aspires to complete the career slam – made the case for the golfer who served the same simple Champions Dinner menu two of the past three years. Watson could become the fourth repeat champion and join Nicklaus as the only players to don the green jacket three times in four years.
“I’d say Bubba,” McIlroy said. “I mean, he’s won here two of the last three years. Perfect game for this course. Been playing really well. Seems confident every time he tees it up. He’s been right up there his last few events. So if you’re looking at someone that will do well this week, I think Bubba is the main guy – not trying to put any pressure on him or anything.”
Scott echoed McIlroy’s sentiments, but the reigning champ wasn’t buying it.
“I see what (they’re) doing,” Watson said. “Obviously, Adam Scott’s the favorite, and then there’s Rory and there’s Tiger and everybody else and then I’m at the very bottom. So y’all talk to all of them this week. Bother them all week.”
Nothing about the Masters can ever be considered a “bother.” Over the coming days we’ll see whether Woods’ positive attitude and rebuilt confidence can hold up under intense competition. We’ll see whether Crenshaw’s emotions can hold up until he makes his last climb up the 18th fairway with longtime caddie and friend, Carl Jackson.
Best of all we’ll see whether former champions such as Woods, Mickelson, Angel Cabrera, Charl Schwartzel or Zach Johnson can hold off the wealth of new talent desperate to become a member of golf’s most prestigious fraternity.
“This is the event,” Mickelson said. “This is the major championship to win. The way they treat past champions, being able to come back here every year, all the subtleties of the way they treat you here, this is the one that we want to win the most, the tournament that I think is the most meaningful.”
The table is set. Now it’s up to each player to contribute what he can to the drama that will unfold.
There’s no telling what might happen. But the potential has never been higher for something epic to emerge.