4 Masters pairings to watch during the first two rounds
The course is ready, the players are chomping at the bit, and Tiger Woods’s press conference, thankfully, is in the books. That only means we’ve got the par 3 contest remaining before we can officially kickoff Thursday’s first round with Arnie and Jack hitting the opening tee shots at 7:40 a.m. EST.
The talk of the tournament will of course be Tiger and his return to golf; but that doesn’t mean other storyline and intriguing pairings should get left by the wayside. Trust me, there are definitely groups out there that should get your full attention on Thursday and Friday.
Here are the top four to watch:
Kenny Perry, Camilo Villegas, Rory McIlroy (12:36 p.m. EST) – Seriously, how good is this group? You’ve got two of the best younger players in the game teeing it up together on Thursday. Villegas, who recently won the Honda Classic, has finished in the top-20 in four of his five events in 2010, and could be one of the sexiest picks to win the Masters.
McIlroy, like Villegas, comes to the Masters with high expectations. He finished in the top-20 at the tournament in 2009 at the age of 19 (19!), making him a solid choice to be in the mix on Sunday. McIlroy will need to get the putter going this week at a course that commands precision around the green. It’s probably been the worst club in his bag so far this year.
And then there’s Kenny Perry, a guy many of us were probably pulling for during Sunday’s final round last year. Instead of making the most of a lead down the stretch, Perry ended up choking on his nerves, losing to Ángel Cabrera in a three-man playoff. Talk about a way to go out. You think he wants redemption for last year?
Geoff Ogilvy, Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer (8:56 a.m. EST) – An international pairing of players that have won majors, as well as contended for them in the past, this group has a little bit of everything.
Kaymer is an up-and-coming talent who won in Dubai earlier this year. The German has won five times around the world since the start of the 2008 golf season. His game isn’t loud or shiny, but his play on the course is something to behold. Like Langer, I can see Kaymer being a staple at Augusta for years to come.
Ogilvy knows how to win major championships; but if there’s one that’s eluded him over the years, it’s the Masters. His consistency is admirable (3 top-25s in the past four years), but he’s been unable to take his game to the next level at a course that usually requires you to go low at times. Ogilvy is more of a grinder when it comes to the majors.
Luke Donald would really like to replicate his 2005 finish at the Masters. His T-3 finish at the event is still his best showing in a major championship. While I’d love to say his game is ready for Augusta, I’ve got a feeling the 7,400-plus yards will be too much for his game. Length off the tee has always been an issue for him.
Ernie Els, Ryo Ishikawa, Anthony Kim (10:13 a.m. EST) – Two of the three players in this group have won in the last month, while another is making his second Masters appearance at the age of 18.
Ryo Ishikawa is the baby in a group that includes two of the biggest names in the sport. The funny thing is, Ishikawa could be the biggest name of all before it’s all said and done. At least if you listen to how highly the Japanese media talk about him. He missed every major championship cut last year, so I wouldn’t expect him to be there on Sunday. But don’t be shocked if he ups his while playing with Els and Kim.
At the age of 24, Anthony Kim seems like an old man compared to 18-year-old Ishikawa. The current Dallas resident won last week in Houston, snapping a streak of 21 months without a victory. While his game off the tee was poor, he made up for it with a putting and scrambling clinic that could pay dividends this week. He’ll be there on the weekend if he gets the driver going this week. His best finish at the event was a top 20 in 2009.
Phil Mickelson, Robert Allenby, Y.E. Yang (10:35 a.m. EST) – The group includes a Tiger-slayer, a wannabe Tiger-slayer and a guy who just can’t keep his mouth shut when it matters.
Mickelson is the marquee name in this group. He squandered any chance early in the year to gain ground on Wood in the World rankings (watching Steve Stricker move into second on the list), and now he’s back at where he started with Woods in the field. I’m not sure if he was bored without Woods, but his play has been beyond-poor this year. The Masters is a place he’s always played well at, so I wouldn’t use his play this year as a gauge of how he plays this week. Phil is always in the thick of things on Sunday.
Robert Allenby is probably known more for his mouth, than his game. But ever since he had the rift with Anthony Kim at the match play event, things have been different. He’s been one of the most consistent names on tour, finishing in the top-20 six times in eight starts.
Y.E. Yang will forever be known as the guy who defeated Tiger on Sunday; but his game is more than just one round of golf. Even though 2010 has been a quiet year, he’s still managed to make 7 of 8 cuts so far. That kind of consistency will be needed at Augusta National.