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Mickelson Most Likely To Succeed at Masters On Longer Golf Course

By Yong-yi Zhu
COLUMNIST

As we approach Masters week this year, the talk is not about the competitors on the course, but rather about changes to the course itself. The already booming golf challenge at the end of Magnolia Lane has been lengthened by an additional 155 yards this year.

The main stated goal of lengthening the course is to bring the original, intended landing positions back into play since the advent of new, longer golf technology.

This effort to Tiger-proof the course and prevent the long-hitters from breaking every record in the Masters record books has made the course completely inaccessible to many of shorter hitters on tour. Because of this added length, holes like the par 4 11th play to more than 500 yards; on a windy day, all you can say is a quiet amen as you head into the beginning of Amen Corner.

But while additional distance is not necessarily good for the tournament, it does bring the bigger hitters, and therefore the bigger names, into play.

My top pick this week is not Tiger Woods, but Phil Mickelson. Mickelson is coming off an unbelievable week at the BellSouth Classic, and he is playing some terrific golf. His putting has improved, especially inside of five feet. That will be a great plus when he attacks a course that is always birdie-rich.

Mickelson needs not only to make more putts but also need to attack the pins whenever he can. His short game has always been his strong suit, and it allows him to recover from any bad shot. His philosophy of shaving a couple of shots around the green will be critical because of the added difficulty of those elongated holes.

Of course, you cannot talk about the Masters without mentioning Tiger Woods. He started this year hot, winning twice on the PGA tour and making a terrific comeback to win the Dubai. But I just feel that Tiger is not yet playing his best golf. If he gets it together this week, we will see something truly special, but if he continues to plod along as he has in last couple of tournaments or so, we will not see a dominant Tiger.

But then again, he doesn’t need to be dominant to win a major, just good and a little lucky (see last year’s 16th hole). He knows how to attack that course better than any golfer in the field.

You want a couple of dark horses for this year’s Masters? How about Retief Goosen, a man more known for his calm U.S. Open play than for the aggressive style needed to win in Augusta, Georgia? He has been playing quite well the past several weeks, both at the Players Championship and at the BellSouth Classic. Goosen has the nerves of steel to hold down those emotions come Sunday afternoon on the back nine. Watch for him to be a factor in the tournament.

What about Sergio Garcia? He also played well at the Players. He definitely needs a major win to put a stamp on his great career. So far, he has the unwanted label of being the best player never to have won a major tournament. Garcia wants to rid himself of that label and get to the next step.

For a really out-of-nowhere potential winner, how about Rory Sabbatini? He has been at the top of the money list this entire season and even though he hasn’t played well in the last couple of tournaments, he is still someone to watch out for this week.

All in all, the list of potential winners is a good one, and come Sunday, it will once again be a race to see who can birdie the most holes on the back nine.