Monday, February 18, 2008

Masters Debate (say that 10 times fast)

Who says I can’t think about a golf tournament that starts 6 weeks from now. It’s not like I’m playing at Augusta National where the fairways are narrower than a one-way street in Paris and the greens are so slick, it’s like putting in your bathtub.

Thank heavens above, I don’t have that worry.

You can probably count on every last golf prognosticator to declare Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson as the favorite going into the Masters (April 10th-13th) and there’s always a litter of past champions who can pull the proverbial rabbit out of their hat, just ask Jack Nicklaus and Ben Crenshaw.

But here are three names (with current 2008 rankings & Current Masters Status) for you to remember in the coming days before the golf world and Martha Burke converge on Bobby Jones’ dreamy little course in Georgia.

Justin Leonard (PGA – 9th, World – 52nd ) CMS: On The Bubble.

He’s charged hard out of the gate with three top-10 finishes so far this year, including a runner-up at the Bob Hope. This is a marked improvement over 2007, where he missed the cut in his first 6 events. He was able to salvage a good year with a victory at the Valero Texas Open last October. Leonard needs to improve his World Ranking to #50 or better if he’s going to qualify for the Masters, but a good start this year has certainly put the 1997 British Open champion in the driver’s seat to a tee time at Augusta.

K.J. Choi (PGA – 3rd, World – 8th) CMS: Exemption for 2008 Masters.

The South Korea native has made serious waves on the Tour recently. Riding into 2008 with 2 victories from the previous year, Choi handily won the Sony Open in Hawai’i for his 3rd tour victory in his last 15 events. He has no Major victories, but he has made 3 out of 4 cuts in Major events, with one top-10 finish to his credit.

Stuart Appleby (PGA-14th, World – 28th) CMS: Exemption for 2008 Masters.

Like Justin Leonard, he got off to a positive start, with 3 top-10 finished in his first 3 events this season (his only 3 so far). His well-balanced golf game has made him riches on the PGA Tour, but it hasn’t translated into any Major championships. He had his best finish (7th) at Augusta last year since missing the cut in 2002. Sure he was the leader going into Sunday, but conditions were so atrocious that the green jacket may as well have been a hot potato amongst everyone on that leaderboard. The bottom is that he’s due and perhaps he can use last year’s collapse at Augusta as a rallying cry.

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