Golf fans wait for this week all year long, and the moment that final putt drops at the PGA Championship, all the major championship attention turns to Augusta. It’s a long, long winter, but golf is still being played and as Masters week kicks off, many of the names we all hoped would be in the news are actually in the news.
So what can we expect as we near Thursday and gear up for the 2017 Masters? Here are 10 things I want to see this week at Augusta National.
Rob SchumacherUSA TODAY Sports
A Bubba Watson 'Putt-aissance'
The Internet loves to rag on the two-time Masters champion, but I find golf a little more fun when Bubba is involved. The way he can play shots (remember that tee shot on the 13th back in 2014?!) makes viewing more exciting, and if nothing else, gives some fans a little bit of a villain factor to root for or against.
But Bubba isn’t competing this week, or any week, if he can’t find the putting stroke that allowed him to close out both those Masters wins. This year alone he’s 192nd on the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting, and while Bubba has never been an excellent putter, his fear of the short miss has haunted him since his victory last year at Riviera. My hope is that Watson can make a couple of short ones early in the week, and then let his shotmaking around this golf course guide him to another solid week. For Bubba at Augusta, it is truly feast or famine, as he has failed to finish inside the top-19 in any other start outside his two victories.
Getty ImagesRobert Laberge
Jordan Spieth versus Phil Mickelson during one weekend round
These two are the modern Augusta versions of Jack and Arnie, knowing and playing this golf course better than anyone over the course of their respective careers. How much fun would it be to watch Phil, with his three green jackets, and Spieth, with his T2-WIN-T2 career finishes at the Masters, approach and dissect this golf course during, say, Moving Day? Speaking of Spieth ...
John David MercerUSA TODAY Sports
Spieth making birdie on the 12th on Thursday
I just want the demons, and the 12th hole storylines, to die as early as possible this week. If you take away the disaster that happened on this hole in the final round a year ago, Spieth has played the 12th an impressive 1-under par over his career at the Masters, making birdie on the diabolical par-3 three times in 12 career goes around Amen Corner. I just want a solid iron shot in the middle of that green, a solid stroke and a birdie and hopefully those swirling Augusta winds will take the idea that this hole “owns” Spieth to somewhere far away.
Eric RisbergAP photo
Something special happening for Ernie Els
I hated watching that putting display splashed all over the Internet a year ago, and considering how great Els has been in his career at Augusta National (he had a five-year stretch between 2000-’04 where he never finished outside the top-6), I’d love to see a great highlight come from the 47-year-old to hopefully erase those memories of that six-putt, especially considering this could be his last ever Masters start.
Lenny IgnelziAP photo
A roaring comeback for pimento cheese
I can’t handle all this hate for the most iconic sandwich at the Masters. Do people get sick of strawberries and cream at Wimbledon? Do you hear Dodgers fans eschewing their infamous dog? Of course not! I believe this is the comeback year of the pimento cheese and I am taking it upon myself to start the initiative. Hey, egg salad sandwich, you’re soggy and overrated. Long live the pimento!
Rob SchumacherUSA TODAY Sports
Tiger Woods on the ceremonial tee with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player
This will be the first ceremonial tee shot without Arnold Palmer, and I have a sense that fans and players alike will feel The King’s presence as the Masters gets underway. With Tiger announcing he won’t play but will attend the Champions dinner, I’d love to see Tiger out on the first tee to applaud Mr. Player and Mr. Nicklaus as the Masters begins. It would just be a cool, cool moment to have Jack and his six green jackets rooted on by Tiger and his four.
Tony DejakAP photo
Lee Westwood and/or Sergio Garcia giving it a real run
In my opinion, these are the co-presidents of the BPWAMC (Best Player Without a Major Championship) Club, and this is such a great place for them to finally strip that title. Westwood’s resume at the Masters is so sneaky, with three top-three finishes in his last seven starts at Augusta. Sergio hasn’t been as impressive, but considering how he has made a career striping tee shots, you’d have to think it’s only a matter of time before Garcia puts himself in the conversation on a Sunday.
There will be plenty of talk about the best players currently in the world and how they can add to their legacy with a first green jacket (Dustin and Rory) or another (Spieth and Phil), but I for one would really enjoy watching Westwood finally close one out or Sergio give himself a chance on Sunday.
Chris CarlsonAP photo
Jason Day doing whatever is best for Jason Day
Will he play or won’t he? That seems to be the question surrounding Day as he deals with a really tough family situation this year (for now, it seems like he plans to peg it). A favorite at any and all major championships, Day is obviously talented enough to win a green jacket, but if this isn’t the year for him and his family, I hope that Day sees that and does exactly what he feels he should do. I think we all can agree when it comes to family, golf is a total and complete afterthought.
I hope Day plays because golf is better when he’s in the conversation, but more than that, I just hope Day does exactly what he thinks is best and the world allows that to be that.
Eric GayAP photo
Fred Couples having one more run
The 57-year-old will never be pain-free from that lingering back, but for whatever reason it seems to loosen up during four days in April, and with all the talk about guys half his age contending and winning, it’s fun to think that Couples is a couple of warm days away from being back in the mix. The Masters is simply better when Freddie is a part of it, and if he can recreate the magic we’ve seen from past years (he finished in the top-20 five straight times between 2010 and 2014), it’ll make for an even more special week.
Danny MoloshokAP photo
The Big Names bringing it
It has been a long time since we’ve had an epic shootout at Augusta National between the big boys. Charl Schwartzel held off a host of highly ranked players on his way to victory in 2011, and Tiger Woods had to sneak past a 54-hole leaderboard in 2002 that included Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh, Els, Sergio, Phil and Jose Maria Olazabal.
Could you imagine if we got a modern-day version of that leaderboard? Dustin Johnson leading by a shot over Rory McIlroy, Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama? Phil and Henrik Stenson a couple of shots back? We’re due for one of those “name-heavy” leaderboards at this event, and it would be incredibly special to see considering the way a lot of the big names have played this year.
There is always a spoiler at the Masters, even if that spoiler doesn’t win (Chris DiMarco, Len Mattiace and Danny Willett come to mind recently), but it would be amazing to see a 2002-like final round with all the names hoping to etch their name in history with a chance to steal this green jacket from one another.