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The Next Master
Jaime Diaz
April 03, 1995
The author surveys the field at Augusta National and predicts who will win the green jacket
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April 03, 1995

The Next Master

The author surveys the field at Augusta National and predicts who will win the green jacket

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FORMER CHAMPS WITH A CHANCE

PLAYER

POSITIVE

NEGATIVE

Ben Crenshaw

The 1984 winner and still the best on Augusta's treacherous greens. Gets inspired by all the history of the place.

Doesn't hit it well enough to stay away from bogeys. Scrambling style puts too much pressure on his putting.

Bernhard Langer

Last time he finished second in the Players, he went on to win the Masters. Thinks his way around the course well.

Ball-striking can desert him. Overcame putting woes to win in '93 but still spotty on the greens.

Craig Stadler

His shots have the power and height to suit the course. Best record in a major is at Augusta.

Winner in a playoff here in 1982, but his history shows he's not a master of the big occasion.

Ian Woosnam

Mighty-Might's swing appears to be back and attitude is improved after a two-month layoff over the winter.

Putting gets yippy under pressure, and a long time has passed since he has been in the hunt in a major.

Fuzzy Zoeller

Excellent driver with effortless power and an enviable temperament, especially under pressure.

Unable to close on Sundays. Last year had five second-place finishes but couldn't convert for a win.

Because it's the only major that's always played on the same course, the Masters invites predictions. It's tempting to handicap the field based on past performance at Augusta, style of play and how well a player can handle pressure. Weighing those factors this year, the odds-on favorite to win the green jacket is...but we'll get to that in a minute.

First a quick refresher on what it takes to win at Augusta National: The ideal approach to the course calls for a big, powerful draw off the tee to track the doglegs; high, soft-landing long irons to hold the par 5s; and finely shaped middle irons to get at the diabolically placed pins. Throw in an array of imaginative short shots from inside 100 yards to negotiate the humps and bumps that defend the pins, and finish it off with quiet, yet fluid hands on the glassy greens. Oh, yes, and add a cool head for course management and a steely will.

Of course, nobody has ever exactly fit the model, although double winners Byron Nelson (1937, '42), Tom Watson (1977, '81) and Seve Ballesteros (1980, '83) have come the closest. Six-time champion Jack Nicklaus's strengths were so overwhelming that they overcame his weaknesses. To paraphrase Lee Trevino, God didn't give anyone everything—although when Trevino made the comment, he had not yet seen Ernie Els.

While the odds at Augusta always favor players with power and touch, all sorts of styles have emerged victorious there. Among repeat Masters winners, Ben Hogan, who won in 1951 and '53, was a relatively short hitter who favored a fade, as did three-time winner Jimmy Demaret (1940, '47, '50), who also liked to keep his ball low. Four-time champ Arnold Palmer's money shot was a searing draw that had a tendency to come into the greens hot, the same way too many of his wedge shots did. Nicklaus's fade went against the predominant shape of the course, while multiple winners Gary Player (1961, '74, '78), Nick Faldo (1989, '90) and Bernhard Langer (1985, '93) are all more precise than powerful.

Last week's TPC, with its hard edges and point-to-point demands, presented a far different type of challenge than Augusta National does, but it did show that some high-caliber players, including Corey Pavin, Payne Stewart and Langer, are peaking for the Masters.

Although the Players' value as a Masters indicator is somewhat diluted by the fact that no one has ever won both tournaments in the same year, it is noteworthy that Langer finished seventh at Sawgrass before his 1985 victory at Augusta and second in 1993 before winning his second Masters. His runner-up finish last week, then, bodes very well for his Masters chances. By the same token, this week's tournament in New Orleans is where current green jacket holder José María Olazábal finished second last year and where Ian Woosnam won in 1991 before triumphing at Augusta.

The Players was not a good event for Faldo, who missed the cut, although he said it was a useful tune-up for the Masters because "the greens were damn near as fast as Augusta's." Meanwhile Nick Price, Greg Norman and Fred Couples were all off their game at the Players, finishing in the middle of the pack. But all four are primed for Augusta, with Faldo in particular having found his form in March with a win at Doral and a second at the Honda.

Whoever triumphs at this year's Masters will have putted well. For all the different ways to win Augusta, no victory can be achieved there without superior putting. Middling putting has won plenty of U.S. Opens, which reserve their biggest rewards for steady ball striking, but it's safe to say that mediocre putting has seldom, if ever, won the Masters. Less than brilliant putting is the main reason why Ken Venturi, Johnny Miller, Tom Weiskopf and Roberto DeVicenzo never won the Masters; and why Sam Snead only won it three times.

At Augusta more than at any other major championship, wizardry on the greens can make up for unspectacular ball hitting. Starting with Horton Smith, who won in 1934 and '36, guys like Doug Ford (1957), George Archer (1969), Billy Casper (1970) and Ben Crenshaw (1984) have won Masters primarily with their putters. Indeed, 1994 champ Olazábal belongs to this group.

Putting is the reason Loren Roberts, the PGA Tour's best with the wand, is so dangerous going into this year's tournament. It's also why Peter Jacobsen, who has always struck the ball well but is just now starting to make putts consistently, has his first real chance at Augusta.

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