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Thrash Talk: Not So Fast Tiger


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By Cody Thrasher via TheSandtrap.com
Tiger Woods is the definite favorite at Augusta this year, but this week won't be his week.

tt_title.gifMasters week is finally here! It's one the greatest weeks of the season for golf fans worldwide. Everyone has been talking about the course changes, potential favorites, dark-horse picks, etc. That being said, it's time to get the show on the road. Enough talking, let's play some golf! I'll be glued to the television for four straight days, and I'm sure I won't be the only one.



The staff here at The Sand Trap made their Masters predictions already, but I'm going to go a little more in-depth with mine. I'll talk a little about the course, since it gets nearly as many headlines as the players themselves. I'll also talk about some contenders, pretenders, and sleepers to watch for. I'll end with a couple random thoughts for the week.

More Course Changes
This just in: Augusta National has been lengthened yet again. Unfortunately, it's true, and I hate it. I'm not a big fan of change anyway, but the changes to Augusta have gotten out of hand. The tournament officials tried to Tiger-proof the course, but in the end, they are just handicapping it for everyone else. Tiger and a handful of others may be the only golfers on the planet capable of winning The Masters now, and that is awful.



The Masters is a major championship, and majors are supposed to be set up for all the top golfers, not a select few. I feel bad for golfers like Fred Funk. Funk will have to claw his way into just making the cut, much less getting into serious contention. That's the main reason why I prefer the TPC at Sawgrass over Augusta National. I may be in the minority there, but at least Sawgrass is fair for every golfer. That's how it should be on all major championship golf courses.



Augusta National is nearly 7,500 yards from the tees, which is borderline insanity. The par-3 fourth hole now measures an astounding 240 yards from the tee! That really puts the short hitters at a disadvantage. Tiger and the other big bombers may sneak an iron off the tee, but the shorter guys will more than likely be hitting 5-woods. That's a huge difference when it comes to shot control.



The course was fine the way it was four or five years ago. A little change never hurts, but the officials don't have to change something every year. There is more rough now, and that also leaves a lot to be desired. Before long, the course won't even look the same. Augusta National will always be one of the world's best, but it's quickly dropping on my list.



The Contenders
Tiger Woods will be a top contender this week. I know it's not a shock, but I wanted to get that out of the way up front. However, he won't be winning his fifth green jacket this week. Woods' only contact with the green jacket will be him putting it on this year's winner at the awards ceremony. Most of the staff members here at The Sand Trap picked Tiger to win this week, but how boring is that?



Tiger has won a few tournaments this season, and he has played very well in doing so. That being said, there are too many intangibles that will keep Mr. Woods from winning this week. It's unfortunate that his father's health has gotten worse this season, and I wish the family all the best. Tiger wasn't himself at The Players Championship two weeks ago, and he won't be this week at Augusta either. That's not always a bad thing because there are more important things in life than winning The Masters for a fifth time.



Tiger Woods will still play well, but he won't finish in the top five. He may be in contention part of the weekend, but his mind isn't focused 100% on golf right now, and this game is tough enough as it is. There are too many other great golfers that will be completely focused this weekend, and I look for one of them to snag the green jacket.



david_toms_chip.jpgAmong those other golfers is my prediction to win, David Toms. Toms has been the "unspoken" world number two this season behind Tiger. He has a tournament victory and a couple other top-three finishes. Toms is a lot longer off the tee than most give him credit for, and his putting is very solid. I'm actually surprised Toms hasn't played better in the past at Augusta National. David Toms could very well be adding a green jacket to his collection this Sunday. Oh yeah, the winning score will be 279 (-9).



If David Toms is my number one pick to win, then Retief Goosen is number 1a. Goosen has really gotten things going as of late, including a second-place finish at The Players Championship. The greens at Augusta National set up really well for Goosen, and I'll be surprised if Goosen doesn't win or finish in the top two or three. The Goose may be loose this time next week.



Other possible contenders include Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, and Luke Donald. Mickelson stormed his way to victory this past weekend at the BellSouth Classic, and he will be in contention at Augusta. Lefty has played The Masters better than anyone the past few years, and he will be right in the thick of things again. Furyk and Donald aren't long hitters, but both have had a little success in the past at Augusta. They are also playing good golf right now.



The Pretenders
I only mentioned three of the "Big Five" in my list of contenders. I left off Vijay Singh and Ernie Els for a reason. Both guys will make the cut, but they will struggle after that. If either one of them gets into contention on the weekend, they will quickly drop out like they have done at other tournaments lately. Singh hasn't looked like himself all season, and Els is still not fully recovered from his knee surgery. The Big Easy looks better physically, but he still needs a little tweaking before he wins a tournament of this magnitude.



Chris DiMarco has been in the center of attention at Augusta the past two years, but he has come up short on both occasions. He also suffered a skiing injury a few weeks back, and that definitely hasn't helped his game any. DiMarco hasn't played very good all year in the United States, including an awful showing this past weekend at the BellSouth Classic. I'm a fan of DiMarco, but he missed his chance the past two seasons.



The Sleepers
scott_verplank.jpgScott Verplank is on the cusp of being considered a sleeper to win The Masters. In the end, he is a sleeper due to being a short hitter by today's standards. His game doesn't necessarily set up very well for Augusta National, but he can do some damage if his greens in regulation percentage is high. Verplank is a masterful putter (no pun intended), and great putters always stand a chance at The Masters. It doesn't hurt that Verplank has played some solid golf in 2006.



Zach Johnson is another guy I expect great things from this week. Johnson is another golfer who is sneaky long, although he is ranked 122nd in driving distance. Johnson will have to grind his way around Augusta National in order to have success, but that's very possible. He has played great the past couple months, and I would like to see that great play continue.



The last guy on my list of sleepers is Jose Maria Olazabal. It's hard to call a two-time Masters champion a sleeper, but the course has gotten a lot longer since his last win at Augusta. The course doesn't set up very well for Olazabal's game (ranked 92nd in driving distance), but I'd say he knows his way around Augusta pretty well. The Spaniard also has a few top-10 finishes on his resume' in 2006. He may not be considered a sleeper by many, but he's definitely not a favorite either.



Random Thoughts
David Duval is going to have a strong showing at The Masters this week. It's just one of those gut feelings I have. On top of that, Duval will finish ahead of Singh and Els in the process. Duval has shown signs of his past at times early in the season, and it's just a matter of time before we see the player of old. Duval loves the game of golf again, and that's the key. The sky is the limit from here.



Camilo Villegas missed out on The Masters by one place on the money list. The Colombian needed to finish one spot better at The Players Championship, and he gave a valiant effort trying to do so. However, golf fans will have to wait until 2007 to see Villegas go for the green jacket. It's unfortunate because Thongchai Jaidee got a special invitation last week. That invitation should have gone to Camilo Villegas. I'm not taking anything away from Jaidee, but most people I know would prefer to see Villegas.



Am I the only one that would love to see Charles Howell III win this tournament? Not only is he my favorite golfer in the world, he is also a hometown guy around Augusta National. Howell III has had some success at The Masters in the past, but I would love to see him take that a step higher. He has made all of his cuts this season, but he has struggled on the weekend. Here's hoping Howell III makes a lot of hometown fans happy this weekend!



The Final Say
I hope my wife is prepared to not see me much this weekend. The television coverage of The Masters is always awesome, especially without many commercials on the weekend. I'll have my television, my sweet tea, and anything else I need to make it through another Masters weekend. I just hope it lives up to the hype once again. The past couple years, The Masters has been amazing! It will be tough to top the 2004 and 2005 versions.



For the sake of golf, I would love to see a battle at the top between all members of the Big Five. Unfortunately, that usually doesn't happen. As always, some of them will play well, and some of them will struggle to make the cut. That's just the way major championship golf is, and that's what makes it so special. In the end, golf fans just want a great tournament, and I'm no different. I want to see a high quality and very competitive golf tournament.



That's all I have to say this week, even though I was a little long-winded. Now it's your turn to tell me your thoughts on the 2006 Masters. Has the course been lengthened too much? Also, who do you think will be slipping on the green jacket Sunday evening? Finally, do you have any random thoughts on this year's tournament? If you have anything to add, feel free to comment below or discuss it in the forum. Thanks for reading and enjoy this year's Masters!



Photo Credits: © David Toms Foundation, © Morry Gash, AP.

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