Phil Mickelson has genuine chance of becoming the oldest Masters champion
Bubba Watson another left-hander who should go well
Sky Sports Golf/Main Event, 7pm Thursday
Tournament starts at 1.30pm
The genius that is Phil Mickelson stands on the brink of history. If he wins his fourth Masters’ Green Jacket, Phil The Thrill crushes Jack Nicklaus’s record as the oldest Augusta champion. And he’s only a 20-1 chance to do it.
But is Lefty too old? He starts his 25th tilt at the Masters as a professional just two months shy of his 48th birthday. The Golden Bear was 46 years two months 23 days when he won the last of his 18 Majors in 1986.
And amazingly this is Mickelson’s most logical chance of winning since his third Masters victory in 2010.
He has never been in better form or more enthusiastic about his game. And his Augusta record of three wins and 15 top-ten finishes - runner-up once, five times third, twice fifth, once sixth, twice seventh, once tenth - brooks no argument.
A World Golf Championship victory on a tight, tight final day in Mexico in early March, coming on top of consecutive finishes of fifth, second and sixth in quality tournaments, confirmed the nerve is still there to set alongside his matchless creative skills.
He made a few very expensive errors when only 24th at Houston but 21 birdies and a final 67 say his putter is still red-hot. Not since Seve has anyone matched his ability to make birdies or save par from parts of the course never before visited by man or beast.
Yet the stats say winning a Major at 47 is almost mission impossible. Only Julius Boros, 48 when he won the 1968 USPGA, has been older.
At the 1992 Masters, Ray Floyd almost did it at 49 but the gods smiled on Fred Couples, whose ball defied gravity at the treacherous short 12th by staying on the bank in front of the green instead of tumbling back into the water.
Boom Boom went on to win his only Major and has subsequently forged his own Augusta longevity legend. He’s 58 now but was a top-20 finisher again last year for the sixth time since hitting the half-century. Third when 46, sixth at 50, it has been an eternal love affair, Georgia and Couples, starting way back in 1983.
Tom Watson, of course, almost pulled off the fairytale of all fairytales at Turnberry in 2009 when coming within a 72nd-hole par of becoming Open champion for the sixth time at 59. Age? It’s only a number.
Talking of which, the average age of a Masters champion is 32.6. It’s not a tournament you just roll up to and own. Not since 1979 have we seen a first-time winner, Fuzzy Zoeller. It’s mainly for grafters who have been on tour ten years or more.
And guess which of the market leaders comes closest to that 32.6? It just happens to be world number one Dustin Johnson.
Tiger no longer intimidates rivals
Whoever wins the 82nd Masters, it promises to be one of the great runnings now that Tiger Woods is back, super-fit and playing remarkably well after such a long break from competitive golf.
And Rory McIlroy is back, also super-fit, a winner again after a few shaky weeks, and desperate to bag the one Major to elude his grasp.
Either could win, but it’s 13 years since Woods captured the most recent of his four Masters and there has been much water under the bridge since, both on and off the course.
The jury is out as to his nerve. It could be significant that he flashed one over a fence and out of bounds when only a shot off the lead at Bay Hill. And he no longer carries the fear factor that won him tournaments he should have lost. Golf has moved on.
McIlroy won at Bay Hill in impressive fashion at just the right time. At his best, he is the best but he has scar tissue from past Masters and it could be that he wants this final piece of the Grand Slam jigsaw too much.
In picking Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson, I am much influenced by the fact that left-handers have won six of the last 15 Masters.
It’s a remarkable ratio when you consider five of those Green Jackets belong to Bubba and Phil. Even more remarkable that only seven lefties play on the PGA Tour, and three of them, including 2003 Masters winner Mike Weir, are not regulars.
As Golf Channel pundit Brandel Chamblee put it: “They have a tremendous advantage with several holes requiring a right-to-left drive. It’s designed for Phil. When he turns up Washington Road and starts heading down Magnolia Lane, he may be Bruce Wayne but by the end of it he’s Batman.”
Similar comments apply to double champion Watson, another creative genius remembered best for the awesome rescue shot that broke Louis Oosthuizen’s heart in the 2012 Masters playoff.
Forget his last two Masters results - it has taken time for Bubba to adjust to his new, slimmed-down self and overcome a serious putting decline but he’s finally got it sorted as evidenced by recent victories at Riviera and the Match Play.
The main dangers may come from England. Ian Poulter’s fabulous win in Houston has got the ball rolling. Poults himself has decent Augusta form but Paul Casey and Justin Rose look even better.
If the cards fall right, Casey could win his first Major. He needs to come from off the pace as he did at the Valspar as he curls up when left in front. But he has finished 6-4-6 the last three Masters. Now that he’s posted his first US win for nine years, there’s every reason to believe he can improve on those figures.
Rose, twice runner-up in the last three years, has to get over gifting it to Sergio Garcia from two ahead with four to play last year but says his game, and particularly his putting, is in much better shape 12 months on.
In posting easily his best finish of a downbeat year in Houston on Sunday, Jordan Spieth must enter calculations having won one Masters and been second twice in just four visits. He has demons to conquer too and his putter needs to get hotter. But it can.
2pts each-way 18-1 Betfred
1pt each-way 20-1 188Bet
1pt each-way 25-1 Betfred, Ladbrokes
1pt each-way 16-1 Betfred
I Poulter top-ten finish
2pts 11-2 Betfred
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