Defending Masters champ Lefty looks tough to beat

 In my years of covering the Masters, I saw Vijay Singh win the green jacket, then Tiger Woods three times, Mike Weir, Phil Mickelson and Trevor Immelman.
If you wanted to predict who would win the Masters between 2000 and 2010, you would be hard pressed not to select Woods.

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That’s no longer the case. There are rookies, Europeans, Tiger Wannabes and Mickelson who have better-than-average chances to win this week at Augusta National.

In analyzing the 2011 field, any so-called expert would be second-guessed for not picking Lefty. He is coming off a victory where he shot 63 and 65 on the weekend to capture the Houston Open by three strokes.

Also, when Mickelson won in 2004 for his first major, I’ve never seen a pro golfer more thrilled. He got the monkey off his back of being the best golfer never to win a major, but he also looked fulfilled.

If he never did anything else in his career, he would be happy.

Dead wrong. He went on to win two more Masters.

Woods hasn’t won since 2005. Lefty won last year. Since 2000, they have won a combined six green jackets, three apiece.

Phil or Tiger? Pick Phil.

As for the PGA Tour rookies in the field, Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela and Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa are head and shoulders above the rest. My long-shot pick is Vegas because he can overpower Augusta. Will he be overwhelmed by the Augusta atmosphere? More than likely. Oosthuizen is the betting favorite in this category because he cruised to a seven-stroke victory in the 2010 British Open and is making his third trip to the Masters, but his first as a PGA Tour member.

Tiger Wannabes: Dustin Johnson is my pick. He’s long and has the experience on his side. Like Lefty, he has some monkeys to get off his back.

Europeans: Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland; Sergio Garcia, Spain; and Luke Donald, England.

Finally, there is the “can history repeat itself” theory. It has been 25 years since Jack Nicklaus won the Masters at age 46. Can Fred Couples or Davis Love III resurrect those glorious memories? It would be a nice story but doubtful.

For future patrons, there was some good news coming out of Augusta this week. One of the toughest tickets in sports just got somewhat easier.

Starting this week, fans will be able to enter the lottery for a limited number of daily Masters tickets, as well as for the practice rounds, in 2012.

The application process is being conducted on-line at www.masters.com. The deadline is June 30.

The maximum allocation is two daily tickets and four practice round tickets for any one day, and each allocation will have its own random selection process.

The lottery for practice round tickets began in 1995 and has previously been held through the mail. The list of patrons receiving Series Badges has been closed since 1971.

A waiting list for Series Badges was then created and closed in 1978. It was re-opened for a brief time in 2000 but has been exhausted by reallocation of tickets.  

 

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