2008 Masters Contenders
by Trevor Whenham - 04/09/2008
The NCAA Tournament just ended, so that means that the Masters is just around the corner at Augusta National. Let's not kid ourselves even for a second - this tournament is all about Tiger Woods. If he decides he really wants to win it, and we have been given no reason to believe he won't, then he is the overwhelming favorite to do so. He's at even money for Masters golf odds while his closest competitor, Phil Mickelson, is at 10/1, and Vijay Singh is the only other golfer under 20/1. If he doesn't do it for some reason, though, then there are the usual cast of characters who everyone will be talking about - Phil, Vijay, Adam Scott, Ernie, Padraig Harrington, Retief Goosen and the like. There's a very decent chance that the winner will come from that group, but golf fans know that relative unknowns can come through and earn a green jacket, too - Mike Weir and Zach Johnson were solid golfers when they won, but few went into the tournament thinking that either of those guys were going to win it. As we get ready for this year's event, here are five players who could rise up and surprise the field if Tiger doesn't do the almost inevitable.
Justin Rose - We have been hearing how Rose is the next big thing since he came close to winning the British Open as a 17-year-old amateur back in 1998. Rose has played pretty sparingly so far this year, but he has four top 25 finishes in just seven starts, so he is playing fine. What really makes him worthy of attention is his ability to step up in the majors. He has only played the Masters three times, but he has improved each time, capped by a tie for fifth last year. That was his best result in the big four last year, but he was very strong in all of them - fifth, 10th and 12th twice. He has a very controlled, consistent game that suits the style of play at Augusta well. He won't get phased if he is in the mix on Sunday. At 33/1 he doesn't present a ton of value, but he isn't grossly overpriced, either.
Rory Sabbatini - This is a tempting pick mainly because of how mad it would make Tiger. He and Woods haven't always seen eye to eye. Sabbatini is cocky and obnoxious, but he's also playing pretty good golf. He has a second and a third in seven events this year. On his career he has four wins, and he has won over $17 million, so it's not like he has never faced pressure before. He's also proven at Augusta, with a second place finish last year. He's the 10th-ranked golfer in the world, but few would know that. His price of 50/1 probably doesn't give him the respect he deserves, and it therefore offers some comparative value. I just hope that he winds up in a pairing with Tiger at some point - that would be worth the price of admission.
Angel Cabrera - This pick is based on what he has shown he can do in the past, not what he has done this year - it has been a pretty lousy season for him. In his last three outings he has missed the cut twice and withdrawn once. His best showing of the year is a 15th in the season opening Mercedes event. Most people will remember Cabrera for his win at the U.S. Open last year, but that is far from the first time that he has come through in a major. He has six top 10 finishes in the biggest events, including three in the last three years. Three of those six have come at Augusta, so he is comfortable with the course, and he can obviously handle the massive pressure of the event. A price of 66/1 seems more than fair for a player who has won a major and contended repeatedly.
Sean O'Hair - O'Hair has one of the more interesting stories on the tour. His family situation is a total mess, and he doesn't speak to his parents. His father-in-law is a very big influence in his life, though, and he has repeatedly been able to get O'Hair's head back in the game. When the golfer is focused he can be deadly. He found his stride in March and finished first and third in consecutive weeks. If he can slip back into that groove for another weekend just a couple of weeks later then he could really be a factor. I'd feel a bit better about his chances if he had a bit more experience. He has only played at Augusta once and he missed the cut. He does have three top 15 showings in just nine major appearances, though, so he has been reasonably competitive. He's at 80/1, so it's not like people are expecting him to win it all. He could, though, so he might be worth a look.
Fred Couples - How great would it be to see the old man make another charge at Augusta? It's not like it would take an absolute miracle, either. He is crushing the ball, his back is feeling as good as it has in a long time, and he is coming off a fourth place finish at Houston just last weekend. Few golfers can say that they know the course at Augusta better or have done better than Couples, either. He has played in the tournament 23 times, and has amassed a win and nine more top 10 finishes. He hasn't been at his best in recent years, but he has still exceeded himself in this tournament - he has a third and a sixth in the last four years. It's been five years since he has won but he's Freddy Couples, so that isn't the concern it could be. If he were in contention on Sunday the crowd would be behind him to an incredible extent. His odds of 50/1 are probably a bit generous, but it would be a heck of a lot of fun to watch, and it certainly could happen.