Another memorable Masters Tournament begins Thursday in Augusta, Ga.
The potential storylines, from the return of a struggling Tiger Woods to the historic overtones that would accompany victories by Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth, are too numerous to allow for any other Sunday possibility heading into professional golf’s first major championship of the season.
Can “Lefty” or defending champ Bubba Watson, a fellow left-handed golfer, continue the unprecedented string of success we’ve seen by southpaws for the past 12 years in Augusta? Is it time for another Texan to claim a Masters title in the final competitive appearance of Austin resident Ben Crenshaw, the last resident of the Lone Star State to claim a green jacket (1995)? Will we need more than 72 holes to crown a playoff winner for the fourth time in seven years at Augusta National Golf Club?
All of these are viable questions, along with the challenge of identifying the next PGA Tour participant capable of elevating his game on golf’s grandest stage to claim his first major title. A handful of candidates to consider from that group include Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson and Jimmy Walker, the former Baylor standout who has won five tour events in the last 18 months.
What will emerge as the defining image of the 2015 Masters?
Here are five storylines to track:
Is Tiger’s back really back?
Tiger Woods, a four-time Masters champion who is No. 111 in this week’s world golf rankings, has struggled since returning from back surgery that caused him to miss last year’s event in Augusta. Woods, 39, will compete Thursday for the first time since withdrawing because of back pain during his Feb. 5 round at the Farmers Insurance Open. The previous week, Woods struggled with his chipping and missed the cut after posting rounds of 73-82 at the Phoenix Open. Woods said earlier this week he is ready to compete and contend in Augusta. But analysts wonder. Chris DiMarco, a Golf Channel analyst who lost to Woods in a playoff at the 2005 Masters, agreed with colleague Brandel Chamblee’s assessment that Woods’ short game was “catastrophically bad” at the Phoenix Open. During a recent teleconference, DiMarco described this as a pivotal week in Woods’ comeback. “If he goes out and stinks it up, … it’s getting mental,” DiMarco said. “And if he doesn’t get it fixed, I don’t know if he can overcome it.”
Will youth be served in historic fashion?
Rory McIlroy, 25, can complete a career Grand Slam with a victory in Augusta. The world’s top-ranked golfer has won the U.S. Open (2011), British Open (2014) and two PGA Championships (2012, 2014). In 2000, a 24-year-old Woods became the youngest golfer in history to complete the career Grand Slam. Dallas resident Jordan Spieth, 21, can match Woods’ status as youngest Masters champion. Woods prevailed as a 21-year-old in 1997. Spieth, the No. 4 player in the world rankings, finished second in last year’s Masters. Spieth, who lost to J.B. Holmes in Sunday’s playoff at the Shell Houston Open, said his confidence level “is about as high as it’s ever been” after finishes of first, second and second in his past three PGA Tour events.
Is Augusta still a lefty’s paradise?
After zero victories by left-handed golfers in its first 66 tournaments, six of the past 12 Masters champions have been lefties. Defending champ Bubba Watson (2012, ’14), Phil Mickelson (2004, ’06, ’10) and Mike Weir (2003) hope to draw on their recent success and extend the list of lefty winners in Augusta.
Can a Texan reclaim this title?
Four Texas residents have finished second at the Masters since Ben Crenshaw’s victory in 1995: Tom Kite (1997), Rory Sabbatini (2007), Chad Campbell (2009) and Spieth (2014). This year’s event will mark the final competitive Masters appearance for Crenshaw, an Austin resident and two-time champion who won his first green jacket in 1984. Four Texans enter Thursday’s opening round ranked among the top 25 players in the world rankings: Spieth (No. 4, Dallas), Jimmy Walker (No. 10, Boerne), Patrick Reed (No. 15, Houston) and Ryan Palmer (No. 23, Colleyville).
Who is ready to win his first major title?
Only one player on the PGA Tour cracked the top-5 in all four majors last season: Rickie Fowler, who did not win any of them. But his finishes in the Masters (T-5), U.S. Open (T-2), British Open (T-3) and PGA Championship (T-3) have whetted the appetite of the 2008 Ben Hogan Award winner for a major breakthrough this season. “I’m definitely hungry for one this year,” said Fowler, 26. “My patience was very good last year in the majors and I was able to put myself in some very good positions.” Fowler, a former Oklahoma State golfer, ranks No. 13 in the world rankings and is one of the seven highest-rated golfers in the world without a major title. The others: Henrik Stenson (No. 2), Spieth (No. 4), Jason Day (No. 5), Dustin Johnson (No. 6), Sergio Garcia (No. 9) and Walker (No. 10).
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760
2015 Masters Tournament
Thursday-Sunday (tournament rounds), Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.
Yardage: 7,435 yards
Purse: $9 million
Winner’s share: $1.62 million
Defending champion: Bubba Watson
TV: ESPN and KTVT/Ch. 11. Thursday and Friday rounds (ESPN, 2-6:30 p.m.). Saturday round (KTVT/11, 2:30-6 p.m.). Sunday round (KTVT/11, 1-6 p.m.)
Notable: Rory McIlroy, the world’s top-ranked golfer, seeks to win his third consecutive major and complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta. McIlroy, 25, has won the U.S. Open (2011), British Open (2014) and two PGA Championships (2012, 2014). ... Tiger Woods, a four-time Masters champ who fell to No. 111 in the most recent world rankings, seeks to return to form after last year’s back surgery. … Adam Scott, reigning champion at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, enters at No. 6 in the world rankings. Scott won the 2013 Masters title. … This will be the final competitive Masters appearance for Ben Crenshaw, an Austin resident who won the title in 1984 and 1995.