Tomorrow morning, the ceremonial tee shots of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus will signal the start of the first men’s major of the year and the unofficial start of the 2011 recreational golf season. Tomorrow is a day many rabid golf fans like myself have anticipated for months, and the next four days are sure to be filled with the excitement, drama, history and tradition that the Masters is famous for. Nike Golf’s Athletes have also been anticipating this day for quite a while, and Thursday will see nine Nike athletes hit their first tee shot on hole #1 (Tea Olive), the first of 72 holes of the grueling test that is Augusta National. Here are the Nike athletes in the field for this year’s Master’s tournament:
From these nine athletes I am choosing five who I think have a real shot at winning the 2011 Masters — these are the five Nike Athletes I can see donning the green jacket on Sunday and why:
Paul won the Volvo Golf Champions earlier this year, and since then his highest finish in the PGA Tour is a T12 at the Northern Trust Open at Riviera. He missed the cut at last year’s Masters, but with top 20 finishes the three years prior and a T6 finish in 2004, he can definitely compete at Augusta National. All the current world #6 ranked player needs is a few putts to drop and he could find himself in contention on Sunday afternoon. And after switching back to his original Method Milled 001 for this week’s tournament, that could be a definite possibility.
AK has been on the comeback from thumb surgery last year, but he found himself in the hunt at last week’s Shell Houston Open, which tells me he’s back now. With a T3 finish at last year’s Masters including a final round 65, he has good memories coming into this week. If he can get dialed in again like he did last week, Sunday’s leaderboard could see his name near the top.
Francesco is currently #15 in the world and 8th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, and with a win in last year’s WGC HSBC Champions and a 3rd place finish in the WGC Cadillac Championship in March, he has shown he can compete and win in world-class events. He is swinging well lately, and despite a poor finish at last week’s Shell Houston Open (partly due to going 74- 77 on the weekend), I look for Francesco to rebound and contend on Sunday.
Charl is currently #5 in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, and started the 2011 Euro Tour season with four straight top 10’s including a win at the Joburg Open. He had a respectable T30 finish at last week’s Shell Houston Open, and if he can navigate Augusta National’s fast and undulating greens you may just see Charl’s name creeping up to the top of the leaderboard on Sunday afternoon.
A lot has been said and written lately about where Tiger is in the process of bringing his new swing to the course and putting four solid rounds together to get himself in contention on Sunday. He is hitting the ball solidly on the range, but hasn’t been consistent on the course. But to me the signs are there that he is not as far away from success on the course as some may be saying, that he is closer to winning again than some might think. He looks like he’s having more fun on the golf course, he looks more relaxed, and looks like he’s playing the game of golf more, and playing “golf swing” less of late. He finished T10 at the WGC Cadillac Championship and a respectable T28 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he has plenty of great memories at Augusta National including putting the geen jacket on four times, and tremendous knowledge of and experience on the course and Augusta’s tricky greens. He hit the ball terribly in the final round of last year’s Masters and still finished T4, which speaks to his ability to score well despite having a less-than-perfect swing on a given day. Put this together with having a few putts drop with his Method 003 and you may be seeing his name high on the leaderboard late on Sunday afternoon.
It’s sure to be a thrilling four days at Augusta National this weekend, and with all due respect to Arnie and Jack, we look forward to the tournament really starting on the back nine on Sunday. And after the Sunday roars have died down, we’re hoping it’s a Nike Athlete putting on the green jacket on Sunday afternoon. Good luck to all the Nike Athletes in the field at this year’s Masters, let’s bring another major home for the Swoosh!