Tiger's contention, a lengthened 5th hole and three other storylines to keep tabs on as the Masters approaches.
Welcome to the Weekend Read. Below you'll find our best stories over the past several days, an early Masters look ahead and a snippet of the Uni Watch debut on SI.com.
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• Announcing our World Series picks and unpacking everything the 2019 MLB season has to offer.
• NFL Mock Draft 8.0: A fourth QB sneaks into the top 10, while a fifth makes it into Round 1. (By Kalyn Kahler)
• In the SI.com debut of Uni Watch, check out all the design tweaks we’ll see around MLB in 2019. (By Paul Lukas)
• We polled NFL scouts on the best and worst programs to visit and work with. Here’s why Alabama tops the list. (By Andy Staples)
• Why Bryce Harper may start slow, Carlos Correa will shine and a case for always swinging at the first pitch of the game. (By Tom Verducci)
• Heading out to a ballgame this year? We picked the best beers available at every MLB stadium.
Five Things to Watch at the Masters
Spring is here, and spring in the golf world means the Masters is close. At least 25 players have a legitimate chance to slip on a green jacket in about two weeks, so we’ll hold off (for now) on predicting the final leaderboard.
Instead we present five storylines that will define the 2019 Masters.
Will Tiger contend?
Did you expect this to start any other way?
Last year at this time, Woods was preparing to play his first Masters in three years. He wound up compiling four indifferent rounds to finish T32, his worst finish at Augusta as a professional.
Three months later, he captured imaginations while seizing the lead on the back nine of the British Open. Then he fired a final-round 64 to finish solo second at the PGA Championship. The triumphant return to the winner’s circle finally came at September’s Tour Championship, when picked up his 80th PGA Tour victory.
Since that day, Tiger fans have salivated over his chances at this year’s Masters. They have good reason to—he’s the No. 14 player in the world, he’s had a realistic chance to win the last two majors and he’s a four-time Masters champion.
No matter your feelings about him, there is no scene in golf quite like a Sunday afternoon at Augusta with Tiger Woods in contention. As always, all eyes will be fixated on him.
Rory’s quest for glory
No player will fancy his chances at the Masters more than Rory McIlroy, who has a strong case for being the best player in the world at the moment.
McIlroy hasn’t finished worse than T6 in any of his six tournaments this year. He beat the best field in golf to win the Players Championship two weeks ago. He leads the FedEx Cup. He’s first on Tour in strokes gained off the tee, strokes gained tee to green and strokes gained overall.
While he’s finished in the top 10 in each of the past five Masters—including last year, when he had a chance to win on Sunday before a bitterly disappointing 74—it remains the only major he hasn’t won. A win would see McIlroy complete the career Grand Slam (a win in all four modern majors), a feat only five other players have accomplished.
Lengthened 5th hole
One of the hardest holes at the Masters just got a bit more difficult. Forty yards have been added to the par-4 5th hole. The dogleg left, which measured 455 yards in 2018, will tip out at 495 yards this year and trail only the 11th hole as the longest par 4 on the course.
The lengthening is the first significant change to the course’s layout since 2006, but don’t expect Augusta National to wait another 13 years to beefen itself up. Driving distances on the PGA Tour are rapidly increasing, and absent a restriction on the golf ball or club technology, courses worldwide will have to keep lengthening if they are to continue challenging the world’s best players. Next up at Augusta could be the legendary par-5 13th, which has been reduced to nothing more than a driver-mid iron for most players.
The club has already purchased land behind the 13th tee with an eye toward giving that hole its teeth back.
Jordan Spieth’s putter
Jordan Spieth’s history with Augusta National is complicated. It’s the site of his coronation, the place where he equaled Woods’s tournament record of 18-under 270 in 2015 … as a 21-year-old. It’s also the epicenter of his most painful moment—dumping two balls in the water at the par-3 12th to throw away the 2016 tournament. Last year, he equaled the lowest final round ever at Augusta with an eight-under 64 and finished third.
What’s the common thread between all three of the above? Spieth stood near the lead on Sunday. No one has played Augusta better in recent years, and that’s why he seems to always enter as one of the favorites … except this year.
Spieth is in the midst of a curious slump. Down to No. 30 in the world rankings, his most troubling development has taken place where Spieth used to shine brightest: the greens. This season, he ranks 189th on tour in putting from under 10 feet, 125th in putting from 15-20 feet and 162nd in three-putt avoidance.
As a result, he has three missed cuts on the campaign and has zero top 10s. Whether Spieth can find his putting stroke of old will go a long way in determining if he’ll contend once again.
Augusta National Women’s Amateur
This isn’t technically a part of the Masters, but it will be a subject of much discussion throughout the week.
Traditionally, “Augusta National” and “inclusive” haven’t been synonymous. The first women members weren’t allowed until 2012. That history will make the scene on the Saturday before the Masters truly remarkable.
Seventy-two of the best women’s amateur golfers will participate in the first inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur tournament. After a 36-hole cut, the top half of the field will play the final round at Augusta National, just five days before Tiger, Phil and Rory get their crack at it. It’s a monumental boon for the women’s game. It’s also a sign that, after decades of regressive traditionalism, maybe Augusta is finally getting with the times. — By Daniel Rapaport
Uni Watch: MLB's New Aesthetics in 2019
Some major league tweaks are coming: limited mound visits, a single trade deadline and, to the excitement of nostalgia buffs, a return of powder-blue uniforms, which the Cardinals will wear for Saturday night road games. In other sartorial news:
• Derek Jeter continues to put his stamp on the Marlins, who have undergone a(nother) complete makeover. Remember your old Lite-Brite toy? That appears to have been the design inspiration for the new neon-on-black jerseys.
• The Indians have a new red alternate jersey and snazzy All-Star Game sleeve and cap patches. One thing the Tribe won't be sporting: Chief Wahoo. The controversial logo has been shelved.
• An odd spectacle will unfold on June 29 and 30, when the Yankees and Red Sox play in London. They are technically Bosox home games, but MLB wants to showcase those iconic Yankees pinstripes, so both teams will wear their home whites.
• Speaking of the Bronx Bombers, newly acquired reliever Adam Ottavino is about to become the first Yankee to wear number 0. (And you thought they'd retired all their single-digit numbers!)
• The Phillies' infamous solid-maroon Saturday Night Special uniform, which caused such a stir in 1979 that it was mothballed after one game, will be revived on July 27—a Saturday night.
• Most teams will celebrate the 150th anniversary of professional baseball by wearing a small "MLB 150" patch on their sleeves all season and on their caps on Opening Day. The lone variation is the Reds, who'll wear their own 150th anniversary patch and will also trot out a whopping 15 throwback designs from their uniform history—easily a single-season record.
• More patchwork will be found around the league, honoring the 50th anniversary of the Padres; commemorating the final season at Globe Life Park for the Rangers; and memorializing Frank Robinson (Reds, Orioles and Indians), Don Newcombe (Dodgers), and Peter Magowan and Willie McCovey (Giants).
• The days of teamwide shoe colors are over. MLB is relaxing its footwear rules so players can wear cleats in black, white, gray or their team colors. — By Paul Lukas
Best of the Rest
Editor's note: Below are some of our favorite stories of the week not published by SI. This week's list is curated by Daniel Rapaport.
• Every few minutes, a tennis court-sized piece of the Louisiana coast disappears. This New Yorker feature by Elizabeth Kolbert details the surprising cause of the erosion, and the complicated steps necessary to stop it.
• Nine months after she disappeared, Olivia Kerri Lone Bear’s body was found on the bottom of a North Dakota lake … by a volunteer sleuth, not police. Jessica Lussenhop of BBC News tells the story.
• An athlete starring for the club he grew up supporting is the best type of story. Harry Kane is one of those players, as ESPN's Bruce Shoenfeld details.
• Admit it: You’ve illegally streamed sports before. For Yahoo Sports, Henry Bushnell takes you inside the shadowy world that brings free content to your computer screen.
• Star Wars: Episode I gets way too much flak. The Ringer’s Justin Charity explains.
Editor's note: What kind of stories and content would you like to see in the Weekend Read? Let's chat at SIWeekendRead@gmail.com.