The most curious by-product of Tiger Woods's so-called slump in
the major championships (he has gone 0 for 6 since the 2002 U.S.
Open, the last of the eight he has won) is that the last five Grand
Slam winners--Rich Beem ('02 PGA), Mike Weir ('03 Masters), Jim
Furyk ('03 U.S. Open), Ben Curtis ('03 British Open) and Shaun
Micheel ('03 PGA)--have all been players who had previously been
majorless. We asked a group of Tour pros and golf insiders to name
the players, based on their past records, recent play and ability
to handle mighty Augusta National, who are most likely to continue
the first-timer trend next week at the Masters. (Everyone
considered Phil Mickelson, who has come in third in the last three
Masters, too obvious a choice for this exercise.) Once we came up
with our Dangerous Dozen, we took the list to a Tour pro who, on
condition of anonymity, pointed out the strengths and weaknesses in
their games, as well as what has to happen for each player to break
through at Augusta.
WORLD RANK: 9th
WORLDWIDE WINS: 7
BEST FINISH: T2nd, 2002 British
He's missed the cut in five of his last six Masters, which says
he's not crazy about Augusta, but he's playing too well this year
to disregard.... As we saw at Bay Hill, Stuart's problem is driving
accuracy; he's going to be hitting too many flyers out of the rough
for his iron game to be a factor. His fortunes will depend on his
scrambling, and he lacks creativity.... You never see him try to
hit a big slice or a big hook; he seems more concerned with making
a good swing than a good shot.
FINAL FORE: I like his chances of winning a major someday, but my
gut says it'll be a British Open or a PGA, not a Masters.
WORLD RANK: 24th
WORLDWIDE WINS: 9
BEST FINISH: T2nd, 2000, '03 British
If ever a guy should've won a British Open (my apologies to Jean
Van de Velde), it was Bjorn last year. The one mistake you can't
make at 16 is missing right, and on Sunday he did. He compounded
the error by getting frustrated and flailing away in the bunker as
if he were playing a $2 match at his club. Thomas has the game but
not the head.... His swing isn't a wow, but he hits stellar
shots.... He's long, averaging 301 yards off the tee in the U.S.,
and he was fifth in putting and 13th in scoring in Europe last
FINAL FORE: He has to get out of his own way and play 72 holes
without a mental hiccup.
WORLD RANK: 13th
WORLDWIDE WINS: 2
BEST FINISH: 2nd, 2003 PGA
Chad is going to win a major, maybe a bunch of 'em. I look at him
and see Ben Hogan. Like Hogan, his lower body starts moving in the
other direction before he completes his backswing. You get a sense
that he's being pulled into motion, a most efficient way to hit a
golf ball. He has one of the best swings I've ever seen.... But
Chad isn't going to win at Augusta until he improves his putting.
He was 69th on Tour last year.
FINAL FORE: Course changes have put more emphasis on ball-striking
at the Masters and have de-emphasized shots around the greens,
which should be a better fit for Campbell.
WORLD RANK: 8th
WORLDWIDE WINS: 8
BEST FINISH: T5th, 2002 Masters, British; 2000 U.S. Open, 1997
Padraig may be too analytical. He has all the X's and O's in his
head before he hits a shot. He's the Bob Estes of Europe, only a
little better player.... I don't know if anyone has come so close
in the majors without winning. He's in a class with Phil
Mickelson.... I like everything about his game.... His pace of play
could be an issue, though.
FINAL FORE: Like Ernie Els and Greg Norman, Padraig is a great
win-place-or-show bet. He's there so often, he's bound to break
through and win a major, if only by accident.
WORLD RANK: 30th
WORLDWIDE WINS: 1
BEST FINISH: T10th, 2003 PGA
Everybody agrees that Charles is going to be a world-beater, but
he's been coached so much that he's lost his instincts. David
Leadbetter has a bit of mad scientist in him, and Charles is
David's lab experiment.... His swing looks a little
paint-by-numbers, and there's a move at the top that doesn't look
right--he casts the club, then has to reset it on the way down....
He's played so poorly this year that I would've left him off this
list if he didn't have a home-course advantage.
FINAL FORE: Charles has the length for Augusta. I don't know if he
has the finesse.
WORLD RANK: 18th
WORLDWIDE WINS: 3
BEST FINISH: T5th, 2003 U.S. Open
Why does Sweden keep turning out tall, skinny, eccentric golfers
who dress like bowlers? ... It's hard to believe Fredrik is already
ranked so highly.... Beware of the guy with the suspect swing,
because he must have some weapons to have gotten this far. Fredrik
is called the Junkman because he's a better scrambler than ball
striker.... I'm not surprised he's having trouble with his left
elbow, the way he hangs onto the club, like Arnold Palmer.
FINAL FORE: A great putter with a lot of self-confidence is
dangerous. Ask Ben Crenshaw.
WORLD RANK: 28th
WORLDWIDE WINS: 2
BEST FINISH: 66th, 2003 PGA
Paul isn't well known in the U.S. but should be. He was Europe's
rookie of the year in 2001 and at Arizona State was the first
Pac-10 player to win three straight league titles. He also broke
Tiger's conference-tournament record by five shots and Phil
Mickelson's school record for scoring average.... Did I mention
that he's the nicest guy but will still step on your neck on the
course?... This is his first Masters, so don't expect much. He's
been a dud in the majors, missing the cut four times with a
combined score of 42 over. Ouch!
FINAL FORE: He's a superstar in waiting, but he'll have to turn
his game up a notch in the majors.
WORLD RANK: 15th
WORLDWIDE WINS: 13
BEST FINISH: T2nd, 1997 British Open
Augusta was the site of his epiphany last year, when he decided he
needed to lose weight. Trouble is, I've never seen anyone
drastically change their body type and play better for the long
haul. When a sturdy guy can suddenly make more of a shoulder turn
and a more athletic move, it completely changes his game.... Darren
has the game for Augusta. He's long and a good iron player,
especially in the wind.... His scrambling isn't always the best.
Neither is his putting.
FINAL FORE: Darren is cut in the mold of Walter Hagen. If he wins
the Masters, I'd definitely want to crash the champions' dinner.
WORLD RANK: 45th
WORLDWIDE WINS: 9
BEST FINISH: 2nd, 1999 PGA
I liked Sergio's chances more before he changed his swing. He was
an artist, but they've tried to turn him into an engineer who
thinks about his swing. That's a huge risk.... Sergio was one of
the best drivers in the world for four years. Now he's driving it
much worse but is sixth on Tour in greens hit in regulation.... His
putting has declined to the point that it's a glaring weakness,
which is what happens when you focus so much on the full swing....
He's not scrambling as well either.
FINAL FORE: Sergio still has a childlike enthusiasm for the game.
He can shape shots. He has all the instincts and the talent to
compete at Augusta.
WORLD RANK: 17th
WORLDWIDE WINS: 2
BEST FINISH: T10th, 2003 U.S. Open
Hard to get a read on him, but all you need to know is that he
took down Phil Mickelson in front of Phil's fans in golf's largest
theater, in Phoenix. He doesn't care what anybody thinks....
Jonathan is one of the game's most irreverent players, and the
Masters is golf's most reverent tournament. Following the rules
hasn't been his strength. There's a chance the members could get
into his head the way they did Lee Trevino's.... I love that he's
self-taught and doesn't have a coach.
FINAL FORE: He might be the wild card who sneaks into contention
and does something crazy, like win, because he doesn't give a rip.
WORLD RANK: 71st
WORLDWIDE WINS: 4
BEST FINISH: T4th, 1998 British
I played with Justin in a British Open and was impressed. He's the
most seasoned 23-year-old since Seve Ballesteros.... Justin has a
strong, dynamic and athletic swing.... All areas of his game are
very good. He's long and straight, and he can work the ball both
ways.... He needs to get one part of his game to go from good to
great.... He has an air of decisiveness that I like.
FINAL FORE: At worst, Justin is a future star. At best, he's a
future superstar. He was 39th in his first Masters last year. I'd
be surprised if he doesn't do much better this time.
WORLD RANK: 12th
WORLDWIDE WINS: 5
BEST FINISH: T9th, 2002 Masters
I watched him win at the Deutsche Bank last year, and we all saw
him at the Players. He can handle the pressure.... It's tough to
find fault with his swing. Put him side by side with Tiger, and
it's eerie how similar they are.... Scott has missed the cut in six
majors, but he's taken to Augusta better than some other venues,
coming in 23rd last year.... He has superstar potential, and if he
had the putting stroke of another young Aussie, Aaron Baddeley,
he'd be Tiger's main rival.
FINAL FORE: He has the tee-to-green game and the head, but he's
going to have to putt like he did at Sawgrass to win.