Paul Casey

I struggled long and hard with this pick.

Frankly, with the changes to Augusta, I have no idea who’s the favorite anymore.  It used to be the best players would always come out on top, but the Masters is more like the US Open, where players are surviving rather than scoring.  Lets be honest, if this was the same course as it was in 2002, when Tiger, Phil, Sergio, Retief, Ernie and Vijay were all on the leaderboard, it’d be a little easier to choose, but after Zach Johnson and Trevor Immelman slipped on the Green Jacket, it’s not nearly as clear.

Plus, the top tier of players is just so closely bunched, with each guy having definite warts to their games at this moment that I didn’t feel real comfortable with anyone.

As much as I love Phil, Doral seems like a distant memory and his performance at the Shell Houston Open wasn’t exactly inspiring.  Sure, he got some extra prep time at Augusta, but that’s the thing with Phil…you just never know.  And I’ve been burned in the past whenever I’ve emotionally invested in him so I couldn’t, in good conscience, pick FIGJAM.

What about Tiger?  I just don’t trust the knee or the ballstriking right now.  Sure, you can get away with that at Bay Hill, but at Augusta?  Good luck.

Other guys I looked long and hard at were Sergio, Nick Watney, Henrik Stenson, Steve Stricker and Geoff Ogilvy.  Sergio was first off that list due to the flatstick woes he’s re-found and Watney is a little too green still at this point. While Stricker, Stenson and Ogilvy are solid, something just made me a little uncomfortable with backing them.

Which lead me to my ultimate decision…Paul Casey.

Now, this may seem a little strange if I’m skeptical of Ogilvy and Stenson as Casey has a history of stumbling after being near the lead in big tournaments, but so far this year, he’s sold me.

Casey’s statistically the best putter on tour right now, and on Augusta’s ridiculous greens, that goes a long way.  And, as one of the tour’s longest hitters, he has the power to give himself good approach shots into greens, another critical ingredient to scoring well at Augusta.  The technical aspects of Casey’s game are indisputable, he’s one of the most talented players in the world, but it’s not his swing and game that inspired confidence, it’s the intangible stuff and his history at Augusta.

Do not underestimate the importance of winning at the Shell Houston Open last week.  It was Casey’s first win on American soil, and that was a huge mental hurdle to overcome, and winning in a loaded field and not having to worry about having that stigma attached to his name has to inspire confidence.  Casey has been gearing towards Augusta for over a month now, eschewing the usual trips through Florida to fine-tune his game strictly for this weekend with coach, Peter Kostis.

While coming into the Masters with some momentum is nice, it’s Casey’s experience at Augusta that separate him from the others.  Sure, he doesn’t have Tiger or Phil’s history there, but he does have three finishes of 11 or better his last four appearances there and has held the lead late into contention before finally fading.  There are some guys that just have a game tailor made for a certain course, and Casey’s is perfect for Augusta.  He’s long and powerful and if his putting is as good as the stats say it is, then he’s in as good of shape heading into the Masters as he ever has.

So maybe this is just an ignorant reactionary pick.  Maybe I’m overthinking the whole process and really, Tiger and Phil are heads and shoulders better than everyone else.  But, as the last couple of years have shown us, there aren’t any sure things at Augusta anymore…anyone can win.  So why not Casey?  A guy who’s firing on all cylinders, has a couple of big wins already this season and has a game that’s perfect for the course?

Plus, you didn’t come here to listen to me rationalize why I’m going to take Tiger.