Apr
7
2011
Balls in the Air: The Masters, a Tradition Unlike Any Other
By Stephanie Wei under Balls in the Air

Welcome (back) to Balls in the Air, where I size up my Fantasy Golf picks of the week, featuring guys to watch (or not) and interesting story lines.

Hello from Augusta! And welcome back to “Balls in the Air” — I know it’s been a while since I’ve done this, but there’s no other time like the Masters to revive the feature. (I was too embarrassed by my awful picks at Bay Hill and then no one cared about Houston.) Since we’ve already analyzed Augusta and the field to point of near nausea, let’s just gets straight to the picks.

Oh, of course, I realize the first balls in the air were up a few hours ago, courtesy of honorary starters Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

As I’ve mentioned, it’s become a tradition (since I started picking in the last two years) that I don’t choose Phil Mickelson and/or Tiger Woods.

GROUP A

Nick Watney: He has a sneaky good record at the Masters. In three previous starts, he’s finished T11 (2008), 9 (2009) and 7 (2010). Yep, two top-tens! He’s also off to a great start this season, with the biggest victory of his career at the WGC-Cadillac Championship last month, along with five top-tens in six appearances!

GROUP A BENCHER

Dustin Johnson: His length gives him a huge advantage, allowing him to cut corners and reach par-5s with mid-to-short irons. If he plays the course wisely, then expect to see him in the mix on Sunday — and if he’s got his A game, he could run away from the field.

GROUP B

Justin Rose: He’s been in great form this year. He’s striking the ball beautifully. Question is, does he putt well enough to win at Augusta? Well, he said at Bay Hill that he doesn’t remember a time where he was stroking it better. In five starts at Augusta, his best finish was T5 in 2007 and he hasn’t missed a cut.

Paul Casey: He missed the cut at last year’s Masters, but he also has several top-tens. He hasn’t had a remarkable year, but he’s had a few top-25 finishes and has been flying under the radar. He’s able to work the ball from right-to-left and hits it high, which has never hurt anyone at Augusta.

GROUP B BENCHERS

Steve Stricker: He put his old driver back in his bag last week, which appears to have solved the problems he was having off the tee. Apparently, his caddie Jimmy Johnson asked him where his “12L driver” was. Huh? The driver Stricker won “12 large” with (large = millions). With old faithful, Stricker finished fourth at Shell Houston Open, giving him some momentum and confidence going into this week. You can’t really go too wrong with Stricks, especially since he’s got his 12L driver back!

Hunter Mahan: He’s one of the best drivers of the ball. In last two starts at the Masters, he finished T8 (2010) and T10 (2009).

GROUP C

Rory McIlroy: He switched up his pre-Masters routine this year, opting to take four weeks off and practicing instead of competing. He feels like he plays better first week out. Missed the cut last year, but finished T20 in 2009, including a 31 on the back nine on Sunday. (Since play has already started, McIlroy is three under through 6 in the first round.)

GROUP C BENCHER

Ryan Moore: He finished T14 last year, including a hole-in-one on No. 16 on Sunday. In 2005 he tied for 13th and earned Low Amateur honors. Moore is playing pretty well this season — he has two top-ten finishes and placed T12 at Bay Hill in his last start.

*******

Alright, who did you pick? Who are your Masters favorites?

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)