Phil Mickelson finds himself in a rare position as the favorite at the 2011 Masters Tournament
that begins Thursday from famed Augusta National Golf Club.
Tiger Woods has been the favorite every year since 1997 when he blew away the field for his first title. Woods was the heavy plus 350 ‘chalk’ last year despite playing for the first time after his worldwide scandal that ultimately led to a divorce with wife Elin Nordgren.
Mickelson went on to win last year with a minus 16 score and is the current favorite at Bookmaker.com (6/1). The once dominant Woods is plus 950.
Woods and Mickelson have combined to win seven of the last 14 Green Jackets, the former having the slight advantage (4-3). However, Woods hasn’t won here since 2005, while ‘Lefty’ has been victorious twice in that span.
Mickelson comes into this tourney with momentum. He won last week’s Houston Open by shooting a 63 and 65 in the final two rounds. It was his first win since last year’s Masters and zoomed him up to third in the world rankings. He will start late on Thursday with only one group going after.
Woods hasn’t won in 19 months, getting shutout last year. His last major was the 2008 U.S. Open and before his knee surgery. He has clearly lost the aura where other golfers are afraid of him, with Ian Poulter the latest to openly mock his chances this week.
Woods finished tied for fourth (minus 11) at August last year, not a bad showing given his prior travails. He then finished tied for fourth at the U.S. Open before doing significantly worse at the British Open (tied for 23rd) and PGA Championship (tied for 28th).
It’s hard to believe Woods is now 35-years-old. He needs to prove his new swing is in working order as well as deal with the mental hurdle that grows bigger with each defeat.
Other Americans in the mix
While Woods and Mickelson are getting most of the publicity, there’s a whole group of other Americans ready to challenge.
Nick Watney (plus 1500), Dustin Johnson (plus 2000), Hunter Mahan (plus 2500), Matt Kuchar (plus 2800), Bubba Watson (plus 2800) and Anthony Kim (plus 3000) are all looking for their first major title.
The California native Watney is the favorite of the group and third overall. He finished seventh here last year, but won the WGC Championship at Doral last month and has four top-9 finishes this year alone. He also led the PGA Championship last year heading into the final round, but shot a horrible 81 to drop into a tie for 18th.
Kim finished third at The Masters last year (minus 12), while Mahan was tied for eighth (minus seven).
Europeans look to breakthrough
Europeans hold five of the top-6 spots in the world rankings. They are Martin Kaymer (No. 1), Lee Westwood (No. 2), Luke Donald (No. 4), Graeme McDowell (No. 5) and Paul Casey (No. 6).
McDowell won the U.S. Open last year, becoming the first European to do so since Tony Jacklin in 1970. Kaymer won the PGA Championship last year as well, following up Padraig Harrington’s effort in 2008.
A European winning the Masters for the first time since Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999 would be another sign of dominance. Westwood (plus 1600), Rory McIlroy (plus 2000), Donald (plus 2200), Kaymer (plus 2200), Justin Rose (plus 2500), Casey (plus 3500), McDowell (plus 4000) and Harrington (plus 4000) are the continent odds leaders.
Westwood had a one-shot lead heading into the final round of The Masters last year, but bogeyed on the first hole and shot a final-day 71 to finish three shots back (minus 13) of Mickelson in second place.