Masters: Five biggest storylines for 2013
Tiger Woods, Guan Tianlang and Bubba Watson headline the storylines at the 2013 Masters.
The first major of the year starts early Thursday morning, and we have a truckload of storylines.
Oh, boy, do we have storylines.
We knew coming in that with Tiger Woods winning three times in the first three months of the season that this year's version of the Masters would have an edge to it.
It's more than Woods, though: Brandt Snedeker and Rory McIlroy are chasing away final-round demons, Bubba Watson is chasing history, and Ian Poulter is chasing a decent outfit to sport over the next four days.
Here are the five biggest storylines for the 2013 Masters.
1. Tiger and the hunt for 18 majors -- It will be a while, maybe another decade and a half, before this isn't the biggest storyline at any major. Jack Nicklaus himself said Tuesday he thinks Woods can catch him, but if he wants to, he'd better hurry up.
As of this writing, Woods is the 7-2 favorite to win and really, who's going to bet against him? He hasn't been prolific off the tee or with his irons so far this year, but he doesn't need to be to win his fifth Masters. He just has to putt well, which he's been doing plenty of lately.
Consider this stat from ESPN: Woods is gaining 1.48 strokes per round on the field. This is the 10th year the statistic has been tracked on the PGA Tour. His previous best entering Augusta was +0.84.
That's a ridiculous leap for somebody who has always prided himself on his proficiency with the flat stick. If his other clubs are on, we could be in for a rout.
2. Guan Tianlang and the cut -- The biggest story of Day Two is going to be whether 14-year-old Guan can slip into the top 44 and ties and make the cut.
Jay Coffin of Golf Channel told a fantastic story on Twitter the other day about how one journalist described how Woods played with Guan and not the other way around. That's how big the kid has been this week.
Matteo Manassero holds the record for being the youngest golfer to make the cut at Augusta. He finished T36 at the 2010 Masters when he was 16.
Guan has been unfazed by the media hype, but it's not his ability to handle the press that's going to help him make the cut. The biggest question is whether or not he can hit it long enough to score on the par-5s and long par-4s with his 130-pound frame.
I don't think he can, but it would be the biggest amateur story since 2005, when Ryan Moore contended for the green jacket, if Guan could get himself in the mix.
3. Rory McIlroy's struggles -- I'm not talking about his 2013 struggles, either. No, he's finished in the top 10 in two of his last three events and will, over the general arc of his career, be totally fine. I'm talking about his struggles at Augusta.
The unsung statistic this year is that McIlroy has never made a top-10 in his career here: T20, cut, T15, and T40 are his four finishes. And he's the second-biggest favorite this year despite that.
Obviously the final-round wounds of 2011 (he shot an 80) have been bandaged by two majors since, but Augusta does not care what other major trophies you've hoisted. It only cares about what you do on the back nine on Sunday.
I'd love to see McIlroy in position for a win again this weekend to see the course, the event, test his mettle.
I think he would, too.
4. Can Bubba Watson repeat? -- It's only been done three times in the history of the Masters (Nicklaus in 1965 and 1966, Nick Faldo in 1989 and 1990, and Woods in 2001 and 2002) but if anybody's creative enough to do it, it's Bubba.
The thing that worries me about Watson is that he gets streaky at times and before last year's win, his best finish at Augusta was T20 in 2008.
This tournament demands four days' worth of consistent play, and I'm not sure that's something Watson can provide two straight years.
But at least we know what would be on the champions dinner menu for 2014 if he won again.
5. European drought -- The streak of 16 straight PGA Tour wins by Americans before Martin Laird won the Texas Open last week was well-documented. What has not been well-documented is that no European has won the Masters since Jose Maria Olazabal did in 1999.
Since then Fiji has a winner (Vijay Singh), Argentina has a winner (Angel Cabrera), Canada has a winner (Mike Weir), and South Africa has two (Charl Schwartzel and Trevor Immelman).
Digging even deeper, something's gone terribly wrong with the English golf contingent. As I outlined here, the big four golfers from England haven't played very well at past Masters -- specifically on the weekends.
Can Europe (or England) end the streak this week?
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