It's that time of year again. Masters Week!
Today, honorary starters Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player will hit their tee shots to begin play at the season's first major championship—the 2012 Masters Tournament. Close to 100 of the world's best golfers will gather at Augusta National Golf Club to compete for professional golf's ultimate prize. The US Open, Open Championship and the PGA Championship—yes, those are important. But the Masters—it's special.
Not only is Gary Player one of South Africa’s most famous golfers, but last years winner Charl Schwartzel is also South African and will be hosting the champions dinner this year.
The excitement surrounding this year's tournament is elevated largely due to the recent success of four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods. For the past six months, the argument has been whether Tiger is "back" or not. But after his five-shot victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week, the 72nd win of his historic PGA Tour career, few can deny that his game is in good enough shape to challenge for his fifth green jacket.
It won't be smooth sailing at Augusta, either, with Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson waiting in the wings. As for 42-year-old Phil Mickelson, the World Golf Hall of Famer owns 40-PGA Tour victories to his name, including the 2012 ATT Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Though Woods might be vying for the de facto title of career come-back kid, Mickelson has already made it happen at Pebble Beach, erasing a six-shot deficit on the final day of the event to win.
With nine top-10 finishes at the Masters over the past 12 years-including Masters wins in 2004, 2006 and 2010-Mickelson has proven himself to be consistent and a perennial contender. Active since 1991 and with 18 cuts made out of 19 tournaments entered, Mickelson has more experience than Woods (1995, 16-of-17 cuts made) and though he is older and not the sparkplug that Woods is, Mickelson is the golfing world's embodiment of the idiom, "Slow and steady wins the race."
So while Woods tries to climb back to the pinnacle of the PGA, keep in mind that McIlroy and Mickelson have been making progress all along and stand to put up a real fight at Augusta.
Added to the fight for Masters title is Keegan Bradley, arguably the most explosive of America’s young guns, who will attempt to win his second major title on only the second occasion he has teed it up at this level.
It is going to be a spectacular week of golf – the ‘slow and steady’ vs. the young guns with no fear vs. Tiger Woods. The Americans are determined to hoist the banner above Augusta this year, but could another South African win the title from behind...we will have to watch to see who wins.