Last weekend, we watched the defending Masters champion melt down and allow Matt Every to take the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
Tiger Woods, the perennial favourite going into any major, is a question mark before the Masters gets underway due to his bad back and, in this calendar year, we haven’t heard a lot from Phil Mickelson either.
That’s not to say that Adam Scott is write-off at Augusta after what transpired at Bay Hill, or that Henrik Stenson won’t be a factor. Both, after all, are gunning for the No. 1 ranking in the world, now held by Tiger and that could be motivation, or a distraction.
Yet, Every is the kind of guy who seems to be winning on the PGA Tour this year. Take a look at the FedEx Cup points race or the tour money list and you’ll see Jimmy Walker on top.
If you were thinking Player of the Year at this point in the season, you’d be talking Walker or Patrick Reed. In the latter’s case, just ask him. Other winners since the calendar flipped to 2014 include Scott Stallings, Kevin Stadler, Russell Henley and Chesson Hadley, among others.
They’ve made their names with those wins, but they’ll be overshadowed by bigger names at Augusta, something that can be cured quickly through a victory that doesn’t seem so unlikely right now in this season of parity on the PGA Tour.
“I would say the field is, maybe, as wide open as it’s been in a long time,” said Mike Weir, who was far from the favourite himself when he won the 2003 Masters.
“There are so many different players playing well, not just the traditional guys that you’ve seen the last 15 years, but that’s good. The field’s deep, the talent level is deep. You could have a first-time winner out there. I can see that happening very easily,” said Weir.
Weir is in that least likely to succeed at Augusta category since he hasn’t made an official cut since November. He also had a problem with a sore neck that forced him to withdraw from the Farmers Insurance Open in late January, but he says he’s having no problem with it now.
With all of the potential first-time winners looking to slip on the green jacket in a couple of weeks, Weir at least has the confidence of knowing he’s been down that road himself, but can he do it again? He has no delusions of grandeur, just commitment as he prepares.
“I’m definitely under the radar,” said Weir.
“I hope to build on these next couple of weeks heading into the Masters. It’s obviously a course that I love and hopefully, I’ll draw some good vibes and good memories from there,” he added.
“I know how to play that golf course, so hopefully, these couple of weeks provide some momentum leading in there,” he said.
Even improved showings in the weeks leading up to the Masters are unlikely to draw much attention outside of Canada, so it’s a case of Weir drawing on his own confidence and belief in what he’s trying to accomplish after splitting with swing coach Grant Waite late last year.
“Really, my game’s been good,” said Weir, who is now working on his own.
“I’ve been struggling on the greens, which is unlike me, but I’ve had a tough time making any putts at all,” said Weir, adding that his ball-striking is fine.
“I’m playing well enough to put myself right there. It’s the same for everybody – you’ve got to put it all together at the right time. I’m just not doing that,” he said.
“There’s been a number of weeks this year if I was putting halfway decent, I would have been right in contention. I’ve had really a couple of awful putting weeks this year that have really kind of baffled me a little bit,” he added.
“I think it’s just that I’ve spent so much time on my golf swing, probably 80/20 I would say, so I just needed to put the time in, put the attention back in my short game, which I have done, and hopefully this week, it will be a little bit better,” said Weir.
If that comes together in the weeks leading up to the Masters, Weir believes there might be some magic left once he gets there.
“We’ll have to see. We’ll see how the golf course is playing, but I really think I can contend there. I still believe in myself more than anything. I think when I step on the grounds there, I have confidence,” said Weir.
About the only thing that Graham DeLaet has in common with Weir is that he’s Canadian and not the first who comes to mind when it comes to pre-Masters picks.
Unlike Weir, he has no experience at Augusta, but on the other hand, he has offered ample proof that his first tour win might not be far away.
“I think Graham obviously has the type of game that can do very well there. He hits it long. He hits it very high. He’s a powerful guy. He’s worked very hard on his short game, which has gotten so much better, so he could easily contend there first time,” said Weir.
“I know he played (Augusta) a couple of weeks ago, kind of getting used to seeing the golf course for what it is without all the hoopla around there,” he said.
“When you show up for the week of the event, you just realize it’s a demanding golf course, not to get distracted by everything else. That’s the case in any major championship, but in particular, there,” he added.
“It’s the little subtleties on the greens that he’ll have to figure out in the three practice round days leading into the tournament and then how the course conditions change day to day out there, which is another big factor,” said Weir.
He’ll also have to quickly get past the mystique of Augusta. Recalling his first time there, Weir said it felt familiar from watching on television, but there is a lot to take in when you first get there.
“I watched it so much on TV, I felt like I’d played it almost. I hadn’t seen much of the front nine because back then, they didn’t televise the front nine, but so much of the back nine I watched over the years, so I felt comfortable out there,” he said.
“It’s just a bit of a surreal feeling that you’re actually there for the first time, playing where the greats of the game have played and walked,” said Weir.
“For me, it was great to go across Hogan Bridge on 12 and see the different things in the clubhouse, the different memorabilia in the clubhouse, obviously Magnolia Lane, yeah I guess that bit of mystique,” he added.
“Once the tournament begins, you get past that, get that out of the way early in the week and then, get down to business,” said Weir.
I’ll be talking to DeLaet on Wednesday to get his first impressions of Augusta and what’s ahead once he gets to the Masters.