Next week marks my 12th trip to Augusta National Golf Club to cover the Masters, and, each year, golfs greatest tournament brings with it anticipation and excitement.
In most years, it delivers, and it looks as if this year will be no different. And the excitement level, both internationally and locally, has been ramped up quite a bit for this years tournament because of two players: Tiger Woods and Russell Henley.
Woods has won four Masters titles, and every year he is considered one of the favorites to slip on another green jacket. But Woods hasnt won the tournament since 2005, while players like Zach Johnson, Trevor Immelman, Angel Cabrera and Charl Schwartzel have.
That said, Woods usually is in the hunt at Augusta National no matter what shape his game is in or how well he is playing entering golfs first major. From 2005 to last year, Woods had his chances to add a fifth green jacket but couldnt get over the hump and came up short, finishing in the top 10 each year.
Last year, Woods finished tied for 40th, but the last time he finished outside of the top 10 was in 2004, and, obviously, he won the tournament the next year.
This year, Woods looks like the Woods of old. He has won three times already this season, and his game appears to be in the best shape is has been in for years. There are, obviously, other top players who will be right on Woods heels, but he looks like the clear favorite entering next weeks play.
That would be good for golf. Woods needs to break his drought in majors, and golf needs him to break through again. The game is stronger when he is winning and winning big, and there wouldnt be a better place for him to start winning big again than Augusta National.
One person who could be in the way of that is Henley, the Macon native who will make his Masters debut next week. It might be too much to expect Henley to win the tournament, or even contend, in his first year, but would anyone really be surprised if he is in the hunt?
Henley earned his chance next week by winning the Sony Open earlier this year in his first official tournament as a PGA Tour member. He showed off his whole game that week with dynamic shot-making and a terrific putting stroke, and those are exactly the parts of a players game that are put under the microscope at Augusta National.
Henley certainly will have to learn his way around that course and battle through the nerves and tension of playing in that tournament for the first time. But just being there in his rookie season is a tremendous accomplishment, and it adds to Middle Georgias anticipation of the tournament.
If he is able to play well, and Woods does as well, it could be a special week.
Contact Daniel Shirley at 744-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.