Sunday, April 8, 2012

What to Expect of the Final Day at the Masters

By Adam Maher @ArtoMar

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Yesterday, as expected, we saw a full basket of unpredictable movement in the rankings at The Masters. Saturday morning's leaders, Freddie Couples and Jason Dufner, played their way out of the race, going +3 on the day, finding themselves seven back of now-in-first place Peter Hanson, the sweet swinging Swede who finished his Saturday round with five birdies on the back nine, solidifying his spot in the final pairing with Phil Mickelson, who as well made some brilliant shots during Round 3's closing hours, including a 20 foot eagle putt at the back end of Amen Corner.

Several interesting groups caught my attention in writing about yesterday's pairings, with no intentions of predicting a winner. Lo and behold, just three golfers I wrote of have given themselves a chance to win a green jacket: Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan and Padraig Harrington, with a few others putting, chipping and driving themselves into the drama.

Phil always has a chance at Augusta. It's that simple. He has finished in the top 10 of the Masters nine times (and won it three times) since 2001. He said yesterday in the press room, to paraphrase, "there is no place in professional golf I'd rather be than in the last pairing on Sunday at Augusta. I love it." Phil has won four Majors, the one other being the PGA Championship at Baltusrol in New Jersey in 2005, and without a doubt has a great chance of adding a fifth this evening.

Phil's playing partner, Peter Hanson, perhaps is the exact opposite of Mickelson when it comes to top 10 finishes at Majors. His first and only top 10 finish came at the 2011 PGA Championship, which Keegan Bradley won in a playoff over Jason Dufner. Hanson that Sunday was able to make his way up the leader board with a 67, a score that until yesterday's 65, was his best ever as a professional. If Hanson can take this momentum and mix it with his Sunday best, don't be surprised to see the current outright leader (-9) run away with the championship somewhere around -15. Phil and Peter tee off at 2:45 pm.

Hunter Mahan and Padraig Harrington were actually paired together yesterday. I picked them to be amongst the top five most interesting post-cut pairs for their recent victories on Tour, momentum coming into the weekend. Mahan won the proverbial Masters tune up tournament, the Shell Houston Open last weekend, Padraig won the literal Masters tune up tournament, the Par 3, earlier this week. As I said yesterday, one cannot deny a player that carries with him momentum. Both of these players have proven that to be true this weekend, as Mahan and Harrington played themselves to within five shots of the lead (-4). That momentum will have to keep materializing into something historic if they are to make a Sunday surge this afternoon.

Mahan is paired up with Matt Kuchar. Kuchar sits -5 and seemed very relaxed, humbled, and flowing during his post-round interviews yesterday. He has played very consistent golf this week, registering a 71 and two consecutive 70s. Two bogies on the back nine during Round 3 almost took the 2011 #11 ranked player in the world out of the hunt, but he recovered with a birdie on 18 to hang on, much to the delight of the capacity crowd. Best of luck to the 34-year-old American.

The power pair of the final ten to tee off today at Augusta is Group 30, which consists of Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen. Besides the fact that they both bolster bundeba birth names, Bubba and Louis are crowd pleasers. Hailing from South Africa, Oosthuizen undeniably has one of international golf's most perfect swings, as indicated by the 2010 British Open Champion's five Saturday birdies, though he finished with a tough bogie on 18. Bubba, as well, has a great swing, and is currently in the best shape of his career. Dressed in all white with pink trim, all weekend from the the tip of his visor to the face of his driver, don't be surprised to see Bubba white wash the field today to win his first ever Major Championship. Louis is definitely the more vicious competitor of the two, you will see more facial expression from him, but for Bubba, who made his way on tour with his famously long drives, a top ten finish, let alone a Major Championship victory, would be his first - so no pressure there. It would be nice for Bubba to bring home his first Major victory within a month of adopting his baby son!

So there it is. Round 4 at Augusta National. Brilliant players are in the mix, and as always we can expect to see some magic this evening. I'd say, by the end of the day, to look for Mahan, Oosthuizen and Phil to be in the hunt. I'll be pulling for Bubba, though.

Happy holidays!


Head over to Masters.com and click on each player's name to view their respective scorecards, and to watch highlights from Round 3, as well as what I think is the best live streaming coverage of any major sporting event ever.

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