Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Top 5 Most Interesting Post-cut Pairings at Augusta National

By Adam Maher / @ArtoMar

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Today is the first Saturday of April, which only means one thing: post-cut pairings at Augusta National. Any golfer 10 back or more of the leaders' five-under par through Thursday and Friday may no longer walk the green carpet with hopes of hanging a green jacket, and any golfer who isn't, may.

Hard work, determination, focus, guts, brains, power and finesse amongst decades of arduous days on the course and in the gym have earned 60 golf proz and three amateurs a mere chance to start their spring with a Major Tour victory, to go for the mythical, never-completed Grand Slam in one calendar year. One golfer, in fact, has a chance to continue his Consecutive Grand Slam. And while all that glory and drama saves itself for tomorrow afternoon, this morning lays the supplest of sods.

With that, from the back to the front, let's take a glimpse at some of the more interesting Saturday pairings at Augusta National, the 2012 Masters Championship.

Group 5, Tee Time 9:55 am: Luke Donald and Keegan Bradley (+4): Luke and Keegen present undeniable comeback potential.  Donald, who reassumed the world's #1 ranked golfer title from Rory McIlroy after winning the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook in Tampa Bay in a one-hole playoff last month, also won PGA Player of the Year in 2011, which is voted by the players. A 75 Thursday followed by a 71 on Friday has him showing signs of nerves and improvement. Bradley might not be as decorated as 34-year-old Donald, but he did win the last Major of 2011, the PGA Championship, at the ripe age of 25. Remarkably, it was Bradley's first time playing in a Major tournament and, ironically, the win as well came in playoff form against none other than Jason Dufner, who currently sits atop the 2012 Masters scoreboard with Fred Couples at -5 (Group 32).

Group 10, Tee Time 10:45 am: Charles Schwartzel and Tiger Woods (+3): Both former Broz of the Day, both former green jacket winners. Schwartzel won last year's Masters Tournament in dramatic fashion with four birdies to close on Sunday at -14 (the lowest score ever recorded by an international at Augusta), bringing home $1.4 million. All the more interesting, the 28-year-old South African fended off a surging Tiger Woods that day, beating him by four strokes. Anyone who watched Woods in his frustration yesterday knows how much winning a fifth Masters Tournament means to him. Perhaps playing with last year's winner will motivate El Tigre to focus more than he ever has, if that's possible.


Group 19, Tee Time 12:25 pm: Hunter Mahan and Padraig Harrington (Even): In sports, one simply cannot deny a player that has momentum. Sitting even through the weekend, and both coming off victories within the last 10 days on Tour, Mahan and Harrington as well have comeback potential this year at the Masters. Last week, Mahan won the proverbial Masters warmup tournament, the Shell Houston Open, with a cool -16 through four days, bettering several Masters competitors, Phil Mickelson and Loius Oosthuizen, both former Major Champions, to name a couple. And earlier this week, Padraig, the 2008 PGA Player of the Year, won the Augusta National Par 3 Championship for the third time in his career. It has been said that winning the Par 3 at Augusta is a cursed victory - for no man that has ever won the Par 3 has gone on to win a green jacket the following Sunday - yet, until Harrington won this week, no man had ever won the Par 3 three times. What a story that would be!

Group 26, Tee Time 1:45 pm:  Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson (-2): Both living legends, both former Masters champions. Combine their ages and you have the oldest Saturday pair at the 2012 Masters (I'll spare them the numbers - but here's something to ease the pain: neither of them are as old as the current leader, Fred Couples, who was born in 1959). Both Phil and Vijay have spent their careers in the shadows of Tiger Woods, just a few strokes ahead of Ernie Els. In doing so, the two have combined to win 106 professional tournaments, seven Major championship victories and three World Golf championships. Who could forget Vijay's battle with Ernie Els at the 2000 Masters, which he ended with a three-stroke cushion? And of course, there is smilin' Phil. Who perhaps won the hearts of every golf fan when he won the Masters in 2004, beating Els by one stroke for his first Major win.

Group 30, Tee Time 2:25 pm: Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy (-4): If Phil and Vijay make up the oldest pairing, Sergio and Rory make up the most star-studded international. McIlroy, the world's #2 ranked golfer, held the lead last year at Augusta National through three rounds, only to fail miserably on Sunday, finishing 15th. He would go on to reclaim glory at the U.S. Open, setting the record for the lowest amount of strokes ever to win a U.S. Open (268) and becoming the youngest player to win the Major since Bobby Jones won in 1923. The win inspired the following two quotes that day: "He's the best player I've ever played with" -Graeme McDowell, fellow Irishman and winner of the 2011 Masters at Augusta (which Rory led for 63 holes). "He's the most talented player I've ever seen" -Luke Donald, the World's #1 ranked golfer on Tour. Rory went on to win Golf Magazine's 2011 Player of the Year honors, and won the heart of SBz as well. Garcia has not enjoyed as many wins as his fellow European partner has in recent years, but he has enjoyed life. The 32-year-old Spaniard, who in 2002 during a practice round at Augusta hit a 253 yard albatross with a 2 iron, has never won a Major championship, but with a Friday 68, there is always a chance for victory.

That brings me to the final pairing of the day, Group 32, Tee Time 2:45 pm: Jason Dufner and Freddie Couples (-5): Dufner is living the American Dream today. From Ohio, raised in Florida, educated at Auburn. He's worked hard to earn himself today's spotlight. Playing with Freddie Couples will surely work wonders for his game, which only has earned him two PGA victories and no Majors since turning pro in 2000. His partner, Freddie, won the Masters 20 years ago - back when the first place prize money was about $1.2 million dollars less than this week's ($270,000), and the video game series Tiger Woods PGA Tour by EA Sports was not to be created for another decade. The win came between the Chicago Bulls' first back-to-back NBA Titles. Also that year, Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States. For Freddie to be where he is today, wearing his own custom shoes by Echo, is awesome for golf. He's the oldest player in the field, and perhaps the most admirable. Read the former B of the D's lips today when he sinks his first 15 footer.

"Bam."

And there you have it. Happy first Saturday of April! This stuff is unpredictable so I'll spare you that. Now it's time to run, I hear the live stream at Masters.com and a bag of chips calling my name.

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