It never fails.
When Masters Week rolls around, the sun starts shining a little brighter, and the flower blooms seem a little fuller.
In April, Augusta is one of the most beautiful places on Earth (knock on wood - it could rain this week!).
I'm one of the local residents who absolutely love the phenomenon known as Masters Week.
Some Augustans rent out their homes and high-tail-it out of town.
Not me - I enjoy meeting the visitors, watching the tournament, and I definitely appreciate what the Masters does for our local economy.
Plus, it is the one time of year that we have clean roadways.
On a more serious note, let's look at what to expect at the 2002 Masters. This year's tournament is completely up for grabs, just like the 14 previous PGA Tour events this season, which were all won by different players.
I've decided to go out on a limb and give you a sneak-peek at the players I expect to contend for the green jacket. Also, there are some others who may struggle on the toughened-up Augusta National.
Tiger Woods: Let's face it - as long as he's still breathing, this guy will be the favorite at Augusta. Tiger could probably come off his death bed and squeeze out a top 10 finish.
Phil Mickelson: Despite his much-maligned reckless approach in tournaments, Lefty still is the second-best player in the world. And he plays well here. However, he sometimes struggles with the accuracy of his long irons, and that could be his downfall on the newly-lengthened Augusta National.
Ernie Els: The Big Easy got off to a sizzling start this year, but he really hasn't shown much consistency in the past 12 to 14 months. Still, his game is suited for the National, and I have a gut feeling that he'll contend this week.
Sergio Garcia: He's dropped the nickname El Nino, and has matured into a player who can win major championships. Augusta has given him fits though: Sergio has shot under par in only two of 10 rounds at the Masters, and he's never broken 70 here. There's a first time for everything.
Vijay Singh: Winning last week in Houston should boost his confidence, and the added length at Augusta won't bother him. But can his belly-putter survive a Sunday gut-check?
David Duval: A break-through victory at the British Open last summer seems to indicate Duval is suited for a green jacket, but if he were to win this week, I'd be surprised.
Better Luck Next Time
Justin Leonard: The Texan's lack of length will hurt him in 2002. Leonard may have to hit wood shots into some of the par-4 holes.
Colin Montgomerie: The Augusta patrons traditionally treat all players with respect, even reverence. So, maybe the crowd won't heckle Monty. But I have news for Mrs. Doubtfire - the voice that is really keeping him winless on U.S. soil is his own.
Davis Love III: A great player, but he's had physical problems in recent month, and is coming off a missed cut at last year's Masters.
Jose Maria Olazabel: It's hard to call a two-time Masters champion a sleeper, but he qualifies because of the course changes, which certainly don't favor a poor driver of the ball. Jose's waking up, though - he has been playing super golf this season and should be in the hunt on the back nine Sunday.
Charles Howell III: This may be the fan in me talking, but this Augusta product has all the tools to win here. I for one will be a Charles Howell supporter this week.
Adam Scott: He's still very young, but possesses immense talent, and is a long hitter. Scott has multiple wins on the European and Australasian tour, and a win in the U.S. is in the near future.
There you have it - my take on the upcoming Masters.
Here's a hearty welcome to all the visitors; as for the locals, let's do our part in making the Masters the premiere sporting event in golf.
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