1. How’s golf doing these days?
Megan Schuster: Not to be overly enthusiastic, but could golf get much better? There are so many reasons to look forward to this Masters tournament: Tiger is here, playing alongside young guys that literally grew up watching him play, reuniting for practice rounds with his former arch nemesis, and grinning like crazy in his press conferences. Not only that, but all the dudes that found their games in his wake and rose to fill the void are still extremely good. What do you think, Chris—is there much golf doesn’t have right now?
Chris Ryan: WHAT ABOUT RORY, THO!? This might be the most anticipated Masters of my lifetime. There is talent all over the field—with so many players at or around the peak of their powers at the same time, you almost don’t know where to look, and there are so many story lines Jim Nantz might lose his voice on Thursday afternoon. Any one of 20 players could don the green jacket on Sunday, and I wouldn’t be surprised.
2. Is Tiger really back?
Schuster: Yes. And no. Possibly? This question is really up to interpretation. If your version of Tiger Back is him winning a Grand Slam and pummeling the rest of the Tour into dust, then no, probably not. But if you’re just looking for a Tiger who’s competitive on Sundays, in the hunt in tournaments, and gets your heart racing at majors again, then SADDLE UP and get ready for this weekend!
Ryan: It’s Stinger Season.
Two top-5 finishes in his last two tournaments, tons of swagger, and admired and feared by young and old alike. His presence alone takes the opening rounds of the Masters from golf nuts-only to sporting event of the day.
3. Could he actually win the Masters? What are the realistic chances?
Schuster: I learned pretty early on in life that when Tiger really wants to win, he usually succeeds. But this is a different field, with a lot of players that Tiger has never faced off against in the Masters, and he hasn’t played the tournament in nearly three years. He’s not my personal pick to win, but the thrilling thing about Tiger is that there’s always a chance.
4. Who else should I be paying attention to?
Schuster: SO MANY PLAYERS. There are at least a dozen, if not 15-20 guys in this field that I can picture winning the tournament. There are the tried and trues—guys like Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, and Rory McIlroy who can never be counted out; the lefties such as Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson; the young guns Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, and Rickie Fowler; and plenty of exciting Europeans. Who shouldn’t you be paying attention to?
Ryan: Justin Thomas is my favorite golfer right now, because he seems to become more and more comfortable as the pressure gets higher. I also like Jon Rahm precisely because he becomes less and less comfortable as the pressure gets higher.
5. What’s Phil up to these days?
6. Do Phil and Tiger still have a rivalry?
Schuster: I couldn’t tell if playing Tuesday’s round together was an effort to dismiss any rumors of the rivalry re-bubbling up, or if they just genuinely wanted to hang out for an afternoon. But either way, if these two find themselves head-to-head at all this weekend, I think anything is possible. Starting in 1997, the pair have led or co-led the most major rounds of anyone on tour (Tiger with 47; Phil with 20), and they’re the only two players with a minimum of 25 Masters rounds played that have a scoring average under 71.5. So if any course can bring out the contentious sides of Tiger and Phil, it’s Augusta National.
7. What about Rory vs. Tiger? Wasn’t that supposed to be a thing?
Schuster: They’re friends/rivals, which eternally feels like a cop out to me—either fight or don’t fight, ya know?—but they’re also two of the most fiery personalities on tour when they have a victory in their sights, and I would love to see Rory try to pull something like this on Tiger:
8. When is Jordan Spieth going to win the Masters again?
Schuster: Possibly this year! But up until he does it again, a fair warning that you will see this video clip at least five times during each Masters broadcast:
9. Is Justin Thomas really as good as we think?
Ryan: The man, the meme, the Tide fan, JT has been walking all over the golf world wearing no-show ankle socks. A founding member of the Rickie Fowler-Jordan Spieth-Smylie Kaufman spring break committee, JT may have seemed a little too loose when he first hit the tour. Then 2017 happened. Thomas has had about as good of an 15-month run as you can have in the sport: He won the SBS last January, shot a 59 in Hawaii, tied the U.S. Open single-round record at Erin Hills, straight up won the damn PGA Championship (his first major), won the FedEx Cup, won the Dell, and became the fourth golfer ever to win five times in one year (including a major) before the age of 25 along with (checks names carved into GOLF HISTORY) Jack Nicklaus, Tiger, and Jordan Spieth.
He has a chance to be only the third American to become the world no. 1 before the age of 25, joining his homeboy Jordan Spieth and his hero Tiger Woods.
So, yeah, he’s pretty good.
10. Is there a Cinderella to root for?
Schuster: This is when we get into the amateurs and Chris, let me tell you, there’s one guy in particular that you’ll probably hear about a lot this weekend. His name is Matt Parziale and he’s a 30-year-old firefighter/amateur golfer who made it to the Masters by winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship in October. Listen to some of the things Parziale has gone through to foster both careers (via Golfworld):
Last summer, Parziale shot a 66 at The Country Club in Brookline in the second round of the 50th Francis Ouimet Memorial Tournament. He then reported for an overnight shift with the fire department, got home around 8 a.m., and was ready for his 11:10 a.m. tee time. He shot 71 and won by one. …
Nearly three months later, Parziale won the U.S. Mid-Amateur in Atlanta, flew home, arriving at 2 a.m., and reported to work the following morning at 7 with no hope that the fire alarm would acquiesce to his weariness and go un-rung for a couple of hours.
Brockton’s Ladder 1 [Parziale’s department] had 4,880 runs in 2016, according to Firehouse Magazine’s annual survey (its 2017 survey is not yet complete), an average of nearly 13 and a half runs a day.
This guy’s amazing!
Ryan: Brian Harman isn’t so much a Cinderella as a forgotten stepchild. He’s part of the Spieth/Thomas generation, but his demeanor is a little more serious, and a little more anxious. A lefty playing on a course that’s southpaw friendly, and a Georgian playing on his home state’s most storied course, Harman won the Wells Fargo last May, and finished second at last year’s U.S. Open. He’s only played the Masters once—in 2015—and he missed the cut. But while everyone is watching the Tiger, he could sneak up the leaderboard. I enjoy watching Harman because he seems to know he’s good at golf, while also not totally enjoying the sport.
11. Will Bubba cry if he wins again?
Ryan: Are we sure he’s not crying now?
12. What are Sergio’s chances to repeat?
Schuster: Only three people have ever won back-to-back green jackets since the tournament began in 1934: Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, and Tiger Woods. Spieth recently came close, though we all remember how that turned out. In short, it’s an extraordinarily difficult feat. On Monday’s episode of the ShackHouse podcast, cohost Joe House suggested that Sergio could definitely finish in the top 10 or 20, but that he believes it’s unlikely that Sergio would win this year. That’s fair, but Garcia also named his newborn daughter after no. 13 at Augusta, which is a thing that I support, so I’ll be rooting for him either way.
13. Which reference will be most overused through the four rounds?
Schuster: This category is really loaded, so instead of picking just one, I’m going with a Final Four:
- Spieth at the 12th
- Tiger’s back surgeries
- Matt Parziale as an amateur golfer/firefighter
- Rory not having won a major since 2014
Chris, do you have any other nominations?
E. If Harman’s cooking his Georgiadom will come up a lot—local hero, the local bulldog, Georgia’s own, the Georgia rule, etc.
F. All the things that Spieth and Thomas have done before 25 and how no one has done those things except Tiger/Jack/Arnie/God
14. Which player 50 years old or older has the best chance to go on a run?
Schuster: Under normal circumstances, this choice would be easy. Fred Couples has made the cut in 29 of his 32 Masters appearances, and even at the age of 58 is a virtual lock to play well at Augusta. But Freddie hasn’t played a professional round of golf since January, and he’s made it clear that this weekend he’s playing just to play, and has little expectation beyond that. So I’ll go with Mark O’Meara, because this may be his last-ever Masters.
Ryan: Am I allowed to say Matt Kuchar, who is emotionally 50?
15. Who’s going to win it all?
Schuster: What, like we’re supposed to give you all the answers?
Ryan: MEGAN THAT’S A COP OUT. All the money in the world on Justin Thomas.