Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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Sportswriters root not for teams or individuals, but for stories. Here's what I'm rooting for this weekend:
I want to see these players on the leaderboard, tightly packed through Sunday afternoon, for these reasons:
-Tiger Woods: Golf is more interesting when he's in contention. He doesn't have to win. In fact, I think of him the way I think of the Yankees: I want them to be good enough to matter, and flawed enough that they don't win it all. Tiger remains the biggest story in golf, like it or not.
-Dustin Johnson: He could have three majors by now, and his game should fit Augusta National perfecty. And maybe it does now. He's hitting his driver a mile and his short game is improved. If he can dominate the par-5s - and he should be able to dominate the par-5s - he might win here the way Tiger used to.
-Matt Kuchar: Likable, humble player who is more than good enough to win a major but hasn't yet.
-David Lynn or someone like him: You want to have one unkown stepping into the arena with the big names, just to see whether his nerves will hold up. Lynn is a prankster. How about Lynn playing with Tiger on Sunday afternoon and substituting an exploding ball on the first tee?
-Rickie Fowler: Another young player with the talent to win, but who may not be ready for a major.
-Keegan Bradley and Ian Poulter: Two players who loved the Ryder Cup competition. Both are far off the pace, but it would be fun to see them bring that fire to Augusta.
-Fred Couples: He loves this place. This place loves him. I followed him for a few holes this morning, and the crowds around him were bigger than the ones around Tiger early on Thursday.
-Jason Dufner: For this reason: He's a reminder that this is a game of skill and intelligence. He's a reminder because he might have the worse body I've seen on a professional athlete since Larry Casian pitched for the Twins.
He's short and chubby. He has multiple chins. He has no muscle mass to speak of. He walks and looks like he may fall asleep at any moment. He's well off the pace, as well, but I'd love to see him make a run.
It rained pretty heavy this morning, and the course is playing tough right now. Matt Kuchar has birdied the second to reach 5-under, good for second place, one shot behind Marc Leishman. The weather is supposed to clear this afternoon.
The second round has begun, and Trevor Immelman, the Masters champ in 2008, has birdied No. 2 to reach five-under par, good for third place.
Observations after a day and a sliver of the tourney:
-David Lynn, tied for fifth after the first round, is a bit of a character. The Englishman was fairly unkown until he shot consecutive 68s at the PGA Championship last year to finish second to Rory McIlroy.
He's a prankster, and a ``planker.'' That's the act of pretending you're a plank, and laying with arms tightly to your side in unusual positions. (No, I don't get it either.) He said he's cut back on the pranks and planking and won't be doing any of that at Augusta. ``I want to be welcomed back,'' he said.
-Dustin Johnson has come close to winning the other three majors - remember him grounding his club on loose sand at Whistling Straits at the PGA in 2010? - and says his game is best-suited to The Masters. He loves hitting driver, hits it a mile, and, depending on the conditions, sometimes has a short iron in to the back-nine par 5s that so often determine the winner here.
He begins the day tied for third.
-Fred Couples is 53, but he plays well here regardless of age. He's tied for fifth after an opening 68. He won here in 1992 only because his tee shot to the par-3 12th hung up on the bank rather than sliding into Rae's Creek. He has always played here as if blessed by the golf gods.
He's made the cut in 26 of his 28 Masters appearances, and he clearly loves playing here.
Can he win? As with most entrants of any age, the answer is ``probably not.'' But if Tom Watson can come close to winning the British Open at the age of 59 in 2009, why can't Couples compete on a course perfectly suited to his game?
He says he'll play The Masters until he doesn't think he can win. Whcih, of course, means, he thinks he can win now.
-First rounds are rarely definitive, but the first day of The Masters was remindful of how rare golf is in terms of inclusiveness to all ages.
Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer hit ceremonial tee shots. Tianlang Guan shot a 73 at the age of 14, then said he'd like to someday win all four majors in one year. Couples put himself into contention at 53. And Sergio Garcia, who has seen past his prime for years, is tied for the lead.
How old is he? Just 33.
-I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon for my regular weekday hit. Sunday, we'll have the Ron Gardenhire Show at 9:30, followed by Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon.
This is the first time I've covered the Masters since 2009. The course looks longer and tighter.
What's most striking is No. 11. I'm not sure I can explain how long and intimidating the hole is now. The tees are pushed as far back as they conceivably can be. It's now a 505-yard par-4 that demands a precise tee shot to avoid clipping the new trees guarding the right side of the fairway.
the second shot requires a long or mid-iron over a pond fronting the left side of the green. As Phil Mickelson said, you either have to risk hitting it in the pond, or you have to leave it out to the right, forcing a chip to a green that slopes away, toward the water.
More stuff from my second day at the course:
-No player who ever won the Par-3 tournament has won the Masters in the same year. Asked if he would avoid winning the par-3 tourney, Keegan Bradley said, ``I don't believe in curses. I'm a Red Sox fan.''
-Steve Politi of the Newark Star-Ledger noticed on Monday that Arnold Palmer was ordering an Arnold Palmer (half ice tea, half lemonade.) He chased down the waitress who was serving it and asked how Arnold Palmer orders an Arnold Palmer.
The answer: He asked for a ``Mr. Palmer,'' then winked.
-Last time neither Tiger Woods nor Phil Mickelson finished in the Top 10 at the Masters? 1994.
Phil Mickelson is one of the most fascinating golfers and personalities of his generation. He was interesting again on Tuesday.
During his press conference at Augusta National in preparation for The Masters, he said...
-He loved his new Callaway 3-wood so much that he had the company design a driver that is 8.5 degrees but is built and plays like his 3-wood. He said the new club, termed by some ``Frankenclub,'' hits a penetrating trajectory with lots of roll. He said he's reaching parts of the course, particularly on No. 9, that he hasn't reached in years.
-There may be a reason why five of the last 10 Masters champions have been lefthanded. He noted that No. 12, one of the hardest short par-3s in the world, allows a lefthander favorable misses. Typically, a lefthanded pro will miss long to the right and short to the left, and that dispersal is perfect for 12, while it's particularly challenging for righthanders.
-He wouldn't comment on Augusta National admitting female members, or whether other golf clubs and governing bodies should follow suit. Earlier this year, he complained about California taxes, saying he may be forced to move from his home of San Diego.
``I love the game of golf, and I love playing professional golf, and I love playing different courses and being part of different tournaments and organizations,'' he said. ``What I don't love is getting involved in the politics of it. I tried that ealrier in the year, and it didn't go so well.''
He was smiling when he said that.
-That Auigusta National has softer greens than most tour courses, and that it's in particularly good shape this year. ``The areas that have historically given them problems here are not having a problem this year,'' he said. ``They are perfect.''
As far as the Augusta greens striking fear in touring pros, Mickelson said, ``You can fire at a lot of these pins without any fear...That fear factor has not been there and I don't anticipate them going back to the way we expect. I think it's going to stay kind of soft.''
-That the 13th hole at Augusta is his favorite hole in golf, because of the risk-reward value of the second shot, and how the slope of the fairway makes the shot much more challenging than it appears.
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