Mickelson Favored To Win In Augusta; Woods At No. 2

Originally published on April 7, 2011 6:56 am
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The Masters Golf Tournament is gets underway today. For a preview, we're joined by Christine Brennan, sports columnist for USA Today, who's in Augusta, Georgia.

Good morning.

Ms. CHRISTINE BRENNAN (USA Today): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So let's begin, Christine, with who we should be watching.

Ms. BRENNAN: Well, of course, Renee, it's always Phil and Tiger, Tiger and Phil. Let's start with Phil Mickelson. He's 40 years old. He's the defending champion here at the Masters. He just won on Sunday in a PGA Tour event in Houston. So he's coming in on a roll.

But it's not been an easy year for Phil Mickelson at all. He's battling a form of arthritis. And both his wife and his mother have suffered from breast cancer the last couple of years. He hasn't played a whole lot better than Tiger Woods has played, except for last week. But because he's the defending champ and he has won three of the last seven Masters tournaments, Phil Mickelson, I think, is everyone's first choice.

MONTAGNE: And what about him? What's his sense of confidence do you think?

Ms. BRENNAN: It's sky high, through the roof, Renee. He's talked about it here this week. Phil Mickelson is one of those athletes who seems to understand and get it, the perspective, what he has, what he's been given, the millions and millions of dollars he's been able to make playing a game.

And he talks about being a kid and how he's dreamed of always, as a child, of playing golf in places like this. So when he drives back into the grounds of Augusta National, the Masters, during this week he becomes a little boy again. And I think that's one of the reasons he plays so well here.

MONTAGNE: So if it is, as you just said, Phil and Tiger, Tiger and Phil, let's talk about Tiger Woods. He's won Augusta four times, but his game hasn't been the same since scandal rocked his personal life.

Ms. BRENNAN: That's it. You're right, Renee. And the question really is, is Tiger Woods still Tiger Woods. He's now 35 years old. He hasn't won, as you mentioned, since before his Thanksgiving 2009 run in with that fire hydrant and the unraveling of his personal life.

He's not playing well this year. He's only had one top 10 finish in four tournaments. This is Tiger Woods. He usually wins most tournaments. And that's this year in 2011. He still has four Masters wins, but his last one was in 2005.

And yet, as they say, all of that, Renee, as much as he was reeling last year from the scandal, when he came back to play after five months being off, Tiger Woods still finished tied for fourth at the Masters last year in the midst of everything that was going wrong in his life.

Augusta National is made to help correct his mistakes. There's no rough, so if he hits the ball wayward off the tee he can still get it back in play. If Tiger Woods is to win a major golf tournament this year, this would still, most likely, be the place.

MONTAGNE: Christine, talk to us about the younger golfers.

Ms. BRENNAN: There are a lot of them and they're coming on strong. You know, these are the players who grew up watching Tiger Woods. They learned from him, but they're not afraid of him. And they're more emboldened by the day when Tiger does not win another tournament.

A few names: Nick Watney. He's 29 years old. He just won a few weeks ago on the PGA Tour. He has had - just playing great golf. Five of his six tournaments, this year, he's been in the top 10. Nick Watney is his name.

Anthony Kim, 25 years old. Dustin Johnson, 26 years old, who is, again, one of those young guns. And younger men - Rickie Fowler, 22, Rory McIlroy, Rory, 21. They are 13 or 14 years younger than Tiger Woods and 18 years younger than Phil Mickelson, which is an amazing age gap.

MONTAGNE: So talking to us from the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, Christine Brennan. She's a sports columnist for USA Today.

Thanks very much.

Ms. BRENNAN: Renee, thank you.

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