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2014 Masters: No Tiger, Now What?

2014 Masters: No Tiger, Now What?

2014 Masters: No Tiger, Now What?

No Tiger Woods at the 2014 Masters is no problem with this year’s great field.

There is no doubt that the presence, or lack thereof, of Tiger Woods at a golf tournament has significant impact, and for good reason.

With 79 career PGA Tour wins — 14 of which are Majors — he’s brought home the hardware in more than 25 percent of the tournaments he’s played in and has finished in the top-10 in nearly 60 percent of the tournaments he’s entered. And he’s just missed the cut 5 percent of the time. No secret here, the guy is good.

However, as great as Woods is (or has been), he’s a story line that will not impact the 2014 Masters. Likely in the press box, but not on the course, anyway.

Woods has announced that he is missing the 2014 Masters after undergoing surgery on his back for a pinched nerve. It’ll be his first Masters missed since 1994.

2014 Masters

So now what? Well, here are three story other lines to watch for at the 2014 Masters Tournament:

Matt Kuchar is hot, but can he close?

Matt Kuchar’s Masters’ career began in 1998 as an amateur. For the first two rounds of the tournament, the reigning U.S. Amateur Champion was paired with then defending Masters’ champion Tiger Woods.

Kuchar made the cut in 1998 and went on to finish as the high amateur in the tournament, finding himself an impressive 21st in the final standings.

Fast forward 16 years, and the No. 11 golfer in the world is playing some stellar golf. In nine events this season on the PGA Tour, Kuchar has made eight cuts and has six top-10 finishes.

Two weeks ago, Kuchar was the third-round leader at the Valero Texas Open, but then he stumbled into the clubhouse with a closing 75 for a T4 finish.

Last week, Kuchar again found himself atop the leaderboard after three rounds, and again he came home empty-handed after a final round 72. In Kuchar’s defense, tournament winner Matt Jones made two of the arguably best shots of the 2014 season when he holed out a birdie putt from 46 feet on 18 to tie Kuchar. Then Jones improbably pitched in from off the front of the green on the first playoff hole to win the title.

Is this Kuchar’s year to bring home his first major victory, as Adam Scott did with his 2013 Masters’ victory? In 2012, Kuchar finished T3, two shots behind eventual winner Bubba Watson. He earned yet another top-10 finish when placing eighth in 2013. Given his recent play, Kuchar seems poised to make a run at the 2014 green jacket.

Will Freddy Couples lower the boom (boom)?

At the 2009 British Open, Tom Watson almost became the oldest golfer to win a major at age 59. Watson has a long-storied history of loving links-style golf and the British Open.

Enter Fred Couples. Couples has a long history of love and affection for Augusta National Golf Club. Aside from his remarkable victory in 1992, Couples tends to fair very well at the Masters, finishing in the top-10 or better 11 times in 29 tournaments.

Yes, folks, this year marks the 30th year that “Boom-Boom” has strolled around Amen Corner in Masters competition.

2014 Masters

And in the last four years, Couples has finished 15th or better, including a sixth-place finish in 2010. But at 54, does he still have what it takes? If his 2014 Champions Tour performance is any indication, the answer is undoubtedly, yes.

Playing a traditionally conservative schedule, Couples has entered only three tournaments, but hasn’t finished outside of the top-5, including a win at the Toshiba Classic in March.

Couples does love the Masters, and the Masters seems to love him right back. If there was ever an individual to break the record for oldest golfer to ever win a major, the smart money would be on Couples this week at Augusta.

Don’t call them rookies.

In 1979, Fuzzy Zoeller became the first golfer to win the Masters in his first try.

Thirty-five years later, and that feat still hasn’t been repeated, but the makeup of the PGA Tour is much different now. Younger players seem well-groomed and fearless, and 24 of them have punched a ticket to Augusta for the 2014 Masters.

Nearly 25 percent of this year’s field will be experiencing the nerves of Augusta’s first tee, the rolling fairways, the undulating greens and the nuances of the par-3, No. 12, for the first time in tournament play.

But there’s some serious experience in this rookie class. The 24 rookies account for 20 percent of the top-50 in the World Golf Rankings, including 13th in the world, Jordan Spieth, and 23-ranked Patrick “Flounder” Reed.

2014 masters

Spieth enters this week having made nine of 11 cuts in 2014, including four top-10’s, this follows a 2013 campaign that made the Texan a household name after he played in 23 events, making 18 cuts with nine top-10 finishes, including a win at the John Deere Classic.

Coming into this week, Flounder may be one of the hottest golfers on tour.

After breaking through with his first Tour win at the 2013 Wyndham Championship, Reed has played consistent high-quality golf, notching two more wins in 2014 at the Humana Challenge in January and then the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March — where he boldly proclaimed himself a top-5 golfer. Reed currently holds the No. 2 ranking in the 2014 FedEx Cup points race and has the game to make a lot of birdies at Augusta.

Whether Spieth, Reed or one of the other first timers, with parity like this, it should come as a surprise if the 35-year rookie drought ends this Sunday at the 2014 Masters.

Yes, Tiger’s the story, but give the rest credit.

There’s no doubt Woods will continue to be talked and talked about during the 2014 tournament, but let’s give the rest of the field the credit they are due. There are plenty of story lines to focus on, and plenty more will emerge.

Perhaps when the 2014 Masters’ winner adorns the green jacket Sunday evening, we will have forgotten for a few days at least all about this Tiger Woods guy.

2014 masters

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