Golf

Winner at WGC Bridgestone Invitational

A lot of power names in this classic with Spieth, Johnson, McIlroy, Day, Matsuyama and Justin Thomas headlining amongst a star studded field. I'm going to take someone else though. I'll go with the 39 year old from Winter Park, Florida by way of the Ramblin Wreck. He played superbly at the 146th Open Championship 2 weeks ago going toe to toe with Spieth, but just got beaten by a masterful performance by the now 23 year old Texas phenom, who's looking pretty interesting heading into the 99th PGA Championship next week at Quail Hollow, N.C., a classic course. I'll take the man with the smooth swing, easy smile, and an All American personality. He finished T-3 here in 2016 shooting 66 on Sunday. DJ was the winner. Going with the Kuch to capture the championship at the Firestone South Course in Akron, Ohio.

Matt Kuchar

 Like Kuch to capture the title at WGC Bridgestone

Like Kuch to capture the title at WGC Bridgestone

TV Times

Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel, 12:30-5:30 PM CT

Saturday-Sunday, Golf Channel 11 AM-12:30 PM CT, CBS 1-5 PM CT.   

A preview of the stellar spring sports landscape coming up, Mexico Championship pick

Golf season is in full bore mode now, with several 20 somethings dominating the circuit, but with some younger vets like Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler winning the past two weeks, D.J. at Riviera and Rickie at the Honda in Miami this past weekend. This week the tour alights in Mexico City for the WGC-Mexico Championship. This is a big time tournament usually played at Trump National Doral, but with POTUS's comments last year on the Wall, the Tour didn't take that very well, and moved the site. Kind of a shame that the players can't compete at the Blue Monster and that epic 18th hole, but maybe it'll come back and Club de Golf Chapultepec looks like an interesting, scenic venue with 50 of the top players in the world. I will have my prediction at the bottom of this column.

The Arnie is coming up, and the majestic 81st Masters is just over a month away. The Players will be in May at TPC Sawgrass, the 117th playing of the U.S. Open in June will take place at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, about 35 miles outside of Milwaukee. Erin Hills has never hosted a major, but has hosted the 2011 U.S. Amateur, won by Kelly Kraft, who is making a move on the tour now. The 146th Open Championship in July will be played at Royal Birkdale in England, which has hosted the Open 10 times, the last won in 2008 won by Padraig Harrington. The 98th PGA Championship will be played at famed Quail Hollow Golf Club in Charlotte, N.C. which has never hosted a major, but is a classic venue and has hosted the Wells Fargo Championship, a regular event on the tour, for many years.

Will Jordan Spieth recapture the magic like he looks like he very well could? Will D.J, win a second major? With his length, Augusta National looks possible. Will Jason Day get his momentum back from two years ago? He certainly has that eliteness about him that allows him to win at any of  the four majors. How will Rory come back from his rib injury?  If he can, he wants the Masters to complete the career grand slam and win his 5th major title at 27 years old. Then there are guys like Rickie, Sneds, and others trying to capture their first major. Two guys you might call, as John Feinstein labeled those kind of players in his book, The Majors, "Best Players not to have won a major." Henrik, Justin Rose, Jimmy Walker, the list goes on, all of them have captured a major title with Rose winning the U.S. Open in 2013 and Henrik and Walker both winning majors last year, Henrik at the Open Championship and Walker at the PGA. And, of course, Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama are banging on the door to win not just one major, but multiple majors. Both are chomping at the bit to don the Green Jacket in Butler's Cabin on Sunday, April 9th.

So a lot of extraordinary storylines heading into the heart of the season. Will have major coverage the rest of what looks like an electric season.

March Madness

 The great Frank Mason III and Kansas look formidable

The great Frank Mason III and Kansas look formidable

 Can Cal and the Cats have some magic in March and capture their second national championship since 2012 and their 9th overall

Can Cal and the Cats have some magic in March and capture their second national championship since 2012 and their 9th overall

This is such a sensational time of year in sports, and college basketball is at its best right now with the historically good NCAA tournament coming up. It's a pretty top heavy field this year with quite a few exceptional teams having a shot of cutting down the nets in Phoenix on Monday, April 3rd.

The four teams that really stick out to me right now are North Carolina, with their tremendous length under the basket, their ability to rebound, and their always prolific offensive ability. If they can defend well, they could very well be cutting down the nylon. Kansas is a superb team, led by All American guards Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham and superstar freshman small forward Josh Jackson.  Villanova is superb again and going for back to back national titles, which would be the first time since Florida accomplished that under Billy Donovan in '06-'07. And I'm starting to get bullish on Kentucky. They're putting it together and with all that Parade All American talent, they're in the mix every year. They are peaking well.

But there are other teams that have a good shot at the national title and certainly the Final Four. Duke, Louisville, Baylor are all outstanding, UCLA and Oregon have super teams, Zona is very good. I'm not as big on the Big Ten teams this season. Virginia lost a lot off last year's team, but the way the play defense gives them a chance to make a run. I like Syracuse a lot, too, and Va Tech has a good squad that could knock some people off. Wisconsin and Purdue look like the best teams in the Big Ten, but not good enough to make the Final Four. Michigan State will be competitive, but they've been really hampered by injuries, so this is not their year. Wichita State has another really good team under Greg Marshall that can go some distance. 

For SEC Cinderellas, I like Florida to do really well with a shot to make it to the Final Four. They're excellent. I see South Carolina making some noise and being a second weekend team. Arkansas is up and down, but pretty darn good when they're up. Vanderbilt is in right now, according to Joe Lunardi, ESPN bracketologist, but they've got work to do. They have a huge game at home against Florida on Saturday, which they have to have, and then they'll need to win at least 2 games in the SEC tournament to get invited to the Big Dance. They have the No.1 non-conference strength of schedule and No.2 strength of schedule overall with victories on the road over Florida and Arkansas, and South Carolina at home, so it's a pretty good resume. But the Dores have work to do. 

For real Cinderellas, Middle Tennessee State has a really good team as does Monmouth

Will have my bracket out the Monday after Selection Sunday, which is March 12th. 

NBA

 Can Kawhi Leonard (above) dethrone LeBron, and outlast Steph and KD in the postseason

Can Kawhi Leonard (above) dethrone LeBron, and outlast Steph and KD in the postseason

I watched a superb game last night in the National Basketball Association as the Celtics defeated the Cavs, 103-99, at the "Gaaden," in Boston. I saw one of the best defensive players I've seen in a long time in Avery Bradley. Bradley was like stickem on Kyrie Irving, one of the most prolific offensive players in the NBA along with Steph, Bron, KD and Russ Westbrook. They used to call Gary Payton, who played many years for the Seattle Supersonics in the 80's and 90's, "the Glove" because his defense was as tight as a glove on an offensive player. He was a terrific defender. That's what Bradley looks like. And a really interesting part of the game happened with 1:08 left, when Bradley drained a trifecta, and the camera went into the crowd to show Bill Belichick, a huge Celtics fan. While the rest of the Boston faithful were going berserk, Bill immediately looked up at the clock in a calm, cool fashion like all the great ones do. His coaching job in the Super Bowl with his Patriots down by 28 in the third quarter was nothing short of sensational. He's a cool customer and knew there was a lot of game left. He wasn't satisfied until the clock struck :00. Isaiah Thomas, no relation to the great one, but certainly becoming a great one, canned a 30 foot triple with 49 ticks left and the Celtics sank some free throws and held off Bron and Kyrie to capture an electric victory. The Cavs got a good look with :05 left as LeBron found an open Deron Williams in the corner, with the Cavs down 101-99, for what could have been the game winning triple. But Williams missed, the Celtics got the board, and held on with free throws. 

In my preseason predictions, I predicted the San Antonio Spurs to capture the Larry O'Brien Trophy winning in 7 over the Cavs. Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs was my MVP pick. The Dubs are still awesome with Steph, KD and Klay Thompson, and, at 50-10, look extremely formidable. But KD is out for four weeks with a sprained MCL and a bone bruise in his left leg, but will be back a week or two before the playoffs start on April 15th, a Saturday. The Spurs are 46-13 and 3.5 games back of the Dubs in the west. The Cavs are 41-18 and have a 3 game lead over the Celtics, which are at 39-22. Still bullish on my Spurs over Cavs pick though it's tough to go against the Warriors with that eliteness they have talent-wise, and the Celtics have really come on. But going to stick with my prediction in October barring major injuries. Will have my updated predictions for the NBA playoffs that Saturday, 4-15. Kawhi hit a huge 12 footer last night with 2 seconds left to lift the Spurs to a 100-99 victory over the Indiana Pacers. Kawhi is averaging 26 points and 6 boards and is a prolific defender, much like Bradley. Should be terrific in April with the playoffs starting. Like that Big four to be in their respective conference finals.

In the NHL, I like the Chicago Blackhawks. They are a machine and have won the Stanley Cup most recently in 2010, 2013 and 2015 and have won 7 overall. Patrick Kane pulled off a hat trick last night in the 'Hawks 4-1 victory over defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh. Really like the way they're playing and have them in the west. I'm a little more uncertain about the east. The Washington Capitals have the best record in hockey at 42-13, and the most points with 91, but Washington was superb in the regular season last year and melted down in the playoffs. So while I like the Blackhawks over the Minnesota Wild in the west, I see the east as more of a toss up. Still believe in Sydney Crosby and the defending champion Pens, but the Caps, and the Columbus Blue Jackets have really good teams. The Montreal Canadians are good this season, too. Not counting out the Tampa Bay Lightning in the east either. They were in the finals two years ago and are starting to play well again. Anaheim is a challenger in the west. Will have NHL playoff predictions on Wednesday, April 12th, the day the playoffs commence.

MLB is in full stride in spring training. I like the Cubs again to do very well, but to be really challenged by the Dodgers. In the AL, I like the Indians and the Bosox with the Rangers and the Astros as key competitors. Also still like the Giants and Nationals in the NL. Will have those predictions on Saturday, April 1st.

In professional tennis, Roger and Serena were epic at the Australian Open. It was a masterpiece performance for both all time great superstars. Serena won her 23rd slam and moved ahead of Steffi Graf for most majors in a career in the Open Era, which started in 1968 when professionals were allowed to compete with amateurs in the slams. Margaret Court holds the overall record with 24, so Serena still has something to gun for. There are some good competitors challenging Serena in Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova and Carolina Wozniacki looks back. Garbine Muguruza won the French last year defeating Serena in a dominating performance. American Coco Vandeweghe is really coming on, and, of course, Venus, is still playing at a high level with her 7 slams under her belt.

It was pretty remarkable seeing Roger face Rafa again in a major final. Roger played like 39 year old Tom Brady does, who has a patent on the Fountain of Youth. Brady plays like a 25 year old and says he feels even better now than he did then, and that's what the 35 year old Fed did in beating Rafa in an epic 5 setter, winning the 5th, 6-3, in an unstoppable performance. Roger now has 18 slams. Rafa is tied with Pete Sampras for second at 14, and Joker is tied with Roy Emerson and Rod Laver at 12. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out this summer, whether Joker or Rafa can stay on Roger's heels,  or if Roger can extend his all time lead. Next up is the French, May 29th-June 11th, where Rafa has won 9 times, the last one coming in 2014, so he would presumably be the favorite. Wimbledon is July 3rd-16th, where Roger has won 7 times, with the last coming in 2012. It's his favorite, so that should be compelling as always. Roger's won 5 times at the U.S. Open which commences August 28th with the finals on September 10th. Novak was a 6 time winner at the Australian, but fell early. He seems to be struggling right now. Andy Murray is always a factor, and he'll be in the mix big time this summer. There are other guys like Marin Cilic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, American Jack Sock, Milos Raonic and Dominic Thiem who will be major factors at Paris, London and the Big Apple. So a lot of riveting tennis coming up.

Horse Racing

It was phenomenal when American Pharoah won the triple crown two years ago, in 2015. That hadn't been done since 1978 when Affirmed followed Seattle Slew, which won it in 1977. It had been 37 years since a three year old thoroughbred had won the Triple Crown. Of course, the greatest of all time, Secretariat, did it in 1973, and set the standard as the greatest horse ever. That still stands today.

The 143rd Kentucky Derby in May, the 141st Preakness in late May, and the 149th Belmont Stakes in June are always historically electric events. Will have more on the key horses once we get closer to post time for the Derby.  

Prediction this week

The WGC-Mexico Championship

Club de Golf Chapultepec, 7,330 yards, par 71. Just outside Mexico City

TV: Today-Friday: Golf Channel, 1-6 PM CT/2-7 PM ET;

Saturday: Golf 11 AM-2 PM CT/Noon-3 PM ET. NBC, 2-5 PM CT/3-6 PM ET.

Sunday: GC, 11 AM-1 PM CT/12-2 PM ET. NBC: 1-5 PM CT/2-6 PM ET.

Prediction

I'm going with the 37 year old from Borriol, Castellon, Spain to capture his 10th PGA title, and get closer and closer to a major. He's another guy in the mix this year. He's newly engaged and seems to have settled down pretty well. Going with El Nino.

Sergio Garcia

 

 

 

The 41st Ryder Cup

Hazeltine National Golf Club, Chaska, Minnesota 7,628 yards, par 72

Defending champion: Europe @ Gleneagles in Scotland in 2014, 16 1/2 to 11 1/2. U.S. was destroyed.

Series: Since 1927, the U.S. holds a 25-13-2 lead, but Europe holds a 10-7-1 edge since the Great Britain and Ireland squad was expanded to the entire continent in 1979. And mainly thanks to Europe's eight victories in the last 10 matches.

TV: Friday: Golf Channel, 8:30 AM-7 PM ET/7:30 AM-6 PM CT

Saturday, NBC, 9 AM-7 PM ET/8 AM-6 PM CT

Sunday: NBC, Noon-6 PM ET/11 AM-5 PM CT.

Weather: Friday: 71, Sunny, wind 6-9 MPH; Saturday: 70 clouds and sun, wind 5-7 MPH; Sunday: Mostly cloudy, wind 4-5 MPH. So a relatively tame course, though very long.

Issues

After the 2014 disaster at Gleneagles, Phil Mickelson openly criticized captain Tom Watson in front of Watson and the press in the press conference. He said the captain's decisions since Paul Azinger in 2008 had not led to any success for the teams. It was a real shot at Watson, but there may have been some validity to it. After that press conference, an 11 person Ryder Cup task force was formed, with Phil and Tiger being two of the task force members, and selected Davis Love III as the captain for the 2016 team. While Love seems to be a nice guy, his 2012 team blew it on the last day, and lost to Jose Maria Olazabal's team, 14 1/2-13 1/2, after being blown away in the singles matches on Sunday and losing a huge lead going into Sunday. So not sure that Love is the answer to this team's continual problems. But with all the pressure on the U.S. team they are probably hungrier. I just don't know if they have the drive that the European team has every time out. Phil blamed Watson that day in 2014, but his record at the Ryder Cup is 16-19-6. While Tiger Woods, who is a vice captain, has a record of 13-14-2. He's 4-7-1 in the Foursomes, and 5-8-0 in the Fourballs. The foursomes feature a two man team for each side playing against  another in an alternate shot format, where one player, say Jordan Spieth, will hit the drive, and his partner, Patrick Reed, which could very well be the case, hits the second shot on a par 4 and they rotate hitting each shot. Same thing for the Europeans. The first team in the hole wins the match. In the fourball, all four players, two from each side, play. The player with the better ball of the two man team and the better ball over the other team, wins the hole. The foursomes and four ball matches will take place Friday and Saturday, and the 12 singles matches will be on Sunday. There are 12 players on each side. Tiger is 4-1-1 in the singles matches since he started playing in 1997. The  time he played was 2010.

The difference between Spieth and Woods is that Spieth was quoted as saying, "I'd rather win the Ryder Cup than the Fed Ex Cup," while Woods was asked before a tournament where the prize was $1 million for winning it which he'd rather win, that tournament or the Ryder Cup. He said, "I can think of a million reasons why I'd want to win this tournament more." So there's a difference in outlook to me between the younger guys, and a guy like Woods, who doesn't seem to put much stock in the event. Maybe he's different now that he's older.

Brandel Chamblee and David Duval of the Golf Channel got into a heated discussion on that issue last night on the Golf Channel on the Live From the Ryder Cup show. Chamblee was saying that Woods and Mickelson have been failures on the teams and Duval was attacking Brandel saying the European teams have a lot to do with it. I side with Brandle more. Both Mickelson and Woods have been disappointments at the Ryder Cups, but I do agree that the European teams seem to want it more. But Mickelson and Woods have been pretty big disappointments in their Ryder Cup careers.

Key holes

Par 5's, No. 3, 633 yards, No.6, 642 yards, No.11, 606 yards, and No. 16, 572 yards. The par 4 7th is a hole Johnny Miller described, as the "hardest par 4 I've ever played." It's got water all over it and is about precision more than distance. Zach Johnson will do well there most likely. Dustin Johnson and Rory could be an interesting singles match on Sunday just for a driving contest match in itself. And it would be a heckuva match any way. The par 3 17th is a 176 yard hole with bunkers on the right and left side and water on the right. If you hit it in the middle of the green you'll have a putt of 15 to 20 feet and with the nerves cooking with the match in balance. It will be a test of the player's mettle and mental toughness. No. 18 is a par 4 with bunkers on both sides of the fairway making this one of the most difficult driving holes on the course. The players will face an uphill second shot, so being precise with their yardages on their pretty much blind approach shots will be critical. Anything long or left of the hole, when the hole's on the right side, will likely lead to bogey.

Teams-players

U.S.

Jimmy Walker: 1-1-3 in his Ryder Cup debut in 2014. Coming off the PGA Championship victory, though he had a quiet Fed Ex showing.

Jordan Spieth: 2-1-1 in his Ryder Cup debut in 2014. He's focused and hungry. He's a leader and a super teammate. Trust Spieth. Two time major winner. Didn't have his best year in 2016, but would love to make up for it at Hazeltine. Johnny Miller said on NBC in 2014 during that Ryder Cup of Spieth and Patrick Reed, "You know these guys aren't used to losing."

Brandt Snedeker: 1-2 in his only Ryder Cup appearance in 2012. Eight time PGA Tour winner. Not sure about his clutchness when it counts. Maybe this year will be different.

Patrick Reed: 3-1 in 2014, his only Ryder Cup. Five time winner on tour at 26 years old. Really like this guy in the clutch.

Ryan Moore: Rookie. The 33 year old has won five times on tour and was hugely clutch last week fighting it out with Rory in the Tour Championship, going to the fourth playoff hole. Moore had a par putt from 14 feet to stay alive as McIlroy had eight feet for birdie. Moore sank it, but Rory sank his birdie putt. Moore is super clutch. During the summer of 2004, prior to his senior year at UNLV, Moore won the U.S. Amateur, the Western Amateur, the U.S. Amateur Public Links, and the NCAA individual championship. Wow. That's unbelievable. I like Ryan on this team.

Phil: 16-19-6 in 11 Ryder Cups. Five majors. He's a leader on this team, so we'll see if he can put his money where his mouth is.

Matt Kuchar: Fourth start at a Ryder Cup, 4-5-2 in three previous starts. Seven time PGA winner. Not sure I trust him in the crunch time though.

Brooks Koepka: Rookie. Won the 2015 Waste Management Open. Lost in a playoff this year to Sergio at the AT&T Byron Nelson. He had a pretty good lead at the Nelson and kind of collapsed. I like his youth and energy, and newness to the team, along with his distance off the tee and his talent overall. We'll see how he handles the pressure. I like him on this team though.

Zach Johnson: Four Ryder Cups, 6-6-2. 12 Tour wins, two majors, the 2007 Masters and the 2015 Open Championship. Like Zach's precision on this course. Tom Lehman said Hazeltine is a little misunderstand, as it's just as much about precision as it is length. So that makes Zach a real factor on the U.S. team.

Dustin Johnson: On the 2010 and 2012 teams. 4-3. Captured his first major this year at the U.S. Open at Oakmont CC just outside of Pittsburgh, putting on a clinic. He's the player of the year on tour, as he barely lost out to Rory for the Fed Ex Cup and won 3 times this year. Along with the U.S. Open, Johnson won the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and the BMW Championship in the Fed Ex Cup playoffs. It'll be interesting to see how he does in the team competition. I noticed when he and Jordan were playing together in a match against Jason Day and Charl Schwartzel at last year's President's Cup, Jordan told him to play to the middle of the green after Day and Schwartzel had hit their approach shots off the green. When Johnson did that, Spieth said, "Good play D.J." It was like the 23 year old was the leader. Spieth is a leader. I think Dustin needs a leader playing with him in the foursome and four ball matches. Maybe a Phil or a Zach.

John Bradley Holmes: I love this guy on the team. J.B. played in his only Ryder Cup at Valhalla in Louisville, KY in 2008 and was 2-0-1 leading the U.S. to one of their 2 victories in the last 10 Cup matches. J.B., Anthony KIm and Boo Weekley were the key guys in 2008. They were young, hungry and not going to lose that Ryder Cup. He'll have that same mentality at Hazeltine.

Rickie Fowler: Fowler has not had much success playing in 2010 and 2014 going 0-4-4 overall. I think he's capable of snapping out of that though. He's a good competitor and I see him being ready.

European team

There are 6 rookies on the European team: Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Thomas Pieters, Andy Sullivan, Masters Champion Danny Willett and Chris Wood.

Rest of the team

Lee Westwood: 9 Ryder Cups: 20-15-6. Good stuff.

Henrik Stenson: 4 Ryder Cups, 5-4-2.

Justin Rose: 4 Ryder Cups, 9-3-2. Wow.

Rory: 4 Ryder Cups, 6-4-4.

Martin Kaymer: 4 Ryder Cups, 4-3-3. Sank the winning putt in 2012 at Medinah to clinch the Cup for Europe that year. Clutch guy.

Sergio: 8 Ryder Cups, 18-9-5. Very, very impressive.

Couple of records that are interesting:

The most points won by a pairing: Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal:  11-2-2.

The youngest player to play is Sergio who played in 1999 at 19 years old, 258 days.

The oldest player to play: Raymond Floyd. He was 51 years, 20 days in 1993.

Prediction:

This European team loves  the underdog role. They relish is and  always seem hungrier than our players. As for this year, I like Spieth, Reed and Zach Johnson to be America's leaders. Dustin will do his part, Phil will do his part, and Jimmy Walker will be pretty decent. I really like J.B and Ryan Moore on the team. They're definitely hungry. Don't trust Snedeker and Kuchar really, and not sure about Koepka as a rookie. Rickie's been terrible, but he should be better this time. Don't really trust Love for that matter. I give the edge in captaincy to Darren Clarke, because he can out coach Love in my opinion. While the Europeans have horses in Rory, Rose, Stenson, Kaymer and super Ryder Cup players in Westwood and Sergio, I think this time they have too much youth, and the home turf will be rockin in the great Midwest. So I'll go with the U.S. like I did in 2014, mainly because of Spieth, Reed, John B. and newcomers Ryan Moore and Brooks Koepka. I like the more experience that the U.S. team has, though Europe has 6 veterans who are horses. This should be an epic. The Europeans are extremely hard for us to beat, but I'll go with the U.S.

U.S. 14 1/2, Europe 13 1/2

 Like Spieth (above) and Reed to get the job done for the U.S.   

Like Spieth (above) and Reed to get the job done for the U.S.

 

Tomorrow:

College Football Week 5, previews and

predictions

 

              

 

 

 

 

Byron Nelson Unplugged

TPC Four Seasons Resort at Las Colinas, Irving, Texas, 7,166 yards, par 70

Design: Jay Moorish, 1983

Redesign: D.A. Weibring and Steve Wolfard, 2007

Defending champion: Steven Bowditch, -21, shot 62, 68, 65, 64 to win by four shots over Charley Hoffman, Scott Pickney and Jimmy Walker.

Last week:  World No.1 Jason Day won the Players Championship going wire to wire shooting -14, 63, 66, 73, 71 to win by four shots over Kevin Chappell and capture his third title this season. Day also won the Arnie and the Match Play in back to back wins. With the Arnie and Players' victories, Day is the fourth player since 1970 to go wire to wire twice in a season. Johnny Miller did it in 1974, Tom Watson did it in 1980, and Tiger did it in 2000 and 2002. Nice pick by Spike. Spike picked Day to win. Second W for Spike this year as he also correctly predicted Adam Scott to win the WGC Cadillac Classic.

White's World pick last week: Rory, T-12th. Just didn't putt well enough.

TV: Thursday-Friday: Golf Channel, 4-7 PM ET/3-6 PM CT; Saturday-Sunday:Golf: 1-2:30 PM ET/12-1:30 PM CT; CBS 3-6 PM ET/2-5 PM CT

Weather: Highly questionable tomorrow (Thursday) with major chance of T-storms and heavy rain. Could be a postponement, but maybe they'll get it in. Wind ENE 7-10 MPH. High 65. Friday, some showers in the area, 60% chance. Wind 7-10 MPH. Rain shouldn't last that long. Saturday and Sunday look good. Saturday, sunny, 84, wind 6-9 MPH. Sunday, mostly sunny, 84, wind 9-14 MPH. 

Featured tee times

7:40 AM CT, 10th Tee: Brandt Snedeker, Matt Kuchar, Louis Oosthuizen. Both Sneds and Kuchar are capable of winning this. Louis, too, for that matter. Good group here going off early, though that's questionable with the weather. Could be 36 Friday or Saturday.

7:50 AM, No.10: Charl Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia, Keegan Bradley. Keegan won here in 2011, Charl has won this year at the Valspar Championship in March in Tampa. Sergio, well, you never know what you're gonna get.  Good player, but never sure where his head is at.

12:40 PM: Zach Johnson, Steven Bowditch, Dustin Johnson. Zach a threat every week with his stellar consistency. Bowditch is the defending champion and plays well in Texas. His other victory on tour came at the 2014 Valero Texas Open in San Antonio. Dustin is due, no doubt.

12:50 PM: Jason Dufner, Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker. Duf won here in 2012 and has already won this year at the Career Builder in California in January. Walker, like Zach, is a threat every week. Maybe Jordan can get it together this week. Dallas is his hometown and there will be a lot of family and friends there, so we'll see.

Key holes:

No. 3. 528 yards, Par 4

An extremely challenging hole that features a new fairway which has a lake running down the full length of the right side. Luckily, Tiger's not playing because they may never get through with the tournament. Three balls in the drink at Congressional from 102 yards. Are you kiddin me? He thinks he can still overtake Jack's record. He'll be lucky to win a tournament as this rate. The green is new and is guarded by two bunkers on the left and the right side.

No.11, 323, par 4

Driveable hole that offers the temptation to go for eagle. Dustin will challenge it. Keegan and some others will too, especially on Sunday, when a player is behind by three or four shots and needs to have a shot to gain ground on the leader. The green is large, but there are small bunkers guarding the front right, left and back left.

No.16, 546, par 5

Considered one of the most challenging holes on the course, it has an elevated tee box, the bunkers along the left side and the middle of the fairway take some skill to get around and avoid. The green is tough. With the shape of it and the area around it, it's difficult to hold. 

No.17, 178, par 3

The signature hole on the course and one of the famous ones in golf.  The pin placements tend to be near the lake guarding the front of the green, so players have to be careful to clear the water, and still try to give themselves a makeable birdie putt, particularly on Sunday. For the leader, if he's got a two shot lead or better, par would be the score here. Amphitheater look here.

No.18, 429, par 4

Slight dogleg left, there is water on the left side that extends from the landing area off the tee shot to the green. Players may need a birdie here. Exciting finishing hole. Should lead to high drama on Sunday.

Contenders

Duf

Playing well. Duf has his game back this year. Finished tied for eighth last year. Shot 66 on Sunday. If he's got the putter going, Duf could capture this title for the second time.

Jimmy Walker

Finished tied for second here last year and is a Texas native, so Walker knows this course. He's quite a player, and like I said earlier, a threat every week. Shot 66 in the final round last year.

Tony Finau

A sleeper pick here. Really good young player who finished tied 10th here last year and had a very good PGA Championship showing, as he finished tied for 10th at Whistling Straits and was putting on quite a display of putting. The 26 year old from Salt Lake City is a guy I see doing well this week and possibly winning. His future is bright.

Zach Johnson

I was torn between picking Zach and the player I'm choosing. Zach shot 63 last year in the final round and finished solo fifth. The 12 time winner on tour and two time major winner, is a guy who gets it done all the time. The 40 year old Johnson is the most consistent player on tour outside of Jason Day.

Winner

Going with the 35 year old from Nashvegas. He shot a 64 in the final round here last year to finish in a tie for sixth. Then at Colonial the next week, he finished in a tie for second to winner Chris Kirk. He doesn't play that well in Florida usually, but he plays well in California and in Texas. See the eight time tour winner capturing Lord Byron's tournament. Lord Byron Nelson won 52 times on tour with five majors. In 1945, he won 11 tournaments in a row and 18 of 35 PGA Tournaments he played in. Wow, that's phenomenal. See this guy getting it done at the legend's tourney this week.

Brandt "Sneedeker"

 Like Sneds to capture Nelson    Walt Pittman   10 minutes ago       I am trying to just pick a player that makes the cut this week. Since they are playing in Irving Texas, the former home of the Cowboys, I am going to pass on Lee Roy Jordan Speith and in honor of Ed Too Tall Jones I am going with 6' 4'' Dustin Johnson.  Love that Walter!

Like Sneds to capture Nelson 

Walt Pittman 10 minutes ago 

 

I am trying to just pick a player that makes the cut this week. Since they are playing in Irving Texas, the former home of the Cowboys, I am going to pass on Lee Roy Jordan Speith and in honor of Ed Too Tall Jones I am going with 6' 4'' Dustin Johnson.

Love that Walter!

The 43rd Play-uhs Championship

The fifth Major on tour, and one these guys get totally amped up for. 

TPC Sawgrass, the Stadium Course, Ponte Vedra, FL. 7,218 yards, Par 72

Defending champion: Rickie Fowler, -12. Wow, what a show Rickie put on last year. He was six under on his last six holes, birdieing 13, 15, eagleing 16, birdieing 17 and birdieing 18. It was a masterful performance. Rickie won in a playoff over Kevin Kisner, who was super clutch throughout the final round, and Sergio Garcia. Rickie birdied 17 five of the six times he played it, including his clinching putt from five feet for a birdie to capture the title, and, as my man Spike says, "hoisted the hardware.' It was an epic tournament with a champion who looks to have multiple majors in him, maybe this year. He could very well defend here. 

Purse: $10,000,000. First place: $1,800000. Nice payday on Sunday with a victory.

Architect: Pete Dye

72 hole record: Greg Norman,, 1994, 264, -24. That's incredible.

Key groups:

8:21 AM ET/7:21 AM CT. No.1: Danny Willett, Brandt Sneedeker, Justin Rose. The Masters champion, a guy who is due for a big win in Snedeker, and a major champion in Rose. Quite a pairing.

8:21 AM ET/7:21 AM CT. No.10: Martin Kaymer, Henrik Stenson, Phil. Kaymer won here two years ago and won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No.2 a month later. Henrik is on the brink of winning something big, and he won here in 2009, so he's for sure in the hunt. Phil is a five time major winner, a 42 time winner on tour, and won here in 2007. Forty five year old Lefty still has it and is a major factor this weekend. 

8:43 AM ET/7:43 AM CT: Tee 10:Branden Grace, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth. Grace won at the RBC Heritage a month ago, Day and Spieth are two of the four best in the world, and I mean really elite. Like all time elite good along with Rory and Rickie, a still emerging all timer.

1:25 PM ET/12:25 PM CT. Tee 1: Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed, Sergio. Zach is a two time major winner and 12 time winner on the tour. Just so solid and accurate. Certainly a factor this weekend. Reed has played well. His last start, he finished second to Charlie Hoffman at the Valero Texas three weeks ago. He's due. Sergio won here in 2008 and was in a playoff last year. He's always in the discussion here. He needs a major sooner rather than later, and this could propel him for the U.S., the British and the PGA.

1:36 PM ET/12:36 PM CT: No.1: Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar. Adam has had a super year. He's adjusted well to the short putter and has back to back wins at the Honda and the WGC Cadillac Championship at the Donald. He won here in 2004 at age 23, the youngest player to ever win at the Players. Also, he's a winner at Augusta National in 2013, so he knows how to get it done in crunch time. Rickie, of course, will be in the hunt. He's so clutch. Kuuuch, I don't know. He might be competitive.

1:36 PM ET/12:36 PM CT: No. 10: Justin Thomas, Davis Love III, Alex Cejka. Justin was right there on Sunday last year, but shot a final round 75 to fall back to T-24. Believe in this young man  from the University of Alabama. Has all the tools to win big, and win majors. Like his mental toughness and his game overall. See him getting it done on the big stage in the clutch soon. Davis is an all time classic. You gotta have the Ryder Cup captain and a former major winner in a key group. The 51 year old Love won 21 times on tour including the 1997 PGA Championship and the 2003 Players. He's our captain for the Ryder Cup, so he deserves a superstar group. But Alex Cejka? What's he doing in this group? Is this a misprint? Maybe he'll be competitive for a while, but he won't win.

1:47 PM ET/12:47 PM CT: Hideki Matsuyama, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen. All three capable of doing well, and Hideki could win it. Hideki is a stud. The other two are former major winners, so they can handle the pressure in big moments.

1:58 PM ET/12:58 PM CT: Tee 1: Bubba, Rory, Dustin. Only first names needed here. Bubba is a two time Masters champion and Rory has won four majors. Dustin is really due. This is a really interesting pairing along with the Spieth, Day pairing.

Weather: Really good for the most part. Friday a chance of t-storms. Sunny, 82, on Sunday, Wind ENE 9-15 MPH.

TV: Thursday-Friday: Golf Channel: 1-7 PM ET/12-6 PM CT. Saturday-Sunday: NBC, 2-7 PM ET/1-6 PM CT. Dan, Johnny, David, Gary, etc.. on the call.

Key holes:

As always the Par 3, 137 yard 17th. The Island hole sets up for some of the greatest drama in golf. The 18th is a tremendously hard, pressurized hole at 445 yards with water all along the right side. If you overcook it off the tee, you're swimming. if you hit too much of a fade you have trees and thick rough. These last two holes capture some of the greatest drama in golf and setup for historic finishes by stellar champions. Rickie proved that last year.

Last week's pick at the Wells Fargo: Rory. Finished T-4. Best finish this season, Patrick Reed, 2nd at the Hyundai to Spieth.

Bama last week: Phil T-4. Has won with Hideki this season at the Waste Management in February.

Spike last week: Picked Rickie, T-4. Spike won at the WGC Cadillac with Adam Scott. 

Walter: Rickie. T-4. Walt just missed at the Shell Houston with Henrik. Henrik finished at -14, one back of winner Jim Herman.

Please join Bama, Spike and Walter on the blog with commentary-predictions. Chris-Craft, Willie, Pablo, Deano, Gunner, H, Kruegs, both of you, T in Atlanta, WW in Park City, TS in Atlanta, Peter, Brownie, David F. Termite, C, among others, would love your comments and predictions. Everybody is welcome. 

Contenders this week:

Patrick Reed

He's close, very close. His clutchness is unquestionable in my opinion. Will get a major soon, maybe the fifth this weekend.

Phil

Still a horse. Like his chances if his putter is cooperating.

Jason Day

Can't leave this stud out. He's hit it 397 yards off the tee this season in Hawaii. This course requires some three woods off the tee, and that's not his strongest club, but he'll adjust.

Spieth

He's going to get it back. The Masters was gut wrenching for him I'm sure. To me, he hadn't quite recovered from all his world appearances, and all of his media and marketing obligations. He's been worn out. But he's eased up on his schedule the last couple of weeks and he's ready to go this weekend and moving forward into the United States Open at Oakmont CC, June 16th-19th.

Rickie

Can't leave this stud out either. He can flat out go off, and when he does, he's almost unbeatable.

This week's winner

Going back to the well again this week. Like the just turned 27 year old, who shot 66 in the final round at Quail Hollow last week, to capture his first Players title. He's just too good not to win here. 

 

Rory McIlory

 Going with the stud from Northern Ireland to capture his first Players and catapult himself into the next three majors

Going with the stud from Northern Ireland to capture his first Players and catapult himself into the next three majors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Masters

The 80th Masters

Augusta National Golf Club, 7,435 yards, par 72

Designers: Bobby Jones and Alistair McKenzie, 1932

Defending champion: Jordan Spieth. -18, tied Tiger Woods 1997 scoring record

Network: ESPN & CBS; CBS team:Jim, Sir Nick, Verne, Peter Kostis, Ian Baker Finch, etc...

TV times: Thursday-Friday, ESPN: 2-6:30 PM CT/3-7:30 PM ET

Saturday: CBS: 2-6 PM CT/3-7 PM ET

Sunday: CBS: 1-6 PM CT/2-7 PM ET

Weather: Thursday: Sunny, windy, 74, West 14 MPH with gusts up to 25 MPH

Friday: Partly sunny, 69,  wind W 14 MPH, gusts to 23 MPH

Saturday: Sunny, 66, Wind WNW 13-20 MPH

Sunday: Sunny, 65, Wind, SE 4-8 MPH, should be good scoring conditions.

Key Tee times Thursday

9:26 AM ET/8;26 AM CT: Zach Johnson-2007 winner, like where his game's at; Rickie Fowler-right in the thick of things; Cheng Jin-Amateur, no shot.

9:37 AM ET/8:37 AM CT: Louis Oosthuizen-Kind of a darkhorse, lost in a playoff to Bubba in 2012. Jason Dufner-Has his game back, won at the Career Builder in California in January; Patrick Reed-Has the game and the mental toughness to win. He leads the tour in top 10's this year with 7 in 11 events.

9:48 AM ET/8:48 AM CT: Jordan Spieth- Defending champion, if the putter is hot, can absolutely defend his title; Paul Casey: Good player, but don't think he'll be a factor; Bryson DeChambeau: Amateur from SMU who won the individual NCAA championship last year. Interesting player with a bright future, but this stage is too large right now for the 22 year old.

9:59 AM ET/8:59 AM CT: Justin Thomas- Another darkhorse who can win here at some point, but not this year; Emiliano Grillo-No, he won't win; Dustin Johnson-Well, one of these years maybe he'll get over the hump and win a major, but don't see it here.

10:43 AM ET/9:43 AM CT: Phil-He's hitting it 299, just like he did 10 years ago, and he leads the tour in scoring average at 69.17.  Phil will be a factor; Marc Leishman-Possible contender till Sunday, then he falls off; Henrik Stenson- Expecting him to play pretty well. He's been close all year, but don't see him winning.

11:05 AM ET/10:05 AM CT: Adam Scott-Really like his prospects if he can get the putter cookin; Kevin Kisner- Another darkhorse in the field. Could be an interesting player come Sunday. Brooks Koepka-Another interesting competitor who could make some noise on Sunday.

12:44 PM ET/11:44 AM CT: Bubba: Definitely in the mix. Has had a bad sinus infection, there's always something, but he's ready to go; Branden Grace-No; Ian Poulter-Only steps it up at the Ryder Cup. Not winning here.

1:06 PM ET/12:06 PM CT: Jason Day- Yes, very much in the hunt to don a Green Jacket in Butler's Cabin Sunday; Matt Kuchar: Will be competitive, but don't see it happening; Ernie Els: Love the guy, but don't see him getting over the hump though he has played well here in the past.

2:01 PM ET/1:01 PM CT: Martin Kaymer: A little off his game right now. Won't be a factor this year; Bill Haas: Could be another darkhorse. I don't see him as interesting as Oosthuizen, Kisner, Thomas and Koepka, but could be relevant come Sunday; Rory McIlroy: For sure has a shot to be the sixth golfer to win the career Grand Slam joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack, Gary Player and Tiger.

The Backside at Augusta National will be a sizzling on Sunday afternoon on CBS

No.10: Par 4, 495 yards

A long hole that can play shorter if the drive catches the slope in the fairway. The second shot is critical here as the player hits to a green that is sloping right to left. Short right is in the sand trap and is a difficult up and down for par. Two of the most famous shots on this hole were Bubba Watson's wedge that he hooked 40 yards out of the woods on his second shot to 10 feet where he two putted for his first Green Jacket in 2012 in his playoff victory over Louis Oosthuizen. Adam Scott's 15 foot birdie putt in 2013 clinched his playoff victory over Angel Cabrera, the 2009 champion.

No.11: Par 4 505 yards

The beginning of Amen Corner (holes 11-13), this hole is a difficult, long par 4, that puts a premium on your approach shot. If the competitor misses to the left of the green, he is in the water. A lot of players will bail out to the right and try to get up and down for par. Par is a good score here. Larry Mize's famous chip in from 90 feet in a playoff with Greg Norman in 1987, was one of the most memorable Masters' moments in the history of the tournament. To me, this is the toughest hole on the course.

No.12: Par 3, 155 yards

This hole always tests a player's focus and resolve as there is almost always a prevailing wind that is either in the players face or at his back. Club selection and mental calmness under the storm are at a premium here. Fred Couples caught a huge break in 1992 on this hole when his ball held up on the bank and didn't go into Rae's Creek off his tee shot. That would have been devastating for Freddie. He got up and down and went on to win his only major title, though he also won 14 other times, including the 1996 Players Championship, the players' fifth major. Still, this was Fred's crowning achievement in golf.

No.13: Par 5, 510

An accurate tee shot to the center of the fairway sets up a player to go for it over a tributary of Rae's Creek that fronts the green. The second shot is another under the gun, clutchness challenge. There are four bunkers behind the putting surface. Short can be devastating on Sunday, as you're going swimming. Long can make for a difficult up and down for birdie. Birdie can be pretty critical here on Sunday for the players chasing, and for the player who is leading. One of the key moments in Masters  history was Phil Mickelson's six iron out of the pine straw and through the trees to four feet in 2010. He missed his eagle putt, but he birdied, which helped Phil clinch his third Green Jacket.

No.14:  Par 4, 440 yards

This is the only hole on the course without bunkers, but players must avoid trees on the left and right off the tee. The green is severely contoured and feeds the ball to the right. Phil holed out for eagle here on Saturday in 2010 during an eagle-eagle-birdie stretch that helped him get into the final group on Sunday in his victory that year. Bernhard Langer and chairman Billy Payne had an argument over 14 at a champions dinner several years ago. Langer got up and said there should be some changes to the 14th hole. Payne immediately interrupted and said, "This is not a place for this discussion. This dinner is over with." You don't mess with Augusta National. 

No.15: Par 5, 530 yards

A cluster of pines on the right side of the fairway is coming into play so accuracy, hitting it down the pipe, is critical off the tee. The green can be reached in two with a good tee shot, but there is a pond in the front guarding the green and a bunker on the right side of the green. Even for those players laying up, the third shot requires a precision wedge. Tiger Woods was one shot back of the lead in 2013 when his wedge hit the flagstick and caromed into the water. He went back and dropped but there was a controversy on where he dropped the ball. He made bogey, but his incorrect drop was not discovered until after the round. He was allowed to stay in the tournament because of a committee error. Woods finished tied for fourth that year.

No.16: Par 3, 170 yards

The hole plays entirely over water and eventually bends to the left. Two bunkers guard the right side of the green and the green slopes significantly from right to left. The pin on Sunday is typically back left and on the lower shelf, so pars from the top shelf of the green are rare. Tiger Woods' amazing chip in 2005 in which his ball took a U turn and rolled toward the hole taking two seconds before dropping in the cup giving him a two shot lead over Chris DiMarco and the eventual victory is one of the more memorable shots in Masters history, but there have been so many on this hole.

No.17: Par 4, 440 yards

The tee shot is easier because the Eisenhower tree was lost to an ice storm in 2014. The green is protected by two bunkers in front. Jack sank his final birdie from 12 feet in 1986 to secure his 18th and final major at age 46. "Yes Sir!"

N0.18: Par 4 465 yards

One of the most demanding finishing holes in golf, this uphill dogleg right is protected off the tee by two deep bunkers down the fairway to the left about 280-285 yards out. The drive is through a chute between two sets of trees on the player's right and left sides. A middle iron is required on a highly tension filled approach shot. There is a bunker in front and on the right side of the green. Adam Scott birdied here in 2013 from 25 feet and Angel Cabrera followed him up with a birdie from four feet to set up a playoff which Scott won on No.10, the first playoff hole. It was a clutch city performance by both players. Jordan Spieth had a totally clutch flop shot here on Saturday last year, after a double on 17, that kept him four shots clear of the field. He went on to shoot 70 on Sunday and capture the Green Jacket at 21 years old.

Contenders:

Rickie Fowler

It's going to be windy and Rickie told Golf Channel he likes playing in the wind. He says he's used to it from playing at Oklahoma State. He's a really good putter when he's got it going. See no reason why he can't win. 

Rory

Will definitely be in the hunt. Along with Jason Day, the best ball striker on tour, and along with Day, maybe the best ball striker of all time along with Tiger, too. Putter has to be working though.

Zach Johnson

The ultimate grinder, Zach can just wear you down if you're playing against him. Tough competitor. Like his chances.

Phil 

Playing tremendous golf right now. Hasn't gotten over the hump since the 2013 Open Championship, but driving it as well as he ever has. Like Phil to be right there. Shot -14 to tie for second last year with Justin Rose behind Spieth. Won here in 2004, 2006 and 2010. That experience of winning here is critical.

 

Jason Day

Amazing talent. Has some physical issues at times, but proved last year that he is maybe the most elite player on tour right now. To back  that up, he's won the WGC Match Play and the Arnie this season. This was a close one for my winning pick between this Australian and another.

 

But here's my winner

Like this 35 year old, who is playing the best golf of his career to put a Green Jacket in his closet after this year's 80th edition. He's a heckuva ball striker as well, and has shown he can putt as well as anybody on tour this season. The man from Down Under moved from the anchored putter to the short putter this year, per USGA rules, and has flourished, winning at the Honda Classic in late February and the WGC-Cadillac Championship in early March. He's won here already in 2013 defeating Angel Canbrera in a playoff. He's got Steve Williams on the bag, who knows something about winning at Augusta National as he did it with this fine gentleman in three years ago, and with Tiger in 2001, 2002 and 2005. Tiger won it in 1997 with Fluff Cowan on the bag, for his four Green Jackets. This Down Under native is used to playing in strong wind where he comes from, where the wind can howl on the course on many days at 20-30 MPH. Going with the 13 time winner on the PGA tour from Adelaide, Australia to capture his second Green Jacket.

Adam Scott

 Like Adam to capture his second Green Jacket in four years. 

Like Adam to capture his second Green Jacket in four years.