Masters week is without a doubt my favorite week of the year when it comes to professional golf.

I clear the schedule, leave word with the family not to bothered (they get it by now) and hunker down for some hi-definition wonderland.

While I love watching other tournaments such as The Players, the Waste Management, and the U.S. Open to name a few, when Masters’ week rolls around, it’s time to get locked in.

What makes it so great? There are several reasons.

*It’s at the same course every year unlike the other majors. The pin placements are the same on Sunday, so you always know where the players need to hit the ball and how they stand once they get to their tee shot. You know when they can go for the green and when laying up is preferable.

*The limited commercials. August National has the clout to work with the networks to mandate the least number of commercial breaks of any tournament. You want to televise our tournament? Then you play by our rules.

*How the tournament translates on to TV. If you have never seen the Masters on hi-def TV, you have no idea what you are missing. Well, let me tell you. It’s like watching a different tournament. Augusta National is art and the better the TV, the better the experience.

*The closing holes. The saying the Masters starts on the back nine on Sunday is so true. It’s not that the closing holes are tougher than other tournaments, but they do demand a player to be on the top of his game. Then there’s the “pucker-feeling.” Face it, you’re in contention for the Masters as you stand on the 10th tee on Sunday and there’s more pressure than any other tournament. The boneyards around Augusta of full of golfers that have melted down on Sunday over the final nine holes.

Let’s talk about the back nine. While there are some great closing runs in other tournaments – 15-18 at the Waste Management, 16-18 at Pebble Beach – the run at Augusta to me is from 12-18.

The 155-yard, par 3 12th might be the toughest tee shot in golf. Short and you’re in the water, deep and you find all kinds of trouble. There is not much margin for effort on a relatively short par 3.

The 13th is the 510-yard, par five where you can start to make a move. Or, you can get in a world of trouble. Watching the second shots here are thrilling.

The 14th is no bargain at 440-yards and a par 4, but it is a chance to take a breath between the two par 5’s, as the 15th at 530-yards, is another feast or famine hole. There is more room to miss the second shot deep, but so much the “pucker factor” doesn’t come into play here either.

A par on either one of the par 5’s is like giving a shot back to the field.

Then it’s off the 16, another par 3 that produces dramatic shots as balls will draw back to the hole if the tee shot is accurate.

The 17th is benign on paper, but you can’t help but think about the tee shot on 18 while you are playing the hole. That does play into the concentration of the golfer.

Finally, we come to the 18th hole. The tee shot comes out of a chute and there is once again little margin of effort if you need a birdie. Need a par and your options are better, but that all important approach is what it’s all about. The massive and loud crowd surrounding the green adds to the intensity.

So, who wins this year?

Does Rory get over the hump and get his Green Jacket? He’s certainly melted down in the back nine before. Does Tiger get another Major? He knows the course as well as anyone.

How about one final hurrah from Freddie Couples? The course would be rocking if Freddie found his way into contention on Sunday. Couples is one of the few players that can get the crowd into near Tiger frenzy.

I like two players outside Tiger and Rory. I am going with Rickie Fowler as my first choice. He has played well at Augusta and has the complete package to win at the course.

My dark horse is Mark Leishman. He is destined to win a Major and like Fowler, I think his game is perfect for the course.

Get ready for a great four days of golf! Hunker down on Thursday and come back up for air on Sunday night!

By Dennis Miller


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