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Because it's the only major that's always played on the same
course, the Masters invites predictions. It's tempting to handicap
the field based on past performance at Augusta, style of play and
how well a player can handle pressure. Weighing those factors this
year, the odds-on favorite to win the green jacket is . . . but
we'll get to that in a minute.

First a quick refresher on what it takes to win at Augusta
National: The ideal approach to the course calls for a big,
powerful draw off the tee to track the doglegs; high, soft-landing
long irons to hold the par 5s; and finely shaped middle irons to
get at the diabolically placed pins. Throw in an array of
imaginative short shots from inside 100 yards to negotiate the
humps and bumps that defend the pins, and finish it off with
quiet, yet fluid hands on the glassy greens. Oh, yes, and add a
cool head for course management and a steely will.

Of course, nobody has ever exactly fit the model, although double
winners Byron Nelson (1937, '42), Tom Watson (1977, '81) and Seve
Ballesteros (1980, '83) have come the closest. Six-time champion
Jack Nicklaus's strengths were so overwhelming that they overcame
his weaknesses. To paraphrase Lee Trevino, God didn't give anyone
everything -- although when Trevino made the comment, he had not
yet seen Ernie Els.

While the odds at Augusta always favor players with power and
touch, all sorts of styles have emerged victorious there. Among
repeat Masters winners, Ben Hogan, who won in 1951 and '53, was a
relatively short hitter who favored a fade, as did three-time
winner Jimmy Demaret (1940, '47, '50), who also liked to keep his
ball low. Four-time champ Arnold Palmer's money shot was a searing
draw that had a tendency to come into the greens hot, the same way
too many of his wedge shots did. Nicklaus's fade went against the
predominant shape of the course, while multiple winners Gary
Player (1961, '74, '78), Nick Faldo (1989, '90) and Bernhard
Langer (1985, '93) are all more precise than powerful.

Last week's TPC, with its hard edges and point-to-point demands,
presented a far different type of challenge than Augusta National
does, but it did show that some high-caliber players, including
Corey Pavin, Payne Stewart and Langer, are peaking for the

Although the Players' value as a Masters indicator is somewhat
diluted by the fact that no one has ever won both tournaments in
the same year, it is noteworthy that Langer finished seventh at
Sawgrass before his 1985 victory at Augusta and second in 1993
before winning his second Masters. His runner- up finish last
week, then, bodes very well for his Masters chances. By the same
token, this week's tournament in New Orleans is where current
green jacket holder Jose Maria Olazabal finished second last year
and where Ian Woosnam won in 1991 before triumphing at Augusta.

The Players was not a good event for Faldo, who missed the cut,
although he said it was a useful tune-up for the Masters because
``the greens were damn near as fast as Augusta's.'' Meanwhile Nick
Price, Greg Norman and Fred Couples were all off their game at the
Players, finishing in the middle of the pack. But all four are
primed for Augusta, with Faldo in particular having found his form
in March with a win at Doral and a second at the Honda.

Whoever triumphs at this year's Masters will have putted well.
For all the different ways to win Augusta, no victory can be
achieved there without superior putting. Middling putting has
won plenty of U.S. Opens, which reserve their biggest rewards
for steady ball striking, but it's safe to say that mediocre
putting has seldom, if ever, won the Masters. Less than
brilliant putting is the main reason why Ken Venturi, Johnny
Miller, Tom Weiskopf and Roberto DeVicenzo never won the
Masters, and why Sam Snead only won it three times.

At Augusta more than at any other major championship, wizardry on
the greens can make up for unspectacular ball hitting. Starting
with Horton Smith, who won in 1934 and '36, guys like Doug Ford
(1957), George Archer (1969), Billy Casper (1970) and Ben Crenshaw
(1984) have won Masters primarily with their putters. Indeed, 1994
champ Olazabal belongs to this group.

Putting is the reason Loren Roberts, the PGA Tour's best with the
wand, is so dangerous going into this year's tournament. It's also
why Peter Jacobsen, who has always struck the ball well but is
just now starting to make putts consistently, has his first real
chance at Augusta.

It's also a strong bet that the winner will be a touch player.
It's not an ironclad rule (see Palmer and Nicklaus), but
touchy-feely players, those who have an intuitive sense for the
distance and shape of shots, have an edge at Augusta.

If you had to categorize a player as one or the other, you would
say that Couples and Faldo have touch, Price does not.
Ballesteros, Crenshaw and Raymond Floyd are definitely touch
players, while Norman really isn't. Despite his robotic demeanor
and Dr. Strangelove grip, Langer plays with a lot of touch, as
does Olazabal. Among Masters nonwinners, Phil Mickelson and Pavin
epitomize touch, as do Brad Faxon and Roberts.

All else being equal, touch and feel are more important than pure
power at Augusta, although length is definitely rewarded, on the
par 5s especially. And because there is no rough to speak of,
players aren't penalized as severely as in other majors for
wayward drives. But there have been too many average-hitting
Masters winners for power to matter most.

Besides Couples, the long hitters with the best chances are U.S.
Open champion Els, who has cracked the top 40 in only one of three
U.S. events this year; Vijay Singh, the winner at Phoenix; and Tom
Lehman, who has a tie for third and a second in his only two
appearances at Augusta. John Daly will always be dangerous at
Augusta, particularly when conditions are wet, but he will have to
do other things very well if he is ever to win there.

The best way to handicap the field at this year's Masters is to
look at four key areas: past performance at Augusta, current form,
career timing and ability to handle pressure.

Perhaps most important is a good record in past Masters. ``Augusta
is a course where certain guys seem to play well and others always
seem to struggle,'' says Stewart, who tied for third at Sawgrass
but whose best finish at the Masters is only a tie for ninth, in
1993. ``Faldo is a guy who really seems to play that course

Stewart is right. Faldo is the only player besides Nicklaus to
have won back-to-back green jackets. Faldo's best finish since his
1990 win was a 12th in '91, but he seems as well prepared as he
has ever been.

The best recent records belong to Olazabal, Couples and Larry
Mize, the 1987 champion, who was third last year and tied for
sixth in 1992. Els finished eighth last year in his first
appearance. The strongest record by a nonwinner belongs to Pavin,
who has been 11th or better the last three years, including a
third in '92.

We know who has been playing well this year. The hottest golfer
is Jacobsen, who is leading the Tour money list with $709,851.
Faldo, notwithstanding his missed cut at Sawgrass, is also on
form. For what it is worth, though, no Masters champion since
1988 has missed a cut in his two events preceding Augusta.

Other than Jacobsen's back-to-back wins in California, at Pebble
Beach and Torrey Pines, the most impressive victory of the year
was Pavin's three-stroke margin in Los Angeles, at the Riviera
Country Club. Of the courses on the Tour to date this year,
Riviera plays most like Augusta.

Strangely, any Tour winner this year would be bucking a trend if
he won at Augusta. Since 1980 only three Masters champions have
won on the Tour earlier in the year -- Couples, at L.A. and Bay
Hill in 1992; Woosnam, at New Orleans in 1991; and Sandy Lyle, at
Phoenix and Greensboro in 1988. In the 1970s it happened five

As for who has the best career timing to win the Masters, the
most logical choice would be Price. He is the winner of the last
two major championships, and in the last three years he has been
the best player in the game. But he has struggled at Augusta,
where the weakness of both his short game and his putting on
fast greens is exposed. He tied for sixth in 1992, and even in
1986, when he set the course record of 63 in the third round,
the best he could do was a tie for fifth.

Norman has been due at Augusta for more than 10 years. He
finished fourth in his first Masters back in 1981 and seemed to
have a game custom-built for the course. But he has been
snakebit over and over, most memorably in 1986 by Nicklaus and
in '87 by Mize. Now the Shark is carrying so much baggage that
finally succeeding may be too much to expect.

The acknowledged current best player not to have won a major is
Pavin. He has had some chances, most notably two years ago at the
British Open, where he was left behind by Norman. At last year's
PGA, Pavin finished second to a never-in-doubt Price. Although
Pavin didn't hold his lead in the fourth round of last week's TPC,
the experience was a good exercise for Augusta.

Finally, the question of who can handle the heat is in one sense
easy, in another difficult. All professionals, no matter what
their record, sometimes give in to pressure. But a pro with an
otherwise pedestrian record who is in a groove and has a fail-safe
swing thought can seem like the best clutch player in history.
Such was the case with Mize when he won in '87. Until then he had
always looked fragile while in the hunt, but to get into the
sudden-death playoff, Mize birdied the 18th, and on the second
extra hole he chipped in to defeat Norman.

That said, dealing with pressure is finally a question of strength
of will. No one is considered to have more than Faldo, with
Olazabal a close second. Els is also a player with an easy,
confident manner under the gun.

In America there's no better closer than Pavin. Thus far he has
never been able to do it in a major. ``Playing well in big
tournaments hasn't been a strong suit in my career,'' he said
after his third-place tie at Sawgrass, ``but I'm getting better
and better at the big moments.''

So who's going to win? The only player who shows up in every
category is Corey Pavin. Especially if the course is firm, he's
our pick for the 1995 Masters.

COLOR PHOTO: BEN VAN HOOK A near miss at last week's TPC is further proof that Pavin's peaking for Augusta. [Corey Pavin]

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN (2) At 25, Els (below), eighth in his first Masters last year, has an azalea-filled future, but for Norman, 40, time is running out. [Ernie Els; Greg Norman]

COLOR PHOTO: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN With back-to-back wins already, Jacobsen could cap his career year with an Augusta victory. [Peter Jacobsen]

COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN For Langer, another strong TPC showing bodes well for the Masters. [Bernhard Langer] COLOR PHOTO: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN Tour winners Singh (above) and Faldo would be bucking a recent trend by winning at Augusta. [Nick Faldo] COLOR PHOTO: BEN VAN HOOK [see caption above--Vijay Singh]

COLOR PHOTO: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN Daly is a threat at Augusta, but his prodigious shots alone won't win. [John Daly] COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN Former champion Couples (left) overpowers Augusta National while current champ Olazabal is deadly around its greens. [Fred Couples] COLOR PHOTO: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN [see caption above--Jose Maria Olazabal]

COLOR PHOTO: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN A long shot like Huston may have it made in his shades. [John Huston]


[text not available--list of players with their strengths
and weaknesses]


[text not available--list of players with their strengths
and weaknesses]


[text not available--list of players with their strengths
and weaknesses]