Anticipation is high for this year’s Masters. A solid dozen top players all look in good shape to produce a career-defining win. The big three, or four, young guns — Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, and Rickie Fowler — are driving renewed interest in the game. Others in the dozen are Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Louis Oostuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott, and even Henrik Stenson, and maybe Justin Rose.
Then there are those who just can’t be ruled out: the star-crossed Sergio Garcia, the brash Patrick Reed, South African Branden Grace, streaky two-tie major winner Martin Kaymer.
One other guy to watch, a guy who loves Augusta National and is a former winner of the U.S. Amateur, is Ryan Moore. Almost nobody ever thinks of him. But if my intuition were ruling entirely instead of my heart mucking up my sense, Moore would be the guy I would lay money on with British bookies, because he will have the longest odds of anybody I actually think could win.
But something has been nagging at me for years. Something beckons. Something has always told me there is one guy destined to win the Masters, but who, despite some close calls, never upheld that destiny.
Never, that is, until he surprised everyone last fall by winning a PGA Tour event at the age of 51 (!!) and qualifying for his first Masters in a significant number of years
Davis Love III was born during the Masters — or maybe it was the day after — in 1964, when his father played in it. His father, a renowned golf instructor, famously died in a small-plane crash nearly three decades ago. Love III finished second to the miracle of Ben Crenshaw in 1995, by a single stroke, the year both served in honored roles as they buried the mentor of both, the legendary Texas golf coach and sage Harvey Penick.
And Love has been putting up some great rounds recently — alas, as will happen with guys nearly as old as I am, interspersed with some stinker rounds.
But the superb rounds show that his game can still be world-class. And his improbably return to Augusta at this age has the smell of destiny. Yes, there’s that word again.
Davis Love Jr. can win with rounds of 69, 69, 70, and 68. He can win by still driving the ball, as he does, as far as the average flat-belly Tour youngster, while driving it straighter than all but 25 of them. He can do it by successfully reaching the par-5s in two strokes, because he ranks an excellent 16th on Tour in approaches to the green from 200-225 yards out. And, on Augusta’s slick greens, he can do it because he is the ninth best on Tour at getting first putts near the hole — and because he still closes strongly, with the 13th-best scoring average in final rounds. Finally, while actually holing putts is well known to be a comparative, career-long area of comparative mediocrity for Love, he is also known as a guy whose putter can get streaky-hot.
The ghosts of Augusta can sprinkle magic dust on putters of specially favored gentlemen of the game.
It makes no sense to think Davis Love III can win the Masters three days before his 52nd birthday.
But it made no sense for a “washed up” Jack Nicklaus to win at age 46. It made no sense for an even more washed-up Crenshaw to win in 1995. It made no sense of journeyman Larry Mize, an Augusta native, to cheip in from the next zip code to win a playoff over Greg Norman in 1987.
This is Augusta National. This is the Masters. This is where magic really can overcome ordinary, commonsense expectations.
This is crazy: But watch for Davis Love III to finally don a green jacket.