Horton Smith won the first Masters, in 1934, and Gene Sarazen, who did not play the year before, won in 1935. Forty-four years later, Fuzzy Zoeller was fitted for the green jacket in his Augusta National debut.
Since Zoeller is the only Masters novice to win in the past 75 years, it’s often stated that first-time participants can’t be considered serious contenders. The pressure is too great, the course too mysterious, the first-time Masters golfer too jacked up to play his normal game.
Nonsense. It can be done. Until this year, no Final Four had been played without at least one No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Tonight, UConn, the No. 3 seed from the West, faces Butler, the No. 8 seed from the Southeast, for the national title.
First-timers don’t win the Masters in much the same way geldings don’t win at Churchill Downs. Heading into the 2009 Kentucky Derby, just one gelding had won since 1929. No wonder Mine That Bird was a 50-to-1 shot. That day’s Daily Racing Form included the words: “Well, there is a good chance he’ll make someone happy as he’s the favorite in the finish-last pool,” of Mine That Bird. Perhaps someone posted that on the bulletin board in the horse’s stable to motivate him. We’ll never know. Unlike Mr. Ed, Mine That Bird doesn’t talk to the media. What we do know about him is that he finished first, paying those who plunked $2 down on him $103.20.
Gary Woodland can’t win The Masters in much the same fashion the fourth-place finisher in the Colonial Athletic Association couldn’t reach the Final Four by defeating schools from the Pac-10, Big East, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12. Thinking Phil Mickelson could slip the green jacket onto Woodland is as preposterous as dreaming about Butler University getting to consecutive Final Fours with a coach who would get carded at every bar in Lawrence and a star who looks more like Napoleon Dynamite than a physical Div. I post player.
Nobody figured Rocky Balboa could go the distance again in his rematch with Apollo Creed, much less win, but win he did. Remember, truth is stranger than fiction.
Woodland, former Kansas University golfer and native of Topeka, can win The Masters. Why? Because he’s in the field. He made it by winning the Transitions in Palm Harbor, Fla., and almost made it earlier in the year, but lost a playoff to Jhonny Vegas in the Bob Hope Classic.
Woodland, 26, ranks fourth on the money list with $1,964,130 in 2011 earnings. He has played nine events and finished in the top six four times. He finished tied for 13th, 10 strokes behind the winner, Mickelson, in the Houston Open that ended Sunday. Thirty holes into it, Woodland was 1-over par and had carded four bogeys and two double-bogeys. In his final 42 holes, he carded one bogey and was 11-under par. On Sunday, he had four birdies and 14 pars.
What a steady round to ride into The Masters.
Woodland made the cut in the 2009 U.S. Open, firing a second-round 66 at Beth Page Black. A quadruple-bogey 8 on No. 5 spoiled his final round, but that was then. He’s doing a much better job of avoiding big numbers now.
Mickelson’s the favorite, but Woodland has a tee time at Augusta, and that means he has a shot.