Catching The Fuzz

I walked outside my apartment in Atlanta, Ga. a few days ago and discovered my car covered in a thin layer of yellow pollen. For those of us in the south this means one thing; spring is finally here. And while the beginning of spring may signal the beginning of runny noses and itchy eyes for some, for golf fans everywhere it means the year’s first major, the one synonymous with spring and blooming flowers, the Masters, is upon us.

For those Masters junkies out there I have a trivia question for you. Who is the last player to win the Masters in his first attempt? Give up? It has been 30 years since Frank Urban “Fuzzy” Zoeller won the Masters as a rookie. This got me thinking, of the class of 2009 which players have the best chance of breaking this drought? For your consideration, here are my top rookies at the Masters this year and a sneak peak at who might have a chance at catching the Fuzz.
1. Anthony Kim 

Few Masters rookies in the past few years have a better chance of making an impact in their debut than Kim. The current world number 13 (who has been as high as 6) doesn’t have huge amount of experience in majors so far in his career, but a T7 at last year’s Open Championship, despite putting very poorly, was a good indicator of where his game is at major-wise. Although he hasn’t come out gunning in 2009 like he left 2008, the changes made to Augusta over the past few years play into his hands perfectly. He can hit it as high and as long as anybody which is a huge advantage on the lengthened course, and his ability to spin the ball with his irons with be a huge help on the super-firm Augusta greens. But the biggest weapon Kim may possess as he drives down Magnolia Lane for the first time is his confidence. Take it from somebody who has fought him down the stretch in tournaments, the kid is straight cocky. He won’t care that a rookie hasn’t won there in 30 years, heck, he is almost definitely unaware of the fact, and that’s why he has such as good chance to do it. If he can find a little form with the putter, he’ll be around the leader board late on Sunday.

2. Rory McIlroy

There has not been a player this good at 19 years of age in a long, long time. At 19 Tiger was still going to class at Stanford and winning US Amateur Championships. Sergio contended at the PGA Championship as a 19 year old, outlasted by Tiger down the stretch, but has not added a big one to his resume in the ten years since. Rory, already 17 in the World Golf Rankings, has already won this year on the European Tour in Dubai, and fought valiantly in the WGC Accenture Matchplay in his first U.S tournament ever, going down to eventual winner Geoff Ogilvy in the Quarter finals. Taking a quick glance at his 2009 European Tour statistics a couple of things jump out immediately: He is currently 9th in driving distance, 3rd in Greens in regulation, and most impressively, he leads the tour in scoring average. These stats add up to contention at Augusta. Finally, like Kim, McIlroy practically oozes confidence. While some might see his youth as a hindrance, if he can keep the stars out of his eyes who knows what this phenom might achieve. While everyone else is looking for the 3rd leg of the “Paddy Slam”, this might be the Irishman to watch two weeks from now.

3. Dustin Johnson

While other 20-somethings like Camilo Villegas and Anthony Kim have been grabbing all the headlines the past couple of seasons, Dustin Johnson has quietly amassed 2 wins and over $3.3 million in his first two seasons on the PGA Tour. His four-shot win at the rain-shortened Pebble Beach AT&T National Pro-Am was impressive despite not having to play with the Sunday pressure. Also, the former Walker-Cupper has only finished outside the top 20 once in 5 starts this year on Tour, an indicator of his hot form of late. A South Carolina native who grew up not far from Augusta, Dustin’s only weakness might be is inability to stay out of trouble off the course. This past Monday he was picked up for a DUI in his current hometown of Myrtle Beach, S.C. and released after 22 minutes, charged with operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. A quick look at Johnson’s record will show it’s not his first brush with the law either. But what Johnson does have going for him is the ability to not let setbacks faze him, and if he can put the recent run-in with the authorities behind him, he might be worth a punt at, especially at a juicy 81-1.

4. Ross Fisher/Oliver Wilson

The reason I have combined these two is because they have so much in common. Both are outstanding young Englishmen who play on the European Tour. Both were born in 1980. Both have little to no major experience but have battled down the stretch on Sunday before (Fisher has two wins on the European Tour, while Wilson has 7 runner-up finishes), and both have largely flown under the radar here in the U.S as well. Fisher is tall and long off the tee, capable of bringing a demanding course to its knees, as he did at the European Open at The Heritage Golf Course last year, winning by seven strokes over Sergio Garcia. Wilson, who incidentally attended Augusta State University where he was an All-American, played in the 2008 Ryder Cup. He impressed on Saturday in Kentucky, pairing with Henrik Stenson to defeat the dynamic duo of Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim. Unfortunately, he ran into a buzzsaw in the form of Boo Weekely in the Sunday singles, and despite making 4 birdies to go with no bogeys, he went down 4 & 2. As opposed to Fisher, Wilson is a scrambler, capable of, as one of his former college and amateur competitors put it to me recently, “getting up and down out of a ball washer.” He’s a Zach Johnson-type of player, capable of handling a demanding course like Augusta with smarts and skill rather than brute force. They may be unknown over this side of the pond, but Fisher and Wilson have just as much chance as any of the other heralded rookies of making some noise come Masters’ week.

Here is a complete list of the 2009 Masters’ rookies gunning for Fuzzy’s record: Ken Duke (USA), Ross Fisher (ENG), Matthew Goggin (AUS), Ryuji Imada (Japan), Ryo Ishikawa (Japan), Dustin Johnson (USA), Anthony Kim (USA), Drew Kittleson (a-USA), Soren Kjeldsen (DEN), Danny Lee (a-NZ), Rory McIlroy (NIR), John Merrick (USA), Jack Newman (a-USA), Louis Oosthuizen (RSA), Alvaro Quiros (ESP), Reinier Saxton (a-NED), Lin Wen-Tang (ROC), Oliver Wilson (ENG), Steve Wilson (a-USA).

2 Responses to “Catching The Fuzz”

  1. Peter Francis M says:

    love to see an Aussie win at the Masters- great to see Matt Goggin’s form rewarded however a win first up at Agusta would be a surprise- enjoyed the article as always

  2. Dazdiglar says:

    Rory is a gun! He is where my rookie dough will be…….da’ diglar

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