April 4, 2014 1:18 pm

2014 Masters preview: What to expect at the year’s first golf major

WATCH: Graham DeLaet got some inside knowledge from former champion Mike Weir as he prepares for his first Masters. Kevin Smith reports

The 78th Masters week is set to begin.

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On Monday, Canada’s Graham DeLaet will start his very first Masters week while four-time green jacket winner Tiger Woods will miss his very first Masters week dating back 20 years. Certainly the loss of Woods due to back surgery will change the feel of the event, as he’s the show at Augusta. Some fans even travel to the tournament just to tour the course and follow Tiger. Patrons gather when he walks out of the clubhouse and onto the course for practice, it’s rock star stuff, but this time Tiger wont be there.

Hopefully, the top ranked player in the world will come back healthy some time this year and resume his quest to win five more majors and pass the record 18 major wins set by the great Jack Nicklaus. Whether you’re a fan of Tiger or not, there’s no question tournaments are much more exciting when he’s in the field. With that in mind, here are some major questions leading into the first major of the year.

Will the Masters be as exciting without Tiger Woods in the field?

If any tournament and golf course can overcome the loss of its biggest star, it’s Augusta National.

At the Masters, the course itself is the star, just as popular as any player. Even on Monday before any player hits the course for a practice round, patrons are excited to see the famous holes and landmarks. The Masters has a history dating back to 1934, and the tournament has been won by the most famous names in golf at the only major played on the same course each year. Also keep in mind that Woods hasn’t won a green jacket since 2005. That year, he hit the incredible chip on 16 on Sunday, the Nike logo saluting the cameras, followed by Vern Lundquist’s famous “In your LIFE have you seen anything like that?” Legendary stuff, but more recently the Sunday drama has thrilled viewers on the course and at home without Tiger in contention.

Woods has back surgery will miss the Masters

Last year, Adam Scott delivered Australia its first green jacket winner, emotion pouring from the depths of his soul as he out-dueled Angel Cabrera in a playoff in the rain.

Two years ago, Bubba Watson hit a mind blowing slingshot around trees on the 10th hole in a playoff, the defining shot that gave the tall lefty with the homemade swing his first green jacket beating out Louis Oosthuizen. In 2011, Rory Mcilroy collapsed on Sunday while South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes to win what is considered one of the most exciting back nine Sundays ever. Bottom line: this event delivers pure drama year after year, and there’s no reason to feel this year will be any different.

Who are the favourites to win a green jacket this year?

With seven different winners in the last seven years, the 2014 Masters is as wide open as ever. Phil Mickelson may not have any top 10s heading into the Masters, but when he drives down Magnolia Lane and enters the famous clubhouse a switch is flipped. Mickelson will be the star of the show this week. It’s the 10 year anniversary of his famous “Mickelson Leap” when he drained a birdie putt on 18 to win his first green jacket and first major. Now he has three green jackets, and five major wins including his incredible performance two majors ago winning the Open Championship last summer.

No one has defended a green jacket since Tiger in 2001 and 2002, but Adam Scott has broken through as a major winner and knows what it takes to seal the deal at Augusta.

Many thought if any Aussie would be the first to win The Masters it would be Jason Day, as he’s only played the event three times and has a 2nd and 3rd place finish. He also recently won the PGA Match Play event. Scott helping his fellow Aussie slip on the green jacket is certainly possible this year. While Rory Mcilroy isn’t number one in the world anymore, he’s still in the top 10. At only 24 years old, he’s already a two-time major winner and has the shot making to pile up birdies.

After Bubba Watson won the 2012 Masters, being a new father and a new celebrity put his top golf game on the back burner for a long time, but he’s back playing some of the best golf on the planet. Bubba’s length was made for Augusta National, and he already knows how to win there. Both Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson have the power game to leave shorter iron shots into the crazy tough greens, and if either has a great putting week they could win their first major. England’s Luke Donald is an incredible putter, and has three top 10s in the past decade at Augusta. Donald doesn’t hit it long, and Augusta National is LONG, but great iron play and putting could place him in contention.

What can we expect from Graham DeLaet at his first Masters? 

There’s no doubt it takes a few trips around Augusta National to figure out the course and the fast unique creative greens. Graham DeLaet is setting foot there this year because he’s playing some of the best golf on the planet. 16th in the FedEx cup race, top 30 in the world, already five top 10s and two 2nd place finishes this year. Much like David Duval in the late 90s, once Graham wins he may just win a ton. Winning his first PGA event at his first trip to Augusta would be spectacular stuff. Going in Graham’s favour is that Augusta National is a very long golf course and DeLaet is one of the longest drivers on tour and stray shots often land on short pine straw, not long U.S. Open style rough. Being aggressive and long pays off, just ask Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson.

DeLaet backs up his length with some of the most accurate iron play on tour, he’s a green hitting machine! You not only have to hit greens around Augusta National, you have to hit the proper sections of the green, and that knowledge takes time. DeLaet’s putting is top 70 on tour, comparable to major winners Keegan Bradley and Mickelson, but putting on tour and putting at Augusta when you’re seeing the course for the first time are two different things. We can expect DeLaet to enjoy every moment of his first Masters, and making the cut and finishing in the top 30 would be very respectable for a rookie.

Graham DeLaet of Canada tees off on the 5th hole during the third round of the HSBC Champions golf tournament at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013. DeLaet won’t be so much in awe of Augusta National Golf Club when he makes his Masters debut next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP

Rookies and legends

Augusta patrons will no doubt be excited to watch two young American golfers play the Masters for the first time. 20-year-old Jordan Spieth already has a PGA tour win and a President’s Cup appearance under his belt, while 23-year-old Patrick Reed has won an incredible three PGA Tour events in the last eight months. 35-year-old Jimmy Walker is on the same kind of run with three PGA Tour wins in the last six months. The cool thing about the Masters for the patrons, is they get to watch the legends of golf as well, since players who’ve won a green jacket are invited back every year. Winners like Mike Weir, Ben CrenshawMark O’MearaJose Maria Olazabal and Augusta native Larry Mize will tee it up against the best on the planet. Some of the legends contending in recent years include Bernhard Langer and the man who could create one of the biggest stories in golf history if he were to win his second green jacket: 54-year-old Fred Couples! Freddy gets some of the biggest roars on the course, and in the past four years the Champions Tour star and 1992 Masters Champion has been incredible, no worse than 15th at Augusta and often right near the top of the leaderboard heading to the weekend.

Practice rounds start Monday, tournament action starts Thursday with a green jacket ceremony Sunday evening. Lets do this thing!

Kevin’s coverage from The Masters starts Monday, April 7th, with daily features on Global News. Click here for full coverage of the tournament.

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