While Tiger Woods took himself out of the running for a fifth Masters jacket after undergoing surgery on his back for a pinched nerve, there are still several top contenders who arrive at Augusta National nursing a few aches and pains.
Phil Mickelson said he felt no discomfort at the Shell Houston Open from the pulled muscle in his back that forced him to withdraw from the Texas Open the previous weekend, his second withdrawl of 2014. He finished tied for 12th at Houston, his best result on the PGA Tour this year, in his final prep for Augusta. This is the first year since 2010 that Mickelson will arrive at the Masters without a victory. While Lefty has had only one good week this year (in Abu Dhabi), he showed last year at the British Open that he is capable of big surprises. “I’m a little nervous heading into next week. I haven’t had the results, I haven’t been in contention, I haven’t won this year ...but it’s my favorite week of the year,” said the three-time Masters champion.
Henrik Stenson was the best player in golf the second half of last season, culminating in the FedEx Cup championship. But he got off to a slow start this year after suffering a wrist injury at the end of 2013. He has just one top 10 finish in six PGA starts this year, a 69-68 weekend at Bay Hill to tie for fifth which might be enough to nudge him in the right direction. But he has yet to finish in the top 10 at the Masters.
This had all the trappings of a big year for the young Aussie, especially a big Masters, when he won the Match Play Championship with a crisp performance in late February. But torn ligaments in his left thumb caused him to withdraw from the Doral event and his other planned pre-Masters tuneup, the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. He received a cortisone shot last week and has been at Augusta National since last Thursday preparing for his fourth start in a place he considers paradise.
What his victory at last year's U.S. Open proved is that Justin Rose can perform under stifling pressure. What he needs is a smidgen of confidence. His early year has been derailed by a shoulder injury. The shoulder is fine, but he hasn’t had the kind of results he would like heading to Augusta. Two top 10 finishes in six events this year but he missed the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and did not play in either of the two Texas tournaments leading up to the Masters.
Hunter Mahan appeared to be trending in the right direction this season, four top 10 results in seven events before he was forced to withdraw from Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill event with a hip injury. Mahan returned to action at the Houston Open where he finished tied for 31st. A five time winner on the Tour, Mahan was on the cusp of his maiden major victory last year, playing in the final pairing on Sunday of the U.S. and British Opens. He shot 75 both times and finished fourth and ninth, respectively.
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