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Top contenders in the Masters

April 3, 1997

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) _ A capsule look at the top players in the 61st Masters played April 10-13 at Augusta National Golf Club. Listed in the order of predicted finish:

NICK FALDO

Masters: 13.

Best finish: 1 (1989-90,’96).

Last year: 1.

Tee Talk: Only Jack Nicklaus (6) and Arnold Palmer (4) won more Masters. Augusta is perfect for Faldo’s tactical play. Plays best in majors. Made 56 of 59 cuts in majors and missed only one in last 38 dating back to 1987 when he won the first of six majors. Gets his second ``double″ at Augusta.

Odds: 10-1.

TOM LEHMAN

Masters: 4.

Best finish: 2 (1992).

Last year: T18.

Tee Talk: One of the steadiest players, making 63 of 70 cuts since ’94, winning four times including the British Open. Mentally tough. Four top-10s this year including 6th at Players Championship. At age 38, has sights set on winning a couple more majors. Will be up big-time for this one.

Odds: 12-1.

STEVE ELKINGTON

Masters: 6.

Best finish: T3 (1993).

Last year: CUT.

Tee Talk: Missed cut in two of last four Masters but finished 3rd and 5th in other two. One of best pure ballstrikers. Beat two best fields of year _ Doral and Players Championship _ with great putting, making everything inside 10 feet. Has the touch and confidence right now that great years are made of.

Odds: 12-1.

ERNIE ELS

Masters: 3.

Best finish: T8 (1994).

Last year: T12.

Tee Talk: Tied for 10th at Players Championship after missing three of five cuts this year. A 1st and 2nd on tour in each of last three years. Eight top-10 finishes in 18 majors, including 1st in ’94 U.S. Open, 2nd in ‘96 British Open and 3rd in ’95 PGA. Indicates early if he will contend, as his five cuts in majors shows.

Odds: 15-1.

BRAD FAXON

Masters: 5.

Best finish: T9 (1993).

Last year: T25.

Tee Talk: Third-best scoring average at Augusta of those who have played at least five but less than 10 Masters, trailing only Olazabal and Love. Has three top-20s. Knows how to handle firm, fast tracks. A strong 4th at the Players Championship. A contender.

Odds: 15-1.

FRANK NOBILO

Masters: 2.

Best finish: 4 (1996).

Last year: 4.

Tee Talk: Started first full season on PGA Tour in March and missed cut at Doral and Players Championship after 17th at LA. A smart player with a complete game with good record in majors (six top-15s in last three years). Don’t be surprised if he makes a run at it on Sunday.

Odds: 18-1.

FRED COUPLES

Masters: 12.

Best finish: 1 (1992).

Last year: T15.

Tee Talk: Lower stroke average than Faldo or Norman at the Masters. Finished in the top-15 in eight of 12 starts here. Among the best when back is healthy and it appears to be. Top-10 in four of five starts this year. Closing 69 at Players Championship _ no one shot lower _ shows he’s ready.

Odds: 18-1.

PHIL MICKELSON

Masters: 4.

Best finish: 3 (1996).

Last year: 3.

Tee Talk: Forgotten 3rd place last year behind Norman and 8th at PGA when he putted poorly. Says he is putting best in years. Has won at least once in five consecutive years. Cut at the Players Championship after winning Bay Hill. Could follow Faldo in winning Masters after being cut at TPC.

Odds: 18-1.

TIGER WOODS:

Masters: 2.

Best finish: T41 (1995).

Last year: CUT.

Tee Talk: Nicklaus said Woods will win 10 Masters. Likely needs to work on a few things before that run starts. Tendency to miss greens long and erratic short putting a problem in first two Masters. Seems to understand there is more to Augusta than just overpowering the course. First time he has played here as a pro. This will be an interesting test of where he stands.

Odds: 20-1.

NICK PRICE

Masters: 11.

Best finish: 5 (1986).

Last year: T18.

Tee Talk: Calls the Masters ``a putting contest.″ Playing very well but may not have enough putting confidence to win. Set the course record with a 63 in 1986. Missed the cut in three of his last seven tries at Augusta. Under par in 12 of 16 rounds on tour this year with a 2nd and a 3rd.

Odds: 20-1.

MARK O’MEARA

Masters: 13.

Best finish: T4 (1992).

Last year: T18.

Tee Talk: 14 career victories. Back-to-back wins this year. At 40, playing as well as ever with six victories in barely over two years. Solid game holds up well under pressure. Needs a major championship to cap great career. Is 0-52 with 17 cuts in majors. Has only one top-10 in 13 tries at Augusta.

Odds: 20-1.

DAVIS LOVE III

Masters: 7.

Best finish: 2 (1995).

Last year: T7.

Tee Talk: Breakthrough in majors in ’95 when 2nd at Masters and 4th at U.S. Open. 7th last year here but has been shaky since three-putting last hole at ’96 U.S. Open from 15 feet to finish 2nd. Kidney stone problems contributed to slow start this year. Questionable putting down the stretch.

Odds: 25-1.

GREG NORMAN

Masters: 16.

Best finish: 2 (1986-87,’96).

Last year: 2.

Tee Talk: Who else would be considered a contender year after blowing a six-stroke lead? One of most resilient athletes in sports. Top-20 in 14 consecutive majors. Eight second-place finishes in majors, including being only person to lose all four in a playoff. Seven times led a major going to final round and won once. Missed seven birdie putts under 10 feet on Saturday at Players Championship. Not a good sign going into Augusta. Always a threat to put up a really low round. Could be a threat coming from a few strokes off the pace on Sunday.

Odds: 25-1.

PAUL STANKOWSKI

Masters: 1.

Best finish: CUT (1996).

Last year: CUT.

Tee Talk: Another good, young players (27). Got breakthrough victory last year. Already has a first, third and fifth this year and a strong 14th at Players Championship. Key seems to be making the cut. Missed 14 of 25 cuts last year and still won nearly $400,000.

Odds: 30-1.

STEVE JONES

Masters: 4.

Best finish: T20 (1990).

Last year: DNP.

Tee Talk: Returns to Augusta for first time since 1991, before dirt bike accident knocked him off tour for three years. Up-and-down year with a 1st, 2nd, 6th and 9th but also three cuts, including at Doral and Players Championship. Showed great courage in winning U.S. Open last year. Tough enough to win.

Odds: 30-1.

MARK CALCAVECCHIA

Masters: 10.

Best finish: 2 (1988).

Last year: T15.

Tee Talk: Six top-20s at Augusta in 10 tries. 2nd and 4th early this year. Won only twice on tour since 1989 but capable of surprising. Lack of accuracy (100th in fairways hit) won’t hurt, weak putting (29 per round) will. British Open in 1989 remains lone major.

Odds: 35-1.

COLIN MONTGOMERIE

Masters: 5.

Best finish: T17 (1995).

Last year: T39.

Tee Talk: Leading money winner last four years in Europe is playing six times in seven weeks in the U.S. to better chances to finally win a major. Strong 7th at Players Championship. But those greens aren’t Augusta greens.

Odds: 35-1.

JESPER PARNEVIK

Masters: 0.

Best finish: NA.

Last year: NA.

Tee Talk: Qualified for first Masters by finishing 5th at PGA last year. Looks ready to hit the big time in his fourth full year on the PGA Tour. Has two seconds and a third this year. Never won on the U.S. tour. A smooth, solid game. Learned from runner-up finish to Price in ’94 British Open. Has what it takes to win a major. Not not now.

Odds: 40-1.

DAVID DUVAL

Masters: 1.

Best finish: T18 (1996).

Last year: T18.

Tee Talk: At 25, one of the best young players. Has six second-place finishes and a slew of top-10s in barely over two years. Has not played well since squandering final-round lead at Doral four weeks ago. Needs to win elsewhere before he wins here, but a top-10 is possible.

Odds: 40-1.

JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL

Masters: 9.

Best finish: 1 (1994).

Last year: DNP.

Tee Talk: Making a remarkable comeback after missing 18 months because of foot problems. 12th, 4th and 1st in first three events back. Short game is as strong as ever, and that’s what wins at Augusta. Will feet will hold up walking hills of Augusta. Could be a Cinderella story.

Odds: 50-1.

LARRY MIZE

Masters: 13.

Best finish: 1 (1987).

Last year: T23.

Tee Talk: 10th anniversary of his playoff victory over Norman and Ballesteros when he holed 140-foot chip on second extra hole. Born in Augusta and usually plays well here. 3rd in ’94, 6th in ’92. T14 at Players Championship. Could ride emotion to top-10 finish.

Odds: 50-1.

IAN WOOSNAM

Masters: 9.

Best finish: 1 (1991).

Last year: T29.

Tee Talk: 4th on the European tour money list after strong comeback year in ’96 when he was second on list and won four times. Like most of the Europeans, has the imaginative short game to handle Augusta. Is also long enough to get the birdies needed on the par 5s. A European to consider.

Odds: 50-1.

VIJAY SINGH

Masters: 3.

Best finish: T27 (1994).

Last year: T39.

Tee Talk: Proof that power alone doesn’t win at Augusta. Just doesn’t putt well enough to win here. Out of the top-30 in last three tour events. Not his course.

Odds: 60-1.

SANDY LYLE

Masters: 15.

Best finish: 1 (1988).

Last year: CUT.

Tee Talk: Missed cut at Augusta five times in eight years since his ’88 victory, including last two years. Playing a full schedule on PGA Tour in hopes of regaining form, but little success so far.

Odds: 75-1.

BERNHARD LANGER

Masters: 14.

Best finish: 1 (1985,’93).

Last year: DNP.

Tee Talk: 15th on European money list this year, but has been in the top-10 in 15 of the last 16 years. Still only 39 but best years appear to be behind him. Had the guile and imagination to win twice at Augusta.

Odds: 100-1.

MARK BROOKS

Masters: 6.

Best finish: T35 (1991).

Last year: CUT.

Tee Talk: Missed the cut in five of six Masters. An encouraging 7th at Players Championship after only one top-20 in first seven starts. But the mix of a bad start this year and a bad history at Augusta makes PGA champion an unlikely contender.

Odds: 100-1.

STEVE STRICKER

Masters: 1.

Best finish: CUT (1996).

Last year: CUT.

Tee Talk: Changed equipment after what seemed to he his breakthrough year (2 victories, 7 top-3s, $1.4 million won). Missed three cuts and done no better that 27th this year. Has a wonderful game. Needs to get his confidence back. Augusta kills people who lack confidence.

Odds: 150-1.

COSTANTINO ROCCA

Masters: 1.

Best finish: CUT (1996).

Last year: CUT.

Tee Talk: Slipped out of top-40 on European money list this year after finishing 4th in ’95 and ’96. Best known for playoff loss to John Daly at 1995 British Open in St. Andrews. Not enough rounds at Augusta to contend.

Odds: 200-1.

JACK NICKLAUS

Masters: 38.

Best finish: 1 (1963,’65-66,‘72,‘75,’86).

Last year: T41.

Tee Talk: Made the cut a remarkable 34 of 38 times at Augusta and can still thrill the gallery with a great round, like his 66 in the second round of the ’96 British Open. Will be his 141st consecutive major championship and 147th professional major overall going back to the 1957 U.S. Open.

Odds: 250-1.

SEVE BALLESTEROS

Masters: 20.

Best finish: 1 (1980,’83).

Last year: 43.

Tee Talk: Hasn’t made a cut this year. Turns 40 on April 9, but is an old 40, having played professional golf since 1974. Last won in the U.S. in 1988. Wants desperately to make Ryder Cup team, of which he is captain, but appears his competitive days are over. Still enormous fun to watch.

Odds: 300-1.

ARNOLD PALMER

Masters: 42.

Best finish: 1 (1958,’60,‘62,’64).

Last year: CUT.

Tee Talk: Hasn’t made the cut since 1983, but playing this year after cancer surgery in January only adds to his legacy as one of the most popular athletes in all sport. He’s the King.

Odds: 500-1.

JOHN DALY

Masters: 5.

Best finish: T3 (1993).

Last year: T29.

Tee Talk: Made a mistake when he tried to delay re-entering alcohol rehab until after the Masters. Ended up in Betty Ford center after a lost night at the Players Championship. He has the game to handle Augusta, but first he has to learn to handle himself.

Odds: Facing toughest battle yet.

END ADV for weekend release April 5-6

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