Wat chance a major?
Europe still dominates golf, but Rob Lee says US star Nick Watney is now a strong bet for the Masters.
Last Updated: 23/03/11 11:21am
Was that the weekend that America fought back against the European dominance of world golf?
Nick Watney and Dustin Johnson showed why they are two of the best players from across the pond by finishing first and second at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, but I don't think we can read too much into it.
The world rankings still show European players in the top four positions and that's a better yardstick than just looking at individual tournaments. Watney is up to 15th now, but he needs to get into the top five before we can truly really say he's challenging the top guys.
That said, I was really impressed with his performance through the back nine and particularly on the last hole. Everything can unhinge there with the trees to the right and water to the left, but he smashed a wonderful drive straight down the fairway. He played aggressively and reaped the rewards.
He may have learned some lessons from last year's PGA Championship when he took a three-shot lead into the final round and ended up shooting 81. That can happen in major championships, especially if you're relatively inexperienced, and you often need to have felt that winning feeling a few times before you can do it on the biggest stages.
He proved last week that he can do it against the very best fields - anybody who is anybody was in Miami last week - and he can draw huge confidence from that. He's long, he's powerful, he putts very nicely and he doesn't do anything particularly badly.
He's finished in the top 10 in all of the five events he's entered this year and he can look forward to the Masters with great optimism. The course should suit his game and having finished in the top 20 in his three previous visits to Augusta he definitely has the performance to challenge next month.
He can use that victory and try to build on it at the Transitions Championship this week. The Masters is hurtling towards us and he can now think very positively about his chances of winning his first major.
The same can be said for Dustin Johnson, who didn't do much wrong. He closed with a 71 and will be slightly disappointed he didn't do enough down the stretch. It could easily have been his week.
He hits the ball a long way and he often tends to find the fairways, as we saw in Miami. Augusta should suit him and after going close in last year's majors, particularly the PGA Championship and the US Open, he has shown he is a class horse.
Like Watney, he might be worth a few quid ahead of the Masters.
So we've seen the 29-year-old Watney enjoy his third professional win, but compare that to Tiger Woods who had won 46 times before his 30th birthday. There's a stat to put these guys in their place!
Woods remains the bookmakers' favourite for the Masters and shot the best round of the day on Sunday with his 66 bringing him into a tie for 10th place. It wasn't a flawless round by any means, but at least he tasted the flavour of shooting under par again, something he hasn't done for a while.
We keep hearing him talking about an ongoing process and that things are improving day by day and evidently things are getting better. He'll find a way to get his game back, but I don't know if he'll do it in time for The Masters.
At least we saw signs of improvement last week.
Transitions ones to watch
At the moment, my Masters money is on Bubba Watson and I'll be keeping an eye on my investment and the Transitions Championship.
Flu forced him to watch and Tweet from his couch last week, but he should be back on his feet now. He loves to lump it a long way and he shapes the ball just right for Augusta.
There's plenty of European interest here too with the likes of Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose, Paul Casey and Brian Davis taking part. We'll also be able to see how things are shaping up for Padraig Harrington.
He was right in it last week after eagling the first to go 11-under-par, but he triple-bogeyed the third and never recovered. He shot 68's on day one and day three and there are good signs for him.
Last week we saw both the Harrington that can shoot steady scores and the Harrington who can have disasters. There's plenty of good stuff in there, but he needs to eliminate the sevens and the eights before Augusta.
It will be also nice to see Matteo Manassero, who is on the cusp of a place in the Masters. He's ranked 55th at the moment and he knows the top 50 will get a spot, so he needs a strong couple of weeks. It might be difficult for him because he's playing the Copperhead Course for the first time and he'll need to do a bit of homework first.
I'm also hoping Sergio Garcia's improvement continues. I last saw him at the Dubai Desert Classic and he didn't look too bad. It would be lovely to see him playing well again, but I think a lot depends on whether he has the hunger to do it.
ROB'S TIP: As usual, picking a winner is a near-impossible task, but I feel Retief Goosen has been playing well at the Tavistock Cup. He's my tip for glory on the west coast of Florida.