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Augusta fillabusta: Masters set to return to old form

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

Bold Masters predictions? Other than the irrepressible John Daly winning by one stroke over 23-years-young Adam Scott? Let's put this ball up in the air and see if it holds the green: this will be the Masters that gets the Masters back to being the Masters.

No Hootie. No Martha. No lifetime exemption bologna. No bickering about the course being too long. The Masters equation in 2004 yields a refreshingly simple result.

Tiger missing fairways plus Mickelson on the top of his game multiplied by defending champ Mike Weir taken to the third power of Scott, Daly, Love III, Singh and Appleby equals a major for the ages. It will mean the greatest multi-day sporting event in the world returns to being just that.

Let's face it, over the past two years, the U.S. Open had become the best major on the four-tournament rotation. Bethpage Black in 2002 was surreal - public course, New York, catharsis for the soul. And a spirited, spunky Olympia Fields with Jim Furyk's fuzzy Father's Day subplot was more fun than the goings on down south last year.

All that changes this year.

The Masters is back, and it's bringing the King with it for the 50th and final time. It's back and it is bringing Daly, by the skin of diet-coke and nicotine soaked teeth, to a playing surface that sets up perfectly for his game. It's back and it's bringing 15 to 20 players from four different continents with a legit shot of dawning the green jacket.

More important is what the 2004 Masters is not bringing - baggage.

The only gear hanging around Augusta this year will be a mess of bags with names on them. With Bobby Jones, Stroke of Genius due out April 30, it's apropos this all got straightened out. Golf's ultimate gentleman always envisioned the Masters to be the ultimate test of championship golf. Nothing less. Nothing more.

Other random Masters thoughts and predictions:

If Daly doesn't beat Tiger by a stroke, then Stuart Appleby wins. Apps is playing the best golf of his life and he's finally found a happy place since losing his wife Renay in a freakish accident in London nearly six years ago. Sure, he's missed five of seven cuts at Augusta. But he's long and possess one of the most solid all around games on Tour.

If Daly does win, Gary McCord gets reinstated on the telecast in 2005. And the term "fan" will have to become permissible. Would anyone really believe that Long John's PBR drinking legions are "patrons?" The most interesting part of it all might be the Champions dinner, or would it be supper? Whatever it is, there'd be a lot of it.

If Mickelson does win, he'll lap the field. It won't be a one or two stroke squeaker. It will be a 1997 style Woods-esque whooping. It's hard to shake the feeling that Lefty is slowly creeping up on the perfect round. Maybe three or four of them. Mickelson's short game is the stuff of legend and his long putting has always been terrific. If he hits 70 to 75 percent of his fairways and masters the slick four footer, it's a boat race.

Even with a little rain on Thursday, Augusta's 7,290 yards should remain a fast track. Fairways will be as firm as Morgan Fairchild, post op, and the greens will be slicker than ... well, let's not go there. This brings a lot of guys back into the race, namely David Toms, Weir, Kenny Perry and Scott Verplank.

The Europeans have their best shot at winning since Jose Maria Olazabal shocked the field in 1999. Padraig Harrington is coming off a second place finish at the Players Championship including a sick, sick back nine 30 on the final day. Paddy polished off a fourth place finish last week in the ATL and is playing as good as anyone not named Adam Scott. Darren Clarke and Sergio Garcia could make a run, and let's not forget Colin Montgomerie - feisty, fit and feeling like O-fer 50 won't cement his legacy in the States.

In the near future the Masters should fear the Aussies, not the Europeans. On top of Scott's historic victory at Sawgrass, Mark Hensby, Scott Hend and Peter Lonard all finished in the top five at the BellSouth Classic last week. Toss in Appleby and the always dangerous Roger Allenby and Oz could have the place surrounded for years to come.

Contributing writer Shane Sharp will take in the Masters this week from the sun splashed fairways of the Doral Resort and Spa.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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