By Robert Bicknell

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April 9, 2006

Masters prediction...the kiss of deathÖ

Itís Masters week, and remember that I am writing the column on a Thursday, so my pick for this yearís Masters champion is a toss-up between Jim Furyk and Retief Goosen. If pressured to choose, Iíll bet on Goosen.

Yes, Iím sure that a lot of you want to go for the perennial favourites of Woods, Mickelson, Vijay or Els, but I like to buck the odds a bit and for some reason, I think that my two picks are ready for prime time and a green jacket.

Goosen hits the long ball and has one of the best short games on the Tour, which fits Augustaís new "design" perfectly, and Furyk could simply hypnotize his opponents in the final round with his bizarre swing style. If thereís anything in the world that will shake a playerís confidence, its Furyk nailing it close to the flag time after time.

I donít believe that Woods will be a major factor because his mind isnít really on the game right now due to his fatherís illness. If he does manage to pull out a victory, it would be an amazing display of concentration and will power.

Mickelson, despite a blazing hot-streak last week, has an unerring tendency towards choking like a dog in the majors. Yes, he hits the long ball and has an amazing shirt game. Heís a former Masters Champion, but I still have my doubts if he can control his own self-destructive demons in Augusta Nationalís pressure-cooker yet again.

Lately, both Vijay and Ernie have been having problems. Vijay can hit the big stick a long way, but heís been battling his putter lately. Els has all the physical tools, but lately seems to have trouble putting it all together on Sundayís.

Someone mentioned that former Masterís Champion, Fred Couples, having never missed a cut at Augusta has an outside shot at winning. Honestly, I would love to see Couples win because he truly has one of the most beautifully simple golf swings on the planet and is genuinely a very likable guy, but the question is if his back can tolerate the strain.

The young Australian players who show an amazing amount of talent have an opportunity to make a shot heard round the world, but due to the nature of the course and the weight of history on their young shoulders I donít know it will be this year. Give them time, though, and theyíll grab a few green jackets over the next few years.

As I mentioned last week, if the course remains dry then medium hitters have a chance to score well enough to hang with the big guns, but if it turns wet out there, theyíre toast.

As much as I love Augusta National and the Masters, I too am disappointed by their changes because it almost guarantees the same faces in contention each time. In my view, to be a Masterís champion, or a champion in any other major, you should be forced to demonstrate greatness with all the clubs in the bag, without relying solely on the long ball to give you an advantage. This is a primary reason why semi-unknowns are able to win the Open and US Open tournaments from time to time.

While the regular Tour events are becoming long-drive competitions for the same familiar marketable faces, the majors should always be a step above.

If it has to be a marketable face, Iíll bet on Goosen this time around.

I just received a copy of Golf Magazine and their usual tout of the latest generation of the "hottest clubs". Not surprisingly, golf club manufacturers would like you to believe that clubs are like computers Ė the moment you get it home and unpacked it has become out-dated.

Without going into too much detail, Ping has a new "G5" line to replace the G2 driver and woods and makes me wonder what happened to G3 and G4?

TaylorMade has the new "r7 425" which replaced the R5 and, of course, has the familiar "dial a weight" ports all over the head. No more poor swing excuses, now you can blame an error in weight dialing.

For more info, check out the magazineís website or pick up a copy for yourself.

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