Green jacket a nice fit for ‘Big Four’ |

Green jacket a nice fit for ‘Big Four’

Steve Yingling

Two weeks ago, golf’s TV wise guys were almost guaranteeing that one of the “Big Four” would win The Players Championship.

With Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els entered in the same tournament, how could anyone else have a chance of winning?

Someone forgot to tell former University of Maryland golf coach Fred Funk, who is a few years away from playing on the senior tour. The 48-year-old Funk won the TPC for the biggest victory of his career. Not one of the “Big Four” finished in the top 10.

Fast forward two weeks to the Masters and nothing has changed: The “Big Four” is so favored to win the first golf major of the season that the other 88 entrants shouldn’t even bother showing up. Caesars Tahoe has even offered a proposition on one of them winning. For a $1 wager, you’ll win $1.30 if one of the “Big Four” wins the green jacket.

History is on their side.

The “Big Four” has combined to capture four of the past five Masters.Woods won in 2001 and 2002, Singh captured the 2000 title and Mickelson finally secured his first major title a year ago at Augusta National.

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But as we’ve seen in major tournament golf, anything can happen. Just look at some of the unknowns who have won the PGA Championship and British Open recently: Shaun Micheel, Rich Beem, Todd Hamilton and Ben Curtis. What are the chances of one of these players ever winning another major title?

However, the Masters is the only major that requires players to play the same course year after year. Augusta National usually favors the players who hit it long and can manage their short game well over four rounds.

Not one of the “Big Four” lacks for the long ball and none of them have been known to putt like Happy Gilmore.

Having four prohibitive favorites in a tournament is good for golf, just like it was when Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Lee Trevino used to duke it out in the 1960s and 1970s. Rarely do all of the big names compete in the same tournament so something exciting is bound to happen when they do.

At least golf has evolved into a four-man race instead of a one-man show.

After Woods won his first Masters by a record 12 shots in 1997, who didn’t think that Tiger was destined to win at least 10 green jackets? Woods hasn’t won a major title since capturing the 2002 U.S. Open and really wasn’t a contender in any of them last year as he underwent radical swing changes.

If Tiger does recapture some of his Augusta magic this week, don’t count on him embarrassing the field as he did in 1997.

Els looks to be the best choice to win since he was runner-up last year and is determined to win his first green jacket. Certainly Mickelson won’t give up his title without a fight and Sergio Garcia and Scott Verplank have finished consistently high on the leader board in recent years.

The crowd favorites will likely be Nicklaus and amateur Ryan Moore. Nicklaus has reconsidered and will play in his 45th Masters after the unfortunate drowning death of a grandchild last month.

Moore, a UNLV senior, will try to become the first amateur to ever win the Masters. Last year, Moore dominated amateur golf the way Bobby Jones did in the 1920s. Moore became the first to win the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Public Links in the same year and has talked about winning the Masters this week.

If that happens, the “Big Four” will need to expand and sports has already been graced with a “Fab Five.”

– Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling can be reached at (530) 542-8010 or