AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It's an eternal and mostly fruitless debate: Masters or U.S. Open?
The Masters often resembles an electrifying home-run-hitting contest. Big hitters swing for the moon and then try to make putts on the slickest, quickest greens on Earth. It's invariably the most exciting major championship.
The U.S. Open is akin to fighting off an inside pitch for an opposite-field single. Players grind and struggle and desperately seek to avoid the smothering rough. It's the most daunting, difficult major.
So the call here, for pure entertainment value: the Masters.
Yes, the Open is coming to San Francisco in June. Absolutely, the Olympic Club will provide a tight, twisting, fascinating stage on which to contest our national championship. No question, the Open offers a more democratic format, open to all good players.
But there's still something magical and mystical about the Masters.
Maybe it's the timing, as the early-spring leadoff hitter in the lineup of majors. Maybe it's the familiarity, unfolding on the same picturesque course every year -- where fans know all about treacherous, little No. 12 ... and the eagle possibilities at Nos. 13 and 15 ... and the narrow drive and uphill approach shot at No. 18.
Augusta National's back nine creates a stirring stretch drive, simultaneously full of danger and opportunity. Last year's final round was the perfect illustration, starting with Rory McIlroy's meltdown on Nos. 10-11-12 and ending with Charl Schwartzel making birdies on the final four holes to win.
The benign conditions helped. These past few years should remind us what a central role the weather plays, from a chilly, windy Masters in 2007 (when Zach Johnson won at 1-over par) to a rain-softened, inviting Open last year (when McIlroy set the tournament scoring record at 16-under).
As Masters week begins, it's impossible not to envision another rollicking ride. PGA Tour winners in March included McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Luke Donald. Phil Mickelson won at Pebble Beach in February.
Let the big names duke it out at Augusta. We can punish them at Olympic.