30 Mar 2017

The Masters Preview

The small, invitation-only field is jam-packed with the finest players from around the world but is probably the weakest of the four Majors.

Former winners like Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam, Larry Mize, Bernhard Langer  and Fred Couples are there to celebrate their past achievements while the 17 first-timers are unlikely to win on such a demanding course.

With that said, it’s always hard to pick a winner so let’s look at who is in form ahead of what promises to be another historic Masters.

Who’s Hot?

“Obviously, Sandy Lyle, Sir Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam were the  last Brits, a long, long time ago. They were great champions and I still  can’t believe I’m going to be in and amongst them – and in the Champions locker room, it’s really is mind-boggling for me.” – Danny Willett, 2016 Champion.

 

Jordan Spieth Still only 23 and a two-time Major winner. 2016 was defined by his Masters meltdown and he’ll be desperate to right that particular wrong. His record is T2, Win, T2 in three appearances. Not bad, huh? If he putts as well as he did when he won in 2015, the rest of the field could be playing for second place.
Rickie Fowler Wasn’t totally convincing in closing out victory at the Honda Classic but showed his class on the back nine. That will have done his confidence the world of good.

MArc Leishman The Aussie won his second US PGA Tour title in style at Bay Hill. Played in the final group alongside Adam Scott when his compatriot won The Masters in 2013. Runner-up at the 2015 Open.
Henrik Stenson Hasn’t won since his remarkable Open triumph at Royal Troon last July but always a presence on leaderboards wherever he plays. Missed out on the WGC-Match Play in order to maximise playing time in the run-up to Augusta.

 

Hideki Matsuyama Won his first WGC event in November in Shanghai and successfully defended his Phoenix Open title in February. Been on a rich streak of form and has two top tens in his previous two Masters starts.
Rory McIlroy Came back from a two-month lay-off with a rib injury with top tens in Mexico and Bay Hill. Looked sharp and will be ready for another attempt at completing the career Grand Slam come Masters week.

Sergio Garcia Magnolia Lane is a place where Garcia has not had much success before, but the newly engaged Spaniard is happier both on and off the course. Could this finally be his year for a Major? Five missed cuts, three top tens and not much more to write home about make this an unlikely venue for him to break his duck…

 

Dustin Johnson Underlined the fact he’s currently the best player in the world with victories at the WGC-Mexico and the WGC-Match Play. It’s hard to look past him if his short game is in sync. T6 and T4 in his last two Masters starts.

 

Strong Debutant Class

No first-timer has won the Masters since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. Let’s assess the chances of some of the first-timers teeing it up at the Masters.

Tyrrell Hatton: Played solidly on the US Tour this year with three top tens. He has got the game but does he have the temperament to challenge in the biggest events?
Thomas Pieters Finished runner-up at Riviera and had a share of fifth at the WGC-Mexico Championship. the 6′ 5″ Belgian has the mental strength and the talent to do well at the notoriously difficult track.

William McGirt At 37 he’s played in only four Majors but won last year’s Memorial at Muirfield Village. He’s statistically strong off the tee but weak around the greens.
Tommy Fleetwood The Abu Dhabi champion punched his ticket with a stunning runner-up finish in Mexico. Being reunited with his former long-term coach has reignited his game. Danny Willett won in the Middle East and then Augusta last year. Can Tommy emulate him?

Billy Hurley III Produced one of the feel-good stories of 2016 after winning his first PGA Tour title, seven years after his duty as a US Navy Lieutenant ended. Hurley was ranked 607th in the world and was playing on a sponsors’ invite when he beat Vijay Singh by three at Congressional Country Club.
Alex Noren Won four times last year but hasn’t hit the same highs this year. A streaky player and hit-and-miss with the driver but he can take advantage as Augusta isn’t too penal from the tee box.

Adam Hadwin The Canadian is having the best year of his career to date. He’s already shot 59 on the US PGA Tour and won his first title at the Valspar Championship and he even agreed to move the dates of his honeymoon so he can play the Masters.
Jon Rahm Has taken to life as a professional with ease since June last year. Stunning rise up the rankings thanks to victory at Torrey Pines, a fifth place at Pebble Beach, a share of third in Mexico and runner-up in Austin. Can he keep his form going down Magnolia Lane…?

“Today the golf ball goes so far, Augusta National is about the only place, the only golf course in the world, that, financially, can afford to make the changes that they have to make to keep up with the golf ball. I don’t think anybody else could ever do it.” – Jack Nicklaus

Who’s Cold?

Tiger Woods There is little chance that the four-time Masters champion will tee it up this year as he still suffers back spasms after multiple surgeries over the years.
Justin Rose Failed to trouble the scorers in Mexico, finishing 38th. Does have two top tens this year but yet to hit his stride. Good record at Augusta with no missed cuts in 11 outings and a runner-up finish in 2015.
Zach Johnson The 2007 winner has made a slow start to 2017. A short hitter by today’s standards and needs to be at his very best to manage his way around the course as he lacks the firepower to get on in two on the scoreable par-5s, particularly on the back nine.
Jason Day The Australian has been up and down in 2017. A T5 at Pebble Beach was followed by 64th at Torrey Pines. He withdrew from the first WGC event of the season in Mexico citing an ear infection and then finished 23rd at Bay Hill where he was the defending champion.
Bubba Watson He already has two Green Jackets and has the ability to pick apart Augusta at will, but this season Bubba has struggled, withdrawing from the Genesis Open, missing two cuts in Phoenix and Tampa and not contending at the no-cut WGC in Mexico.
Martin Kaymer The German is playing well and recent results have been encouraging, but his natural left-to-right ball flight does him no favours around Augusta. In nine outings he has missed five cuts and his best return is T31 in 2014.

 

Brooks Koepka Another player suffering from a Hazeltine hangover. Big-hitting Brooks has missed more cuts than he’s made in 2017. He has posted four top tens in the Majors but his game looks to have deserted him in the early stages of this season.
Patrick Reed Has anybody even seen Patrick Reed on Tour since his Hazeltine heroics? One top ten (the Tournament of Champions in January) is his only notable result so far in 2017. He won a WGC title back in 2014 on his rise to fifth in the World Ranking but in 12 starts has never contended in any of the Majors.
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