The best golf tournament of the year is upon us once again. The dogwoods and azaleas are in bloom, the grass is manicured and the stimpmeter up, signaling the real start to the golf season in the form of The Masters. This major championship is the only one played at the same venue every year. As such, the audience has a greater familiarity with the course and its idiosyncrasies than any other in America, with the possible exception of Pebble Beach. Past success can be a great predictor of this year’s results, however, the hottest players on tour have never won a green jacket. Only Dustin Johnson, of the three best current players has a major to his name. Hideki Matsuyama and Justin Thomas have yet to win their first.
Danny Willet aside (last year’s winner) it is usually not hard to handicap the field. These are my picks in order:
Dustin Johnson: Why he will win: Best player by far right now. I am not sure he needs his prolific distance at Augusta, but his short game is now one of the best in the game. If he is making putts, look for DJ to be wearing the Green Jacket. Why he will miss the cut: He won’t.
Rory McIlroy: Why he will win: Still looks to be better than anyone when his game is on. With plenty of big time experience and several majors, he is always a threat to run away with an event. Like DJ, if he can make putts, watch out. Why he will miss the cut: Rory can be a very slow starter. If he digs himself a hole, he may have a hard time getting out.
Jordan Spieth: Why he will win: Jordan’s record at Augusta is phenomenal. Take away the back 9 last year and he wins back-to-back titles. The hot putter wins here, and Spieth is one of the best. His game looks good, and seems to be improving as the season progresses. He figures to be on everyone’s top 10 list. Why he will miss the cut: Cannot shake memories of last year’s final round collapse.
Jon Rahm: Why he will win: Rahm is having a quiet phenomenal season. A fixture on the leaderboard every week, he seems impervious to pressure. His excellent all-around game, gives him a chance to surprise. I will be shocked if he wins, but also surprised if he is not in contention. Why he will miss the cut: Lack of course knowledge.
Adam Scott: Why he will win: He has won here before, and still retains one of the best swings on tour. He knows this course and it seems to favor his game. I look for Scott to be there at the end. Why he will miss the cut: Inability to make putts.
Hideki Matsuyama: Why he will win: Tremendous ball striker, figures to be putting for a ton of birdies and eagles. Just behind Johnson as the hottest player in the world. Why he will miss the cut: Probably will not happen, but has yet to prove he has the mental toughness for a major victory. A few putting mistakes could keep him from the jacket.
Phil Michelson: Why he will win: Because it would be a great story. Lefty has been playing well and has tremendous success on this course, which seems to favor left handers. Why he will miss the cut: He seems to be pressing too hard to win in the majors, although we are less than a year removed from his epic battle with Stenson at the British Open.
Justin Rose: Why he will win: Another terrific ball striker, Rose does not figure to be in much trouble. If he gets the rock rolling early, he is a definite threat. Why he will miss the cut: I cannot think of a reason.
Henrik Stenson: Why he will win: One more great ball striker. He could shoot five under every day with just a 3 wood off the tee. Despite his putting at last year’s British Open, I am not sure he will be able to tame the greens. Why he will miss the cut: Early frustration with the flat stick could cause the rest of his game to falter.
Paul Casey/Sergio Garcia: Why he will win: Every time I watch Casey/Garcia play he looks like a winner. One of these days he may break through. Why he will miss the cut: Destiny.
Honorable Mention: Lee Westwood, good record at Augusta; Ricky Fowler is playing well, but does not seem to be able to close. Brandt Snedeker started really strong this season and would seem poised to do damage. The young guns, Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger could step up.
Why I left them off: Bubba Watson, plays very well at Augusta, but seems to have lost his way; Jason Day, assuming he plays, looks totally out of sorts; and Patrick Reed, who should be a favorite, has been less impressive over the past few months.
Weekly Observation: As a rule, I do not watch women’s golf, but Lexi Thompson got jobbed. No way should you allow that to happen.
Paul Laubach is completely unqualified to provide expertise with respect to golf course rankings and design, however, he is a highly opinionated golf addict who believes everyone should be entitled to his thoughts. He has recently released Confessions of a Golfaholic: A Guide to Playing America’s Top 100 Public Golf Courses; now available in hardcover edition. Please visit tophundredgolf.com regularly for more (im)practical information.