Welcome to the most anticipated week of the golf year – crowds have flocked to the outskirts of eastern Georgia, home to the most famous and revered course in all the world – Augusta National (sorry St. Andrew’s – please note I didn’t say the most historic or influential – and please not that I’m American and biased).
While The Masters is typically hyped, the 2018 rendition is on an entirely different level. In my lifetime I’ve never felt this much buzz, and never have so many top caliber players been at the top of their game. I tweeted a thread to highlight just how insanely well this field is playing heading into the tournament – I’m going to rehash that below. Simply put, you could name 15-20 winners and I’d have zero counter arguments against any of them. Let’s dive into why golf has never been in a better place player by player:
Let’s start with world #1 Dustin Johnson. DJ already won the Tournament of champions to kick off the season in Hawaii and followed that up with a T2 at Pebble. His stats this season are insane: 1st SG off the tee, 3rd SG tee to green, 1st SG total. That not impressive enough for you?…..
The lead up to last year’s Masters was all about DJ. Betting favorite, fan favorite, DJ’s stock was at an all-time high. He won his 3 starts prior to Augusta – The Genesis, WGC Mexico, and WGC Match Play. Then, he infamously fell down stairs at his rental property prior to the tournament and withdrew before ever teeing off. In retrospect it was one of the most bizarre things to ever happen in golf (considering player stature, tournament stature, buildup, etc…) Fans have concocted some crazy conspiracy theories about what happened that night, I for one, don’t buy any of them. It was a freak accident, the question is will this week be a story of redemption? In 2015 the OWGR #1 finished 6th at Augusta, in 2016 he finished 4th – odds are in his favor.
From there we move on to Justin Thomas – probably the most complete player in the game right now and future #1 player in the world. JT won 5 times in 2017, got his first major, won the FedEx Cup, and was PGA Tour player of the year. He’s finished in the top 10 in his past 4 events and really has been dominating professional golf since last summer. Toss in a little fan controversy during the Florida swing and all of a sudden JT is one of the most fascinating stories coming into the week. In regards to fan response/retribution…. Augusta National is not where JT is going to feel any wrath. No cell phones, fans that respect the grounds, their tickets, and the game above all else – JT won’t be phased. This is only his third Masters start and his numbers here compared to other majors aren’t strong, but eye test tells me he’ll be in the mix. For pool’s and fantasy players I have a sneaky suspicion JT won’t have as high of an ownership percentage than previously expected – might just be the key to taking home some cash.
On to the next one (literally – the next Justin). Justin Rose rolls down Magnolia lane in great form. He won the HSBC this season and has finished in the top 25 in every start at Augusta since 2009 – and that includes T2 finishes in 2015 and 2017. He lost last year in the playoff to Sergio (and if you re-watch the final round last year you’d never guess the green jacket was going home with anybody else until 17. Seriously – follow this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfMSpgr1L3Q and start it at the 3:27 mark – the way #13 shook out that day is the epitome of golf – good breaks, bad breaks, and it all comes down to putting). I do expect Rose to respond well and contend this year in spite of bad memories. He’s too consistent of a ball striker and his track record speaks for itself. He’s my odds on favorite.
Rory f%$@#n McIlroy. Rors won a few weeks back at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Winning is a binary term – you win or you lose – but that doesn’t do his final round and W at the API justice. He looked absolutely unstoppable – driving the ball like a monster and finally finding his putting stroke. It felt like a defining moment for Rory – which is incredible considering his success and what will inevitably be the scope of his career. After not having a win on Tour since East Lake of 2016, and a lot of unknowns plaguing him last season, this dude is officially back. When on point – his game and swing are the most beautiful in the world, the only things comparable in terms of talent are DJ and Tiger of old (and hopefully future). Oh and a W would mean the career Grand Slam for Rory – he would be only the 6th player all time to accomplish that feat.
Rickie Fowler – the peoples champ. Rickie is destine for a major breakthrough (not quite Phil level – but inching there), and it feels only right that his crowning moment would come at Augusta. He won the HERO in December and although he didn’t show it this past weekend he is still one of the preeminent putters in the world. Rickie’s stats this season don’t jump off the page (although 12th in birdie average bodes well) but if he were to dawn the green jacket Sunday night he would instantly become one of the most popular Masters champions ever.
Sergio Garcia – defending champion. Sergio has been, how do you say it? Playing well. His stats this season: 1st in SG approach to green, 1st in SG tee to green, 4th in SG total, 1st in scoring average. I think Sergio has the most impressive swing in the game, just check out his move….. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6ttW3ptVzc . Coming off his win last year, marriage last July, and the birth of his first child (shoutout Azalea) Sergio has some serious juju flowing. That level of success on and off the course seems to have brought a level of comfort never felt before in his life – and his golf game reflects that. Possible low ownership levels this week considering the tournament hype/newborn, but recent play more than suggests the Spaniard will be in the mix.
Jason Day – how can he be under the radar? He’s been great in 2018 despite taking a step back in the headline department. JD won the Farmers in February and was T2 at Pebble – combine that with his track record at Augusta and being 1st in SG putting on tour and you may have your champion. With a history of ailments, any other tournament would scare me away from Day, but not Augusta National, not The Masters.
Tommy Fleetwood – may not be a household name in the states yet but he should and will be soon. He was the Race to Dubai Champion in 2017 (EuroTour equivalent of the FedEx Cup) and won in Abu Dhabi to start his season. One of the best iron games to come out of Europe, he may be the hottest player in the world over the past year (scratch that, still JT, but it’s closer than people give it credence). Plus look at that flow…..
Bubba Watson – 2 time Masters champion. Already won twice on tour this year after a serious drought. Bubba is the most creative player of his generation (probably ever?) and his game is purpose built for Augusta. They say take advantage of the par 5’s at this track and you have a chance to win – nobody ends up in better spots to make eagles and birdies off the tee on those holes than Bubba. Not to mention he is one of the most polarizing figures in golf….
Phil Mickelson – LEFTYYYYYYY. Phil is pushing the senior tour and yet is playing some of his best golf ever. He was trending in the right direction for what felt like years and finally broke through (if that is the right term for a player with 43 wins) at the WGC Mexico. He also has 3 green jackets in the closet so Phil knows a thing or two about the golf course. As I write this it would be very Phil to miss the cut but that would not feed into the hype train. A win here would leave him in only Tiger, Jack, and Arnie’s company as 4 time Masters Champions.
Ian Poulter – Thought he was in the field after Match Play (PSYCHE!!). Then forces a playoff on 18 last week in Houston and beats out Beau to get his “back against the wall” invite. Whatever you think of the guy – that was flat out impressive.
Jordan Spieth – Most popular player in the world not named Tiger? Debatable. What’s not is his knack for Augusta (T2, 1, T2, T11 in four starts). His putting has been maligned and this season hasn’t been up to snuff by his standards in terms of wins, but check out the SG stats: 20th off the tee, 9th approach to green, 17th around the green, 3rd tee to green, 17th total). SG putting is 185th (like I said, maligned) – but putting is overrated at Augusta historically.
Jon Rahm – 3rd ranked player in the world. Set the tour on fire last year. Ascension up the World Rankings is historic level stuff.
Hideki Matsuyama – Since his WD at Phoenix he’s been very quiet. So that being said I’ll just leave these SG stats here: 20th approach to green, 3rd around the green, 13th tee to green, 12th total.
Alex Noren – Um this dude is a beast. 6th in SG total and 11th in SG approach to green. He’s 4th in scoring average and already has 3 top 10’s to his credit this season. Also his pre shot routine is something we as amateurs should take note of.
Paul Casey – Last 3 years at the Masters? 6th, 4th, 6th. Those in golf media have pointed out Casey’s inability to close the deal, something he started to put to rest with his victory amongst the chaos that was The Valspar this year. I don’t want SG stat lines to get redundant but damn Casey’s is on another level: 26th off tee, 8th approach to green, 11th around the green, 2nd tee to green, 5th total. All the makings of a green jacket here for Paul – would be cool for him to silence the pundits once and for all.
TIGER WOODS!!!!! – Do I need to hype this up? Realistically Tiger deserves his own blog here but let’s keep it simple. His SG stat line: 14th approach to green, 6th around the green, 11th putting, 7th total. Off the tee he is 153 – but that is and will always be the biggest question mark in Tiger’s game. Numbers are one thing but his current form is just as solid with two top 5 finishes in his last two starts. The man has also won 4 green jackets. You want to see something ridiculous? Check out his Masters finishes all time…
I like this, I like this a lot. While the majority of this post highlights just how good the rest of the Tour is playing heading into the week – don’t get it twisted, Tiger Woods is the epicenter of this tournaments anticipation. WE ARE OFFICIALLY BACK. Have a hell of a week people – it doesn’t get much better than this.