The best winning storylines for the 2015 Masters
It’s been an insanely good start to 2015 for golf, and as a result, we’ve seen more storylines emerge for the first major of the year than I can remember and that was even before Tiger committed to the event and Phil remembered how to play.
So, I decided to take a look at the best possible winning storylines for this week, not in terms of who has the best chance to win, but who would create the best story. The only caveat to the list is that it has to seem at least partially realistic that the player could win the tournament, so you won’t see Ben Crenshaw make an appearance.
Below are my picks for the top fifteen winning storylines for the 2015 Masters Tournament.
15. Jason Dufner
I jumped back and forth between Dufner, Matt Kuchar and Jimmy Walker for this spot and while Dufner is the least realistic winner of the three, the storyline is way better. Dufner hasn’t won in any of his 32 starts since taking the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill, and he’s only posted seven top-10’s worldwide in that time, so he hasn’t exactly been lighting it up. I’m not going to try and figure out how much his recently announced divorce had to do with his subpar play, or if he’s still dealing with the neck injury from last season but Dufner has an odd likability to him that you just don’t see very often. It’d be nice to see him be part of the story come Sunday.
14. Hideki Matsuyama
Japan has never had a major championship winner, and while Ryo Ishikawa is making a little bit of noise for the first time in years, Matsuyama has definitely become the nation’s best chance to break the duck. At just 23 years old, Matsuyama is already one of the best ball strikers in the world and with all of the (justifiable) talk about how good guys like Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas are, it seems like Matsuyama gets lost in the shuffle a little bit. Young players don’t win very often at Augusta, but he’s got the game to do it and much like when Mike Weir won in 2003 and Canadian golf exploded, it seems plausible that the same thing could happen in Japan if Matsuyama could grab a green jacket.
13. Jason Day/Henrik Stenson
I’m lumping Day and Stenson into one group because they’re probably the best two players in the world who have yet to win a major, and in the case of Day, he’s had a pair of close calls already at Augusta. When fellow countryman Adam Scott won here a few years ago, he vanquished a lot of Australian demons thanks to Greg Norman’s penchant for bad luck and Sunday catastrophe, so it might not seem as important that Day wins, but you can definitely get behind a super talented player who has had a couple of close calls already.
For Stenson, he’s the poster boy for returning from the wilderness, at least until Anthony Kim comes back to win the Masters in 2016, so that’s always a fun story. He hits it pure with every club in the bag, and his 3-wood is probably the best club in all of golf right now, plus he’s a great interview and someone that is universally liked in the game.
12. Phil Mickelson
I know many of you are probably thinking that Phil should be placed higher on this list, but I’m not seeing it. I’m sure he’s going to be in contention for at least a part of the week, but in terms of storyline, Phil going for his fourth green jacket doesn’t really do much for me, at least when compared to the other players in front of him on this list. Now, if I do this again in June for the U.S. Open, that’s a different story.
11. Patrick Reed
“Jim, I just want to say that it feels great to wear this jacket here in Reed Cabin.”
“Don’t you mean Butler Cabin, Patrick?”
“Maybe for now, Jim.”
10. Adam Scott
The list of people to win multiple Masters titles is a who’s who of golf royalty, so you know Scott wants to join that group and if he does, you better believe that there are going to be more whispers around him using the long putter to win another major. Scott’s been using a standard length putter for most of the year, but will apparently be making the switch when he gets to Augusta because he’s been putting horribly in an admittedly small sample size. With the importance of the tournament, it makes sense that he would switch and then try and figure out the standard putter after the Masters.
9. Lee Westwood
In the grand scheme of things, Lee Westwood has it pretty good. He’s a former world number one, he’s made more money than he could probably ever spend and he’s won tournaments in more countries than most people will ever visit, but man, it’s tough to not feel for him a little bit when it comes to his major record. He’s finished in the top sixteen in seventeen majors since 2008, with eight of them being in the top three, and he still doesn’t have a major win despite “deserving” at least one in the past decade or so. The bulk of that success has come at Augusta and at the age of 41, you’d think he was coming to the end of the line in terms of getting that first major, especially considering the depth of talent, both young and old, that he has to go up against these days. He’s been playing well in 2015 too, so I don’t think it’s out of the question that he contends and makes a push on Sunday and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that will root against him.
8. Rickie Fowler
Rickie’s been really good for the game. Got a great attitude towards people. But so far it’s been big hat, no cattle.
That was Johnny Miller last year during the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, and you know, he got two of the three points correct. Rickie is great for the game and his attitude towards fans and media members has always been praised, but with only one PGA Tour win on his resume, he’s been a convenient target for people like Miller who look only at wins as a barometer for success, a topic which Jake Nichols tackled very eloquently for No Laying Up a few weeks ago. Fowler’s a great player, and while I’m not sure that he has the game suited for Augusta, him winning a green jacket would be massive for the sport considering his popularity outside of regular channels. Before he switched over to Butch Harmon as coach last year, Fowler said he wanted to be known for more than just his outfits and his play in 2014 did more than enough to prove that he is much more than a guy who dares to dress with colour.
7. Bubba Watson
There’s only one player who has ever won three Masters in four years and that’s Jack Nicklaus, but Bubba will join him if he can win again on Sunday and to be honest, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t do it. The course sets up so well for him from the tee, but more importantly, Bubba’s short game is extremely underrated because of how far he smashes the ball and he’s seemed to figure out how to play around the tricky Augusta greens. As horrible as he can be sometimes (#PrayForTedScott), there’s no doubting that Bubba has become must watch TV because of the way he shapes the ball and being able to do something that puts him in the same company as only Jack Nicklaus, is pretty important.
6. Dustin Johnson
When I started to think about the 2015 season, and I looked ahead to the major championships, there was one name that stood out as the guy who was a perfect fit on all of them and that was Dustin Johnson but with his suspension/leave of absence, it was tough to put much faith in the fact that he would even be on the course, much less contend. Now that we know he’s ready and playing well, it’s easy to see him wearing green on Sunday and with Chambers Bay, the Old Course and Whistling Straits on the way, it could be just the beginning for him. The redemption angle will get played up the most if he wins, but it’s also been a long time coming for DJ at the majors.
5. Sergio Garcia
“I’m not good enough … I don’t have the thing I need to have. In 13 years I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place.”
That was Sergio Garcia three years ago after the Masters, and while he’s back off of that comment recently with a brighter outlook on both his game and personal life, part of me still wonders about his mindset when he gets the lead in any tournament, much less a major. As Shane Bacon discussed on the No Laying Up podcast last week, if Sergio had a two shot lead with four to play on Sunday, you wouldn’t exactly be jumping for joy if you had money on him. You’d probably look something like this:
What makes him so intriguing though is that, as Geoff Ogilvy pointed out recently, Sergio’s an insanely good ball striker and one of those guys that has the game to win on any course but you have to think that much like Westwood, he’s running out of time when you see the crop of guys who are coming up behind him. His personality has always been fascinating to me and him winning a major is definitely overdue, which is why he’s so high on this list.
4. Fred Couples
Now, if this was Jim Nantz’ list, I’m sure Freddie would be listed at number one and I’m pretty sure that Couples won’t win…but it’s not impossible. Nantz starting a Sunday broadcast with some variation of “and look at this: 1992 champion Fred Couples, age xx, makes birdie on the par-5 2nd hole and is only two back of the lead” is pretty much as big of a guarantee as Nantz mentioning that the azaleas are in full bloom. Yes, he’s 55 but he seems to make a run every year before he loses it for a few holes and falls out of contention, and considering the great run of major winners we’ve had over the last few years, it certainly feels we’re due to see something a little off the board, and seeing Couples win another title would bring smiles to the faces of everyone watching. He’d be the oldest major winner by seven years, topping Julius Boros who was 48 when he won the PGA back in 1968.
Don’t forget that there are only four players in Masters history with at least 50 rounds played that have an under par scoring average at Augusta: Tiger, Jack, Phil and Freddie.
3. Jordan Spieth
Tiger is the youngest player to win the Masters, doing so at 21 years, 3 months and while Spieth would have beaten that mark last year had he been able to slay Bubba on the back nine, he won’t be able to top it in 2015 but that still doesn’t lessen the accomplishment should he be able to walk away with the title on Sunday. He has all the tools in the world to be able to do it too, and while I usually think the “wow, this guy is so poised” approach is overblown by media types, it really does seem to be the case with Spieth who is far more measured than anyone should be at that age. Rory’s obviously the game’s biggest star at this point, but Spieth is probably closer than people realize and winning your first major at this age is just something that you don’t see often. Spieth is special without question and it’ll be a very, very big deal if he can win on Sunday.
2. Rory McIlroy
Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods.
That’s the company that Rory is trying to join with the career grand slam and when it comes to storylines, it’s really difficult to get much better than someone trying to make history, especially at such a young age. The fact that he can erase some pretty serious Augusta demons with a win adds to it too, plus you have the added bonus that if he can win, he can go for his own slam at the U.S. Open and attempt to hold all four major championships at the same time. There’s a lot on the line here.
1. Tiger Woods
Now, I know what you’re thinking: I said it has to be partially realistic that the player has a chance to win this week, and a win seems utterly impossible for Tiger but I couldn’t leave him off the list. The fact is that as Whit Watson said on the Houston Open broadcast on Friday, Tiger doesn’t just move the needle the most, he is the needle and his participation this week is important for himself, the tournament and the sport.
We all know what he’s been through both on and off the course, and the last time we saw him, he looked like he didn’t even belong on your local muni. If he could somehow figure something out and even pull out a top-25 finish this week, it’d be looked at as a miracle and if he can do even better than that and get into contention on the weekend, we could be looking at the most outstanding thing he’s done on the course. It’s hard to imagine having a Tiger and Rory duel on the back nine this Sunday, but just for one second, think about it. Even if you’re in the anti-Tiger camp, you’d be watching and you’d be enthralled.
Major number fifteen probably isn’t coming this week, but if it did, it would blow everything else out of the water.