Thoughts and predictions as we head into the 2017 Masters
1. Players flying under the radar who can win this tournament:
- Paul Casey
- Since emerging from the wilderness a few years ago, Casey has very quietly posted T6 and T4 finishes in the last two years, and while there are definitely some concerns about how high he hits the ball, this is clearly the major he has performed best at over the years. He’s just a really solid player that seems to get overlooked, partially because he only has one win on the PGA Tour.
- Louis Oosthuizen
- If you read enough about the PGA Tour, it won’t take you too long to see someone say that Oosthuizen could be the best player out there if he wanted to be, but that golf just isn’t everything to him. Every once and a while, he pops up on a leaderboard and reminds you of just how good he is, and he has done just that in this tournament before. You never know when it’s going to happen, and it could absolutely be this week.
- Justin Rose
- Perpetually underrated with a ton of good success at this event, including back in 2015 when he posted a -14 that somehow was only good enough to finish four back of Jordan Spieth. U.S. Open, Olympic gold and a green jacket sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
2. In all of my time watching the Masters, I’m not sure that I can remember someone showing up to Augusta for the first time with a better chance to win the event than Jon Rahm. He has all of the tools to get it done, and he doesn’t strike me at all as the kind of guy who is going to wilt under any form of pressure at Augusta. I don’t think he ends up winning just because he probably doesn’t know the greens well enough, but I won’t be surprised if he does end up taking it on Sunday.
3. I’m already hating myself for typing this, but I just don’t see it for DJ this week. He can obviously win anywhere with the way he’s playing right now, but everything that I know about golf says that the run has to end sometime, and I’ve never loved him to win this event in the first place. Granted, those thoughts come mostly from watching him play it previously and not when he is wedging and putting the ball better than he ever has. Much like Rahm, I’m not going to be shocked if Danny Willett hands him the green jacket on Sunday night, but I just don’t think it’s his week.
4. I already talked about Paul Casey having some quality finishes at Augusta recently, and the same is true of Hideki Matsuyama, though I don’t think anyone would have him down as someone who is flying under the radar. In the last two years, Matsuyama has finished in solo fifth and tied for seventh, and from a style standpoint, there’s nothing that says Matsuyama can’t win at Augusta assuming he has a hot week with the putter. He was probably the best player in the world from the Tour Championship last year through Phoenix a few months ago, but has cooled off since.
He’s going to become Japan’s first major champion, and it could absolutely happen this week.
5. Three things I want to see:
- Ernie Els plays well
- Ernie has been open about how he feels like this is his last Masters, and after last year’s putting debacle on the opening hole, I just want to see him go out and have a good week. The fact that he never won this tournament, particularly from 2000-2004, feels wrong.
- Jordan Spieth birdies the twelfth on all four days
- Look, we all remember what happened to Jordan last year on the 12th, and more accurately, the 10th and 11th before that. You can tell that he’s tired of answering any questions about the whole incident, and to be honest, you can’t really blame him. Nothing would be better for him than to go out and birdie the 12th on all four days to put an end to the conversation, and nothing would be worse than if he managed to put another one in the creek.
- A week without distraction for Jason Day
- It’s great news that Jason Day’s mother is doing well in her recovery, and hopefully that means that we get a distraction free week for Day. When was the last time that happened? He’s one of the best players in the world, and I’d love to see him show some of that off this week.
6. Three things I don’t want to see:
- Any rules violation
- We’ve seen enough rules drama over the last ten months or so to last a lifetime, and all I really want is a week without that distraction at a major.
- Bad featured groups
- This is a problem every year at the Masters, and one of the few things I can legitimately complain about at this time of year. It shouldn’t be hard to give people what they want online, so hopefully they’ve got this sorted out, as the last few years have been pretty bad.
- A weekend without Phil
- Phil’s runner-up finish to Spieth in 2015 is sandwiched in between two missed cuts at Augusta, and that just makes for a less enjoyable tournament. He’s playing some great golf, so I don’t think he’s going to miss this time around.
7. Favourite groups for the first two rounds:
- Angel Cabrera, Henrik Stenson and Tyrrell Hatton
- Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Shane Lowry
- Rory McIlroy, Hideto Tanihara and Jon Rahm
Ball. Striking. Fiestas.
Plus, I’m all in on the Hideto Tanihara experience.
8. Best (plausible) winning storylines:
- Rory McIlroy
- The Grand Slam potential is self explanatory. If he can get it done, he joins Sarazen, Hogan, Nicklaus, Player and Tiger as the only guys to complete the modern slam.
- Phil Mickelson
- Only Tiger, Arnie and Jack have won at least four green jackets, but Phil can join that group with a win. Plus it would end that ridiculous “Tiger has won more recently than Phil” stat which never actually seems believable, but is totally true.
- Bubba Watson
- With the way he’s playing, I don’t think this is super likely, but a win would give Bubba three green jackets and arguably the weirdest career of anyone in the modern era of golf.
- Jordan Spieth
- Somehow, it feels like we’ve under appreciated the fact that Spieth has finished no worse than second in three trips to this place. Three major wins at 23 and two green jackets is something that should be unattainable, but that’s what he’s looking at this week. What happened last year only adds to the intrigue.
- Dustin Johnson
- This is more than the “best player in the world wins a major” storyline. DJ is going for four wins in a row, which is something we haven’t seen since Tiger, and breaking out of the one-time major winner club is a big deal. Throw in the fact that I don’t think anyone ever thought that he would win this one and it makes it even better.
- Rickie Fowler
- Fowler is arguably golf’s most marketable star, and while I don’t think that changes if he goes without a major in the next little while, it certainly wouldn’t hurt for him to pick one up. Fowler has won small and big events on the PGA Tour, taken on the best players on the European Tour in marquee events and represented his country in international play. The major win is really the only thing missing.
- Sergio Garcia/Lee Westwood
- You can’t really separate these two guys. It’s the same storyline, and while I don’t think it happens for either one of them, wouldn’t it be something?
9. The dream final pairing on Sunday: Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson
10. Must reads and listens before the tournament gets underway:
- NLU podcasts with Kyle Porter and Shane Bacon, as well as the TrapDraw podcast with Tron Carter, Andy Johnson and DJ Piehowski
- Ben Coley did a player by player guide for Sporting Life
- Brendan Porath talked with Gary Player
11. Winner: Rory McIlroy