The best week in sports is here as the Masters Tournament at Augusta National starts on Thursday.
For casual fans of the sport, this marks the start of the golf season.
For the PGA, this is actually its midpoint.
Last year, the PGA Tour started a “wrap around schedule.” In that schedule, the first event of the season is in October and the last event is in September.
So far, it’s been a weird year for golf. The big names have been shaky, and a bunch of guys you’ve never heard of are winning.
In the last two weeks, for instance, Matt Kuchar faltered in his Sunday rounds, allowing two unknowns to get their first PGA Tour wins.
A month ago, you could have argued that two guys you’ve never heard of — Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed — were the hottest players in the world. Walker has won three times and Patrick has won two times this year. Neither has look dominant lately, though.
Adding to the weirdness is the sad reality of Tiger Woods. He’ll miss the Masters after back surgery. Woods said he would be back this summer, but odds are that he’s done for the season.
This was supposed to be a big year for Tiger. All four major championship venues set up well for him. He has won at the site of this year’s Masters (Augusta), British Open (Royal Liverpool), and PGA Championship (Valhalla), and he came in second at the site of the U.S. Open (Pinehurst).
This is the first Masters Woods will miss in 20 years. It’s a bit depressing. Regardless of what you think of him as a person, as a golfer he’s a transcendent talent, and incredibly compelling on the course.
Because of Tiger’s absence and the somewhat goofy state of the PGA Tour this season, there is no real favourite heading into the Masters. There’s a good chance we’re going to get some oddball winner this year.
Here’s our best attempt at sorting through who has a shot at winning. We’ll break down all the contenders, and then narrow it down to five favourites.
If you’re joining a Masters pool, think of this as your guide.
NEVER COUNT HIM OUT
Phil hasn’t played particularly well this year. He pulled an oblique muscle at the Valero Open in Texas, so his health might not be so good. But, he knows the course inside and out, and loves Augusta National.
Should you pick him? We think his attention is focused on the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, but he should be dialed in for the Masters.
THE DEFENDING CHAMPS
Adam Scott has consistently played well at Augusta National. You’d be a fool not to include him in your pool. Since October, Scott has been in the top 10 at five of the seven tournaments he has played. Don’t expect him to win, but expect him to post a good number and finish in the top 10.
After Bubba won the Masters in 2012, he didn’t do much in tournament golf. He has shown signs of life this year, though. He won at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles, and finished second in both the Waste Management Open in Phoenix and a WGC event in Miami. But, the last time he was in a tournament was the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He shot an 83, then withdrew. If he hadn’t shot that 83, he’d be a lock for your pool.
THE NOT-SO-WILD CARDS
Snedeker says he wants to win the Masters more than any other tournament in the world. He’d trade all his victories to date for the green jacket. He loves the course, loves the event. Last year he was in the mix on Sunday, but came up short. He hasn’t done much this year, but it’d be silly to ignore Sneds.
Day is also dealing with an injury. He hurt his thumb a few weeks back. Assuming his thumb is fine, he should be a contender. This is Day’s fourth Masters. He’s finished 2nd, WD with an ankle injury, and 3rd at Augusta National. He’s a perennial contender.
Last year was a waste for McIlroy as he tried to figure out his new Nike equipment. By the end of the season, though, he got it together and won in Australia. He started this year with two potential wins in Dubai and in Florida. He came up short on Sunday in each of those events. McIlroy probably has some scar tissue from his 2011 implosion at Augusta, but with his length off the tee, and his natural talent, he’s going to win the Masters one of these years. This could very well be his year.
He has the best nickname in golf, El Pato (the duck), and it feels like he’s always on the leaderboard at Augusta National. He lost in a playoff last year, so it’s hard to see him winning this year. But, he’s someone to watch.
He’s actually had a pretty good year. He’s been in the top 10 in 4 of his last 5 events. He’s never done much at Augusta, but with his length, he should be able to eat up the par 5s. His short game and putting are the problem, but he’s improved both of them lately. He’s 11th in strokes gained putting this year, compared to 117 the year before.
THE REAL WILD CARD
Sergio is getting a lot of buzz. He’s been playing well, and he has the talent to win a major. Maybe this is where he finally breaks through.
THE GUY WHO DOES JUST ENOUGH TO NOT WIN
Kuchar is a consistent player who puts himself in position to win, but then comes up short. If you’re looking for a safe pick, he’s reasonable, but don’t expect him to win.
THE SORT OF HOT PLAYERS
JIMMY WALKER AND PATRICK REED
Um, no. We just can’t see it happening, but we’re happy to be proven wrong.
Stenson was the best player in the world by the end of last season. He cooled off when the FedEx Cup playoffs ended, and he’s shown little flash so far this year. He’s never been particularly good at Augusta National.
WHO’S GOING TO WIN?
If we had to pick five golfers, here’s who we would go with:
5. Sergio Garcia: Why not?
4. Adam Scott: Unlikely he wins, but it’s highly likely he posts a top-10 score.
3. Jason Day: He was close last year, he’ll be even closer this year.
2. Matt Kuchar:He’s a consistent player with enough talent to win.
1. Rory McIlroy: He’s the best player in the world, and he’ll remind us why at Augusta National.
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