The Masters. It’s that simple, yet that complex. Magnolia Lane. Amen’s Corner. History. Icons. Roars. Patrons. Rae’s Creek. Heartbreak. Tears. Bobby Jones. Horton Smith. Snead. Hogan. Palmer. Player. Nicklaus. Woods. Mickelson. Spieth?
The golf fans that have made the pilgrimage can close their eyes and see every hole. They remember the feeling of walking onto the course and looking at the dramatic descent from the first tee box straight down the hill that eventually ends at Rae’s Creek and the 12th green.
Those that have watched the final round on television for years know the breaks. The front left pin on the par-3 sixth can be most easily reached by coming up just short of the top tier on the back right and funneling down. The front right Sunday pin on the par-4 seventh can yield eagles as the approach shots funnel towards it. The par-3 16th Sunday pin is safely attacked by playing 25 feet out to the right and riding the slope to inside eight feet, but can also be found by taking dead aim if the water left doesn’t cause a problem.
This is known as the unofficial start to the golf season for numerous reasons. Perhaps the best is because generations of golf fans come together this week and know exactly what they are observing.
The truth is, most gamers and fans don’t need a normal preview this week. They could write it themselves.
Everyone knows Augusta National Golf Club. They may not be able to recall that it traditionally plays 7,435 yards, but they know it has four par 5s. They know the par-5 second was completed in two strokes by Louis Oosthuizen a few short years ago. They know the par-5 eighth is the hardest to reach in two, as it is a blind second shot straight up the hill. They know the par-5 13th is the easiest to reach, and some players can do it with less than driver off the tee and an iron on approach. The par-5 15th is reachable, but the shallow green with water in front isn’t a cupcake.
They know several of the par 4s are absolute monsters, beginning with the difficult opening hole and also including the 10th, 11th and 18th holes. Pars aren’t just acceptable scores, they are extremely good. With the exception of the par-3 fourth, the par 3s are not all that long, but they require precision to the undulating greens.
They key to a green jacket as it relates to the scorecard is actually quite easy. One must take advantage of the par 5s and hold on tight while navigating the other 14 holes.
The fairways are large, and the rough is almost nonexistent. It’s a bomber’s paradise, in that regard. The slick greens and tight lies for chipping will test a player’s putting and short game, as well as their creativity.
Because of the nuances of the course, it’s a good idea to place course history above all other factors. Recent history has also proven a correlation between the top five in the WGC-Cadillac Championship and the top of the Masters leaderboard. For the record, the top five at this year’s WGC-Cadillac was Adam Scott (win), Bubba Watson (2), Rory McIlroy (T3), Danny Willett (T3) and Phil Mickelson (5). It would not be a stretch to see any of those five win this week. In fact, three of those five are past winners at Augusta National.
We’re taking it 20 deep this week. After all, it is a major!
1. Jason Day – The hottest player entering this week has a steady history at the Masters, making four of his five cuts and securing a pair of top-three finishes. The biggest con is that he has a bullseye on his back. He is the top ranked player in the world, and he won the last major. Perhaps that’s too much pressure, and perhaps not.
2. Jordan Spieth – It’s this simple. He was second as a Masters rookie in 2014 and ran away with the title in 2015. He’s figured this place out.
3. Bubba Watson – He’s won in the last two even-numbered years, for those that might be a little superstitious. Taking it a step further, he tied for 38th in 2011 before winning his first Masters in 2012. What did he do in 2015? Tied for 38th. Throw in the runner-up at the WGC-Cadillac and I have no hesitations.
4. Adam Scott – Aussie’s looking great in 2016, and ANGC is usually quite friendly to her past champions. For the stats gurus, Scottie is leading the PGA TOUR in par 5 scoring average. Throw in the win at Doral, and there isn’t much missing.
5. Phil Mickelson – It’s rare to see a player win the Masters in his 40s, but Phil’s the kind of guy that could absolutely pull it off. Didn’t contend for the title in Houston last week, but was safely inside the top 15. He has three green jacket’s, so he’ll know how to handle the back nine on Sunday if he is in the hunt. Oh, and he was T2 last year.
6. Justin Rose – Often forgotten about in this major, he’s made each of his 10 cuts with three top 10s including a career-best T2 last year. The biggest knock on him as it relates to this course is probably the putter.
7. Rory McIlroy – It would be nice to have seen him pick off a win at some point in 2016, but there are still plenty of positives. With top fives in each of the first two WGCs of 2016, we’ll let it slide. The best news is that his last two Masters have been his best, with top 10s in both including fourth last year.
8. Rickie Fowler – Fowler is the first guy on the list that hasn’t tasted the sweet nectar of a major championship title. He’s made each of his five cuts in this event, going T5 in 2014 and T12 in 2015 for his best two results.
9. Dustin Johnson – Perhaps the Greg Norman of his generation, DJ has more agonizing near misses in majors than one can count. Looked in control of his game in Houston last week and finished T6 at Augusta National last year.
10. Henrik Stenson – Last week’s runner-up hits the big 4-0 this week. That’s an ugly number for an elite player without a major championship to his credit. Despite his runner-up finish in Houston last week, it’s hard to buy a guy that has never cracked the top 10 in 10 previous Masters.
11. Hideki Matsuyama – His game is the equal of several others above him on this list. He’s made three of his four cuts in the Masters, including a fifth-place finish last year. He’s quietly building a very nice resume at ANGC.
12. Bill Haas – He won’t be on the tip of many tongues in the build up to this event, but he’s been remarkably consistent. He’s never missed a cut in six tries, going T20-T20-T12 in his last three Masters. Lost in a playoff early this year, so his game is good when needed.
13. Sergio Garcia – It’s hard to know where to go on this one. I’m just going to leave it alone.
14. Charl Schwartzel – I expect that he’ll be higher up other draft boards this week, especially considering he’s already picked up a PGA TOUR win in 2016 and is a past Masters champion. The thing is, that win in 2011 is his only top 20. It’s nice that he’s made five of his six cuts, but for some reason it isn’t translating on the weekend.
15. Brandt Snedeker – Experienced a bit of heartbreak here in 2008, tying for third thanks to a final-round 77. Also had a top 10 (T6 ) in 2013, but has experience his share of misses as well.
16. Zach Johnson – Picked up his second Masters top 10 in 2015.
17. Louis Oosthuizen – A runner-up in 2012 makes him appear quite tasty, but he’s missed more cuts (five) than he’s made (three). The good news is, he picked up top 25s in each of the last two years and is playing pretty well of late.
18. Matt Kuchar – If he’s around in the 18th pick of your draft, he’s a nice value. He’s made eight of nine cuts at ANGC, including three top 10s. No longer has the feel of a guy threatening to win his first major.
19. Danny Willett – What did he do between the WGC-Match Play and the Masters? Well, he experienced the birth of his first child. He’s been excellent in big events of late, and he tied for 38th in his first Masters last year.
20. Rafa Cabrera-Bello – Though he’s a Masters rookie, the Spaniard is on fire. Went T11-3-4 in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, WGC-Match Play and Shell Houston Open respectively.
Want an amateur to consider?
This one’s easy. Bryson DeChambeau is the easy pick.
We will return Tuesday night with our picks for this week’s games in Playing the Tips. Enjoy the season’s first major!