The Masters: How are the contenders shaping up?April, 2014
We run the rule over 12 Augusta hopefuls to assess their chances this week.
1. Rory McIlroy.
The Northern Irishman is just about the bookies favourite this week. His swing looks in good shape but there will be concerns over the way he let his lead slip in the Honda Classic earlier this year to allow Russell Henley to triumph. However, his second shot to the par-5 18th – which helped him make the play-off – was the shot of the year so far. He also put together a bogey-free 65 in the final round of last week’s Houston Open so could be peaking at just the right time.
Masters record (2011-2013)
T15, T40, T25
2. Adam Scott
The defending champion is on the verge of becoming world number one so has an added incentive this week. Like McIlroy, the swing looks its immaculate self but Scott faded badly when leading the Arnold Palmer Invitational, allowing Matt Every to claim a maiden win. The way he played over the first three rounds at Bay Hill were very impressive and the Augusta course suits him perfectly.
T2, T8, 1
3. Jason Day
Looked in terrific form when he won the WCG Matchplay at Blue Mountain earlier this year but we haven’t seen him since due to a thumb injury. I suspect he has opted out of tournament play more as a precaution but it will be interesting to see if it is a factor. Like his compatriot Scott, he has an excellent recent record at Augusta so will be a contender if fully fit.
T2, Withdrew, 3
4. Henrik Stenson
The Swede was untouchable last year and it was unfortunate for him that a Major didn’t fall within his hot streak. Since winning the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai last Autumn, Stenson has only managed one top 10 finish. But that did come recently in the Arnold Palmer at the end of March so he isn’t in the worst form. Can be very streaky but has got the ability to land a first Major this week.
Cut, T40, T18
5. Sergio Garcia
There would be few more popular winners (this side of the Atlantic) than Sergio. It is criminal that one of the greatest ball-strikers of his generation is yet to win a Major. He has been consistent in recent years at Augusta but has failed to really get into contention. The same can be said about his recent Tour form, finishing in the top 20 in each of his last six events, the best being a third place at last week’s Houston Open. A definite threat if he can hole some putts.
T35, T12, T8
6. Phil Mickelson
Even at 43, it would be foolish to write Mickelson off. He loves Augusta and if anyone can find the right shots at the right time here (ask Lee Westwood), it’s Phil. A side injury forced him to pull out of the Texas Open but he claimed to be feeling no ill effects on his way to a tied 12th finish at the Houston Open. Very patchy recent form on the whole but if he can get into contention, he knows how to get the job done.
T27, T3, T54
I have learned from painful experience not to get too excited about Westwood in the lead up to a Major 7. Matt Kuchar
“Goll-lly Matty!” was the cry as Kuchar watched his ball head towards the water when needing a par for victory at the Houston Open last week. He eventually lost in a play-off to Matt Jones and it was the second week running he had failed to close out victory when leading on Sunday. However, Kuchar is still the most consistent player on the PGA Tour and usually a shoe-in for a top 10 finish. He has won six times, including at the 2012 Players Championship so claims that he “isn’t a closer” are a bit unfair. Decent Augusta record so very capable of winning.
T27, T3, T8
8. Justin Rose
One of the best swings in golf and already has a major in the bag. A few question marks remain over Rose’s fitness leading into Augusta so difficult to assess whether or not he will be 100 per cent come Thursday. If fit, he is capable of going very low and the experience from last year’s US Open victory will stand him in good stead. Yet to really get into contention on a Sunday at Augusta after promising starts but certainly knows his way around the course.
T11, T8, T25
9. Luke Donald
Another popular player, on both sides of the Atlantic, who has got within reach of the Green Jacket but either left himself too much to do or faded in the closing stages. His chip in on 18 at the 2011 tournament was nearly enough to at least make a play-off but Schwartzel, Day and Scott pulled away over the final holes. After reaching World No.1 a few years ago Donald has slowly slipped to number 27 in the rankings. But there are signs he is beginning to head back in the right direction. Top 10s at the recent Honda Open and Valspar Championship prove the work done on his swing may have not been in vain.
T4, T32, T25
10. Lee Westwood
I have learned from painful experience not to get too excited about Westwood in the lead up to a Major Championship. But I still feel he has a chance at the Masters where his record stands up to scrutiny. Had it not been for the brilliance of Mickelson in 2010, he could have won the Green Jacket and gone on to win a couple more majors when at his peak. He has been more of an also-ran since moving to Florida to play full-time on the PGA Tour but has by no means “lost it”. A tied 17th place at last week’s Houston Open gives him something to build on and he should be able to draw on his extensive experience. Like Sergio, we are all waiting to see how the putter performs.
T11, T3, T8
11. Dustin Johnson
The big-hitting American should have a better record at Augusta. Capable of very low scores but prone to the odd unmentionable effort. He was nine over par through seven holes in his opening round at Houston last week and eventually missed the cut. He opened with a 67 at the Masters last year but followed it up with a 76. But if we take a look at Johnson’s record over the past 12 months it makes impressive reading. A win, two second places, a fourth and a sixth place in his previous six events shows what he can do. Dangerous.
T38, DNP, T13
12. Bubba Watson
Who knows what Bubba will bring to the party at this year’s Masters? Well, apart from outrageous shots, tears and criticism of his caddy. On his day he is one of the best in the world but his struggles often come more from the mental rather than the physical side of the game. He didn’t defend his 2012 crown with too much distinction so will be looking for a better showing this time around. A win and four top 10s in his last six events proves his recent form is not too shabby either.
T38, 1, T50
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