A tradition unlike any other, as CBS, The Masters broadcasting partner, so aptly refers to golf’s first major.
Augusta National, the history, the beauty, and yes, the traditions, The Masters is one special event. It epitomizes a new beginning to each new golf season and the only major played at the same venue each year. From a handicapping standpoint, this allows one to look at a large sample size, tracking the tendencies year in and year out that tend to occur at the hallowed grounds in Augusta, Georgia.
There have been some changes, however, to the course that Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie designed over 80 years ago, and many of those have to do with Tiger Woods and how he overpowered the golf course when he burst onto the scene, winning four green jackets between 1997 and 2005. The course has been lengthened. The fairways have been narrowed, and a cut of intermediate rough has been established on both sides of the fairways.
While length off of the tee, scrambling around the greens, and putting wizardry are still essential skill sets needed to win at Augusta National, more of an emphasis on solid Ball Striking has emerged with the changes.
Unfortunately, Mr. Woods will not be participating in the 2017 Masters as he continues to recover from injury. Another legendary figure that will be missed in Augusta for the first time in over six decades is Arnold Palmer who passed away back in September of 2016.
Dustin Johnson (5-1): Currently ranked number one in the world, Dustin Johnson has won the last three events in which he has played. He finished 4th at The Masters last year and 6th in 2015.
His putting and scrambling have improved tremendously. Johnson is definitely the man to beat this week.
Jordan Spieth (7-1): Owns an incredible Masters record in just three appearances at the event, finishing 2nd, 1st and 2nd last year in his title defense when he came apart at the famous Par 3, 12th hole.
Despite not looking like the two-time Major winner he is in all instances this season, he does have a win this season at Pebble Beach back in February.
Rory McIlroy (8-1): The Northern Irishman, currently ranked number two in the world, needs only a Masters victory to complete the career grand slam.
McIlroy took the 54-hole lead into Sunday in 2011 before shooting an 80 and finishing 15th. In the last three visits, he has three straight Top-10 finishes.
Jason Day (15-1): With two Top-5 finishes and a 10th last year, Jason Day is obviously a contender at Augusta. The problem currently, however, is his health and personal issues. We have not seen much of him on the circuit this season with illness, injury, and the latest being his Mother having been diagnosed with lung cancer. Some positives have come about in Mom’s most recent treatments and Day says he’s ready to compete.
Phil Mickelson (20-1): Lefty has been playing some excellent golf this season with no missed cuts and recent Top-10 finishes at both The WGC-Mexico and WGC Match Play. He is seeking his 4th green jacket and first win in any event in nearly four years. At 46 years old, he would be the oldest Masters winner since Jack Nicklaus in 1986.
Justin Rose (20-1): This will be the 12th playing of The Masters for the Olympic Gold Medal and U.S. Open winner. He has four Top-10 finishes at Augusta, including a 10th last year and a 2nd to Spieth in 2015. The 13th ranked player in the world has plenty of game to get it done but putting has always been his Achilles Heel, and of course, putting is paramount at The Masters.
The Long Shots
Paul Casey (40-1): The Englishman will be trying to make it two in a row for England with Danny Willett winning last year. Casey finished 4th to Willett in 2016 and was 6th the year before that. Putting can be a concern for Casey as well but he is in great form, coming off of a 9th place finish at The WGC Match Play.
Brandt Snedeker (50-1): Despite a lack of real length off of the tee, Snedeker has always been able to get around Augusta National just fine with his superb putting. In nine appearances, he has three Top-10 finishes, including a 10th last year. Snedeker has three Top-10 finishes on Tour in 2017.
Tyrrell Hatton (50-1): Another Englishman who has been storming up the world rankings in the last eighteen months. Now up to number 15 in the world, Hatton has recorded Top-10 finishes in four of the last five events he’s played. This will be his first Masters, and a rookie has not won here since Fuzzy Zoeller did so 38 years ago.
Louis Oosthuizen (50-1): After losing in a playoff at The Masters in 2012 to Bubba Watson, Oosthuizen has been trending nicely the last three years, finishing 25th, 19th and 15th last year. He had two Top-10 finishes in February.
If Oosthuizen can putt the amazing greens at Augusta this week, it could be an amazing week for the South African.