Only four players in the 81-year history of the Masters have gone back-to-back and presented the green jacket to themselves. They are the creme of the game like Tiger, Jack, Faldo and Snead. That’s what Jordan Spieth is up against in 2016. Spieth will contend at many more Masters throughout his career, but he comes to this year’s edition a little worn out and not in top form. That’s a little odd to say so early in the season and for the most important event of the year. However, Spieth spent the last quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016 playing all over the world and admitted he was wiped out in January. He’s already planning to take a different approach to scheduling in the future. Different obligations did not give him many weeks off on the stateside Tour and it’s showed with uneven play. But of course, none of that may matter because this is a player who has gone second and first in just two career Masters starts. He’s the best strategist in the game and already knows what he wants to do on every shot at this course, even at 22 years old. Spieth was deadly all last year on 15- to 25-foot putts, saving the most crucial pars and making birdies you’re not supposed to. A recall of that on Augusta’s famous putting surfaces and he’ll be back in the hunt for a second straight green jacket.
With the weight of another shot at completing the career grand slam awaiting him at Augusta, the former Boy Wonder is an inconsistent mystery heading into the Masters. There was that finishing 75 at Riviera after three straight sub-70 numbers, twin 72s on his way to a missed cut at the Honda Classic, the 74 that doomed his chances for a win at Doral and waterlogged dual 75s to accompany a 67 and closing 65 at Bay Hill. McIlroy remains the most naturally talented player in the world and you get the feeling he’s going to win the Masters with a round of 75 or a 40 sandwiched in there on a nine-hole stretch.
No one in golf has been more successful than J-Day since late July 2015. The current world No. 1 has won his last two, and six of his last 13 starts, a rate that sounds like it was ripped right out of Tiger’s record book. And it’s hardly as if Day’s been running up his numbers in lighter-field events. A PGA Championship, two FedEx Cup playoff events, a Bay Hill win and a World Golf Championship account for five of his six victories. Translation: Jason Day has won five of the eight biggest tournaments in the States since Aug. 2015. Unless he isn’t able to overcome the back stiffness that bothered him during his Match Play win in Austin, there’s no reason to think he won’t contend to add a green jacket to his wardrobe.
Rickie Fowler, often thought of as a player with more style than substance, has taken his career to the next level in the past two years (working with Tiger’s old swing coach, Butch Harmon, has not hurt). His wins at The Players, the Scottish Open and the Deutsche Bank have cemented his place among the game’s elite. And now that he is ranked among the top five in the world, the next logical step for Fowler is a major championship. The analytics reveal he plays his best at the biggest events, with a few bad bounces preventing that first career major. The game has been too good for that wall to not come down soon. His major record has been superb the past couple years and he’s separated from the chaff, placing himself among the favorites at Augusta National and every other 2016 major this year.
DJ returned from his six-month tour absence in 2015 with three top-10 major finishes, including his now-famous botched three-footer that gave Jordan Spieth the title at Chambers Bay. Johnson’s been in decent form to start 2016, having lurked around the leaderboard a few times, but it’s now been over a year since the world’s No. 9 player last won a tournament. Breaking that streak and healing past major heartbreak might be a tall task at a venue where he’s only finished better than 10th one time.
If some American golf fans don’t know Hideki, they will soon enough. Matsuyama already gave us one of the most entertaining days of the season to date as he out-dueled Rickie Fowler at the Phoenix Open in February. Augusta National seems to fit his eye, too — he burst onto the scene here as a low amateur in 2011 and finished fifth last year. He’s Japan’s best hope ever to bring home a major title, and might be the first to bring a green jacket to the Asian continent.
A rejuvenated Phil Mickelson most definitely has Georgia on his mind. An inveterate equipment tinkerer, Lefty recently made a change in his entourage, as well, putting a frustrating 2015 season behind him by enlisting the services of swing coach Andrew Getson. Though in the midst of the longest losing skid of his career (his last win came at the 2013 British Open), he’s playing his best ball in a long time, and it has the 45-year-old even more optimistic than usual about keeping up with —and outlasting — the kids at Augusta. Even when he’s lost, he still shows up at Augusta and posts top fives. This season has shown that he’s absolutely not lost, so expect Phil to be back in the hunt again.
The 2010 British Open Champ is in good form to start 2016. He’s finished inside the top 15 in every event he’s played in 2016 save one — and has a win and a runner-up finish in tow, too. He finished tied for second in two of last year’s four majors and was beaten out by Bubba Watson in a playoff for the green jacket in 2012. Can he finally break through for his second major title? He’s deserving of it and those who follow the game say either King Louis or Adam Scott has the sweetest swing in the world. Oostie will be — and should be — a trendy pick this week.
The 2013 Masters Champion should make another run at a green jacket. Undaunted by being the poster boy for this year’s highly publicized anchoring ban, Scott has won twice, going back-to-back at the Honda Classic and Doral. He finished second at Riviera, as well. All the attention is on the form he’s found with the short putter, but the tee-to-green game is also there for the man most say has the best swing in the world. He ranks in the top 11 on Tour in driving distance, greens in regulation, strokes gained and scoring average. This is a great time of year to be doing almost everything really well and "Scottie" is the hottest player in the game heading into Augusta.
Rose’s 14-under mark in 2015 wins the Masters in just about every other year. There was just that minor problem of Jordan Spieth matching the all-time scoring record. Rose is another one of those tee-to-green aces, the highest-level ball striker who tends to emerge at the top of the leaderboard on the toughest courses on Tour. When he won at Congressional two years ago, he admitted he tends to play better when the courses are beating up the field. That’s generally what the major championship layouts do, and while Rose does not carry the weight of a major-less resume, that one US Open does not seem enough for this caliber of talent. Rose’s putting stats are often the weakness of his game but maybe he posts a 14-under mark again, good enough for a green jacket this year.
The big hitting Swede should have a better record here. He’s one of the premier drivers off the tee, and we all know that distance matters at Augusta now, particularly a high ball like Stenson’s, just as much as anywhere else. The issue with Stenson is that he so often falls back on hitting 3-wood instead of driver. Now, Stenson hitting 3-wood is one of the most beautiful sounds and sights in the game. But the lack of aggression can cost him. Stenson has made more money than just about anyone in golf over the past four years, but he’s still without that major. His track record here and short game struggles around Augusta greens give you pause about whether the Masters will be that first major.
Watson was runner-up at Doral, which if history repeats itself bodes well for his chances for a third green jacket. Bubba had second-place finishes at Doral in 2012 and 2014, and went on to win at Augusta both years. A new back injury that crept up during the third round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship (or a good excuse to miss Saturday’s rain) knocked him out of Bay Hill bears watching, though we expect Bubba from Bagdad to be healthy, rested and ready by April 7. No one has a bigger advantage at Augusta than the big-hitting lefty, whose game could be a mess everywhere else but can show up and contend in his sleep here.
After four years without being in contention for a major championship, the Englishman broke back onto the scene with a sixth-place finish at last year’s Masters, equaling his career-best result at the event. But despite a nice start to 2016 with a pair of top 10s at Doral and Bay Hill, the knock on Casey will be the same as always: the 38-year-old has only won one event ever in the United States, where he plays full-time.
Here we are at another major and we are still grouping Sergio among the "best players to never win a major." Garcia remains a mystery. He is possibly the best ball striker on Tour and his creativity is among the best in the history of the game. But Sergio has shown time and time again that he might not be there mentally when it comes to major championships. After the 2012 Masters, he infamously said "After 13 years, today was the day … I don’t have the capacity to win a major … It’s the reality. I’m not good enough and now I know it." His talent alone will make him a betting favorite again this year but that, as always, is only part of the story with Sergio.
Grace is another one of these under-30 International stars that we’ll probably be seeing near the top of major leaderboards for the next decade. He doesn’t play the stateside Tour too much, but has seven Euro Tour wins, included a Qatar Masters this year, already and contended at both the US Open and PGA last year. He was right there with Spieth and DJ until bombing one off the course and onto the train tracks at Chambers Bay. Grace demolished every American in his path at the Presidents Cup last fall in one of the most impressive match play showings ever. He’ll likely contend at a major this year, but he’s missed the last two cuts at Augusta and the Masters does not seem like the best fit … yet.
Golf’s favorite conservative-playing spoiler would love nothing more than to pick up his second major title in three tries, and third overall. He’s had an up-and-down start to 2016, with as many missed cuts as top 10s, but there’s reason to believe he could make it a second straight solid showing at Augusta following years of struggling at the event after getting originally fitted in Butler Cabin. Will he lay up on every single par-5? Does not seem possible.
Koepka burst onto the scene in 2015, notching his first career win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. To go with his win, the Florida State Alum recorded nine other top-10 finishes, while gaining a large following on social media thanks to the hashtags #BrooksWasHere and #FreeBrooks. The former indicating Brooks did something amazing, the latter a shot at the lack of TV coverage. He’s certainly got the length off the tee to succeed at Augusta and anywhere else in the world.
The Georgia Tech product is always a threat to contend at Augusta. It seems like he has for the past decade after originally making a run at the top 20 as an amateur (Jim Nantz salivated). But at this point, can we expect Kuchar to close the deal, even at a place where he’s so comfortable? The guy stacks more cash than just about anyone on Tour but hasn’t been able to win a major. That window may be closing and he’s had an unspectacular start to 2016.
Patrick Reed has struggled in his previous two Masters appearances, missing a cut and finishing T22 last year. But this is a place Reed should come to know well. He won two NCAA Championships as a member of the Augusta State University golf team. His ability to play a right to left ball flight also suits Augusta National extremely well. The 25-year-old has already won four times on Tour and could lump himself in with the big three, or four, or whatever we are calling it with a strong finish at this year’s Masters.
The 2011 champ might have delivered one of the most impressive Masters moments in recent memory. Schwartzel birdied his last four holes to best players like Jason Day, Adam Scott and Tiger Woods for a green jacket. He’s won twice already this year, both on the Euro Tour and PGA Tour, an impressive win in Tampa. Scwartzel flies under the radar but he remains one of the world-class talents and his form of late bodes well for his chances at Augusta.
Snedeker first became a recognizable name in golf when he made a run at the 2008 green jacket. It was the first time he registered outside the die hard golf circles, and a big part of that is the memorable but emotional interview he gave after coming so close. From about 2011 on, he’s been one of the most successful Americans on Tour, collecting winner’s checks and a $10 million FedExCup. It’s often repeated that no one in the field loves this place more but Snedeker has not contended since that 2008 finish. He had a top 10 two years ago but was really nowhere close to the leading number posted by Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera. With Snedeker, it’s almost always about his putter. Is that quick pop stroke working for him this week or not? He’s regarded as one of the best putters in the world, but that’s been down for certain stretches in recent years. He was still among the best on Tour at making birdies from 5 to 15 feet last year, and if those are rolling in at his favorite course on Earth, he’ll be there on Sunday.
Walker has been one of the more consistent and successful pros in the world. He’s won five times in the last two seasons and placed inside the top 10 in three of the four 2014 majors. Walker tailed off last year, however, struggling with driver late in the season. The analytics experts pegged Walker as a prime case for regression this year. He has two top 10s in the first quarter of 2016 but the early season slate and West Coast swing are usually where he shines. The biggest thing Walker has going for him at Augusta is there’s relatively no rough. There’s pine straw and different cuts of grass, but it’s nothing like you’d get at a US Open or even PGA Championship. That may mitigate his driving inaccuracy and corresponding weakness playing out of rough.
If you’re an American, this is the guy who is probably going to crush your Ryder Cup hopes and dreams. Willett is another star who’s not a well-known commodity outside the European Tour, but he’s got the game to hang with any of the other top young talents that get more publicity. A third-place finish in the bracket style WGC Match Play last year was an intro to the American audience. He pushed Rory McIlroy in the Euro Tour’s playoff system, the Race to Dubai, and then posted an early 2016 win at the often loaded Dubai Desert Classic. Willett was a decorated English amateur and now he only seems to be getting better and better as a pro. He might be too green to win the Masters, but he’s going to be a factor at the majors this year.
Bradley showed signs early at the Valspar Championship that his game was back to form when he fired a 4-under 67 to share the 18-hole lead. A second-round 79, however, sunk his chances as the 2011 PGA champion missed his third cut in a row and fifth in six starts this year. He ditched the belly flat stick well in advance of January’s anchored-putting ban but he has much work to do on the greens, where, ahead of Bay Hill, he ranked 203rd in strokes gained-putting.
Cabrera has come out of nowhere several times to contend at Augusta National. The 2009 champion lost out on another green jacket in 2013, losing to Adam Scott in a playoff. You never really know what to expect with El Pato, who could waddle onto the first tee and light it up for four straight days. He’s the most unpredictable two-time major winner we’ve ever seen.
Freddie missed the cut last year for the first time since 2009, which is remarkable given his advanced age. Even on the other side of 50 years old, the guy has been automatic at Augusta. It’s become a tradition like so many others at the place — there’s Couples, popping up on the first page of the leaderboard and only a few shots off the pace. It never holds for the full four days but he manages to keep up with the young guys and big hitters thanks to … his familiarity and love of the course? That advantage and benefit may be coming to an end as he gets even older and play less and less with that always-balky back. The window for that miracle win, which seemed realistic just a few years ago, appears to be closed now.
The 2013 PGA champ lost weight, his wife, and, apparently, his game, as injuries and other issues resulted in two top 10s and four missed cuts in 21 starts in 2015. He got off to a better start this year, with a win at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January but immediately put up an MC at the Phoenix Open. His best finish in the next five appearances was a T11 at Doral. Duf Daddy is a fan favorite on Tour and he’s still got that ball striking wizardry, so here’s hoping this season’s early win means more big things in 2016. Augusta may not be a part of that.
The Frenchman remains one of the sport’s most mysterious creatures, never talking to anyone and rarely showing emotion (aside from that moment he beat the hell out of his golf bag at Doral this year). Dubuisson has not been the same player that lit the Euro Tour on fire and looked incredible in his Ryder Cup debut in 2014. He’s not looked good in limited events on the Euro Tour this year and has missed the cut in two starts at Augusta. It would be fun to have Victor back in form and contending at a Masters, but that’s unlikely to happen this year.
The Georgia native, resident and former Bulldog would love nothing more than grab his own green jacket in his second career start at the venue. He missed the cut in his only other time pegging it here — the same thing he’s done in his last two starts on Tour. He’s got the length off the tee, but the once elite prospect has been inconsistent and struggles to close. So, maybe next year.
For a player that’s won a FedExCup and seven PGA Tour events since 2010, Haas sure has an awfully disappointing majors record. The guy is a machine throughout each season, posting top 10s and collecting plenty of cash. But he never seems to make even the slightest noise at the majors, which is incongruous with his record everywhere else. He has not a single top 10 at a major in his career, last year’s tied-for-12th result at the Masters being his best. It does not make sense, so perhaps this is the year Haas — who looks the same as ever early this season — decides to join the party and is on the first page of the leaderboard come Sunday.
The most noise (aside from his octopus-themed and otherwise outré pants) the world’s 42nd-ranked player has made since winning the FedExCup in 2014 were his vociferous complaints about the 2015 US Open greens at Chambers Bay. Of course, Horschel was not the only player who whined about the quality (or lack thereof) of the putting surfaces, but he was alone in showing his frustration with the conditions by busting out the BillyOh version of a snake dance. Horschel has done nothing spectacular so far this year, and while it would be fun to have him in the spotlight, don’t expect it at Augusta.
Despite hanging around the Tour now for nearly 10 seasons, this will be just the big-hitting Kentuckian’s third start at Augusta. He’s coming off the best year of his career, too. But before you get enamored with his folksy nature and ability to blow the ball past some of Augusta’s trouble, consider: his best career finish in a major championship is a T14 at wide-open St. Andrews in 2010.
The former Cal star has an underwhelming majors record, missing the cut in six of seven major championship starts. But An is really just getting started and fired a major shot last year by winning the Euro Tour’s premier event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. He’s got game that Euro PGA title and the US Amateur are two of the biggest events a golf pro can win. But there’s no real record here to think An will do anything at the Masters.
True to the German spirit that is known for producing engineering marvels, there might be no player on Tour as obsessed with perfection in his golf swing as Kaymer has become. Since blowing up his golf swing after winning the 2014 US Open by eight shots, the player once destined for dominance has fallen to 47th in the world. He’s missed as many cuts as he’s made to start 2016, and it’ll be unexpected if he found his stride at Augusta. This is a place that once prompted him to change his swing from a natural high cut to a high draw, the preferred ball flight for success at Augusta. Changing your swing with an eye on improving at one specific course did not seem like a great idea, and it led to disastrous results. He’s never been able to get comfortable here.
After taking home his first career PGA Tour win in 2015, the Kiwi returns to Augusta for the first time since 2009 — where the one-time prodigy made his major championship debut at age 19. Good news? He’s coming off his best career major championship finish at the 2015 PGA. Bad news? It was a T43. Considering he’s made exactly one cut since Pebble Beach, it’d be a major surprise to see him contend on Sunday.
Few aside from close golf watchers know much about Leishman, but those familiar would love to see the Aussie back in contention this year at the Masters. He famously high-fived his Aussie mate Adam Scott when he bombed in that putt at the 18th on his way to the 2013 Masters. Leishman was right there near the lead all week in that edition, and he’s got major championship contention elsewhere, including a playoff loss at last year’s Open. But the best reason to root for Leishman is that it’s just good to have him back in the field. He was the rare healthy scratch from last year’s Masters, bolting from Augusta to be with his wife in Virginia who became seriously ill and had toxic shock syndrome. Leishman said he was told her chances of survival were 5 percent. Fortunately, she pulled through and it’s awesome to have both her and Leishman back at Augusta given what was happening this time last year.
As Lowry proved at the Honda Classic, golf can be fookin’ hard. Rory McIlroy’s longtime mate hammered that point home when he wrote in a recent blog post: "Winning is easier said than done of course, and anyone going out on Tour must understand how difficult it is to win … I don’t know if people fully understand how hard it is to win on Tour … You have to play your best golf to win and … there are really a lot of good golfers players playing really great golf at the moment." Damn right it’s fookin’ hard and the portly enjoyable Irishman is still getting his feet wet at Augusta.
McDowell is, anecdotally and statistically, one of the best clutch putters in the game. That should be an advantage on the slippery greens at Augusta. But he’s not particularly long off the tee, which is often a significant disadvantage. McDowell admitted last year that his interest in golf had receded with the birth of his daughter. Becoming a dad is a perfectly fine reason to not go out and hit 1,000 balls a day and practice until your hands bleed. He did, however, play some fall series events to try and get back on track and picked up a win at Mayakoba. That form has not completely carried over to this year and given his unremarkable record at Augusta, McDowell is a longshot to contend at the Masters.
Moore has one of the funkiest swings in golf but it’s taken him to one of the most successful amateur careers ever and a stable PGA Tour career. Moore had four top 10s in his first eight starts this year, keeping his status as a top 50 player in the world. Moore is a streaky player, which can be effective at Augusta. There are birdie and eagle opportunities throughout and you can feasibly post a 30 or 32 over nine holes. But let’s be real, despite all his flashes of brilliance, Moore is a long shot.
Casual golf fans probably know Na best for his battle with the yips and making a 16 on a hole once. But there’s more than that to Na — he’s finished third or better four times since the Tour Championship and is coming off a T12 finish at Augusta in 2015. He could be a guy that hangs around the top of the leaderboard on Thursday or Friday for a bit.
Voted most likely to get you fired from your day job if you shout "Baba booey!" or "Get in the hole!" or "You ‘da man!" or "Mashed potatoes!" "Bangers and mash?" As yet an untested pre- or post-tee shot idiocy from the masses, the dapper Ryder Cup hero might just spare such a British-y sentiment, but better have your resume in order before heckling Poults at Augusta. An easy target for American golf fans, but there will be none of that on the grounds at Augusta, sir.
Remember whats-his-name’s appellation because the PGA Tour can’t seem to get it right. Or maybe it’s just a New England thing, since another Kevin (Sutherland) took Streelman’s place as a bubble boy on a prominent FedExCup points board in the media center during last year’s Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston. Earlier in the season, the folks at the Travelers in Hartford — where he was defending champ, people! — the sign denoting his spot on the practice range went to a guy named "Streelman." That same week a bird pooped on a plaque commemorating his Tour-breaking record of seven straight birdies to nail down his win. "Yeah, this has NOT been the Summer of Kevin," Streelman tweeted after noting the vandalism most fowl. Streelman is one of the best and most aggressive drivers of the ball, which can come in handy at Augusta. Now he just needs to hope his short game is in order.
Contrary to belief, Lee Westwood is still playing golf. The former world No. 1, who always seemed to be in contention at the majors, has been exceedingly quiet over the past year. He’s playing less and not as well as he had for almost a decade. This year he made two starts in the Middle East swing over on the Euro Tour and did not make an appearance in the States until the WGC Match Play two weeks before the Masters. Westwood has made enough money in his career and done enough in golf that he can take it easy for awhile if he wants and not care about his world ranking. Despite the lack of reps, he’s still a threat at Augusta — he’s been that good for that long here. He’s finished inside the top 10 in four of the last six Masters, including a second and a third. This is a horse-for-course and even if he’s not in form, Westwood knows how to use his ball striking to make his way around ANGC.
The numbers tell the story for the Aussie. After breaking 80 all four days at the no-cut WGC-Cadillac Championship (81-80-80-84 — the highest score in the history of WGC tourneys) for a DFL finish, Bowditch put up 81-76 at Innisbrook to earn an early exit from the Valspar. It’s been ugly of late and he’s not even the longest shot to win the Masters.
It’s fun to think about Clarke winning the Masters because that night may be the most raucous and drunken evening a green jacket has ever enjoyed. But Clarke is a part-time player right now, getting up there in years and focusing on his duties at the European Ryder Cup captain. Making the cut would be an accomplishment for the Ulsterman, who is cashing in the final year of a five-year exemption to the Masters that he earned from winning the 2011 British Open. It’s probably his last competitive stroll around Augusta.
Donaldson is another enjoyable European player that’s always a plus to have in the field. We’re lucky to have him here considering his year started with an unfortunate chainsaw accident — something you typically want to avoid, whether you’re a golfer or not. Donaldson has shown he can compete at Augusta but his form is not what it was back in 2014, a career year than ended with a drunken week celebrating the Ryder Cup win.
Poor, Ernie. If the world were a fair and just place, the Big Easy would have at least one green jacket by now. But the Hall of Famer’s time contending at Augusta has probably passed and he battled a crippling and ghastly case of the putting yips at the end of 2015. In any other non-Tiger Woods era, Els could have piled up majors and probably put together one of the all-time golf resumes. Like Darren Clarke, Els’ time at the Masters may be running out. He could still possibly win on the PGA Tour, but this is the second-to-last year of a five-year exemption he got from winning the 2012 Open.
The 21-year-old amateur phenom is just getting into his major championship career. He missed the cut at Augusta two years ago when he earned an amateur exemption, and this will be his first start as a pro. He earned a spot in the field by finishing 2015 inside the top 50 in the world rankings, so he’s not exactly off to a rocky professional start. He did have an uneven three-event stretch on the Florida swing and got wiped out in the WGC Match Play, an event that should not mean much for the Masters. Fitzpatrick will have a couple decades of Masters starts ahead of him but his current form and age make it look like this is not the year to contend.
It looked like everyone was playing for second place last year after Jordan Spieth started setting scoring records, and Hoffman was one of those closest chasers. He was actually in contention through 36 holes but it fell apart on the weekend. The top 10 was still a first for him at a major championship. Hoffman is a steady pro who makes good money on Tour each year, but that 2015 Masters is probably an anomaly.
Aside from the World Golf Championships, Jaidee does not make many starts in the US on the PGA Tour. He’s never won a PGA Tour event but he has been successful everywhere else in the world, posting 18 professional wins on the Euro and Asian Tours. His success across the globe usually keeps him inside the top 50 in the world rankings and that’s how he got an exemption again to this year’s Masters. In 27 major championship starts, however, Jaidee has missed the cut more often than he’s made it and has just one top-25 result.
The quiet UGA product has established himself on the PGA Tour and shown well in his first two Masters’ starts. He’s put in enough work to make a Presidents Cup team and should have been on that 2014 Ryder Cup team. His 2016 season has not exactly set the world on fire, but he seems comfortable enough already around Augusta. Kirk struggles to gain an advantage in driving, but statistically had one of the best short game seasons on Tour in 2015. If he plays well again, it’s because he’s saving himself up around the slick Augusta greens.
After a six-year hiatus, the Dane returns to Augusta after finishing 2015 inside the top 50 in the world rankings. He’s put together a respectable career on the Euro Tour but has almost no major championship resume to speak of, aside from a T6 finish back at the 2009 PGA Championship. Kjeldsen’s big 2015 season was built largely on the back of a win at Rory McIlroy’s Irish Open. Don’t expect much but Augusta does tend to produce early no-name leaders and Kjeldsen has at least made the cut here once!
There might be no player in the field with as many supporters as Lahiri. After a fifth-place finish at the PGA, he’ll have an entire nation of 1 billion-plus on his back as he’s just the third player ever from India to play the event (Arjun Atwal, Jeev Milkha Singh). The nation’s best finish at Augusta is 25th — Lahiri should better that at some point in his promising career.
DLIII should be a part-time player these days, splitting time between the PGA Tour, senior Champions Tour and his duties as the USA Ryder Cup Captain. But he can still hang on the best Tour in the world, as evidenced by his win last year in Greensboro at the Wyndham Championship. That got him his first invite to Augusta since 2011. He’s not done much here since a top 10 in 2004, but the fact that he’s still slinging it is impressive enough. Augusta is the kind of place where some of the older guys can pop up on the first page of the leaderboard, but making the weekend will be the goal for Davis.
Mahan is a 33-year-old who has done just about everything in golf in more than a decade on the PGA Tour. Despite not winning a major, he’s played at the highest levels of the game, winning multiple WGCs, playing in the team match play events, and placing inside the top 10 at every major, usually multiple times. He held the distinction of qualifying for and playing in every single FedExCup event in that playoff system’s history … until last year. Right now, he is far from the reliable world-class player we watched and seems to keep trending downward. He’d often enjoy multiple exemptions to the majors, usually because he’s always been inside the top 50 in the world rankings. But this year his Masters invite comes only from his top-12 finish last year at Augusta. Not much good has happened since.
Piercy got a spot in the field by making it to last year’s Tour Championship, the fourth and final event of the FedExCup Playoffs. That’s the most exclusive field of the season and is only 30 players deep, so Piercy obviously has some game and has locked in his place on Tour after several injuries held him back. His stats around the green are solid and he can get streaky, so he could post an early number that gets his name on the broadcast. But he’s got almost no major championship history and is a long shot at Augusta.
There’s no truth to the rumor that "Shankapotamous" is on the Tour just to make the rest of us hackers feel good about our games. The guy is a major champion, thanks to that 2012 U.S. Open win. Since then, he has cadged a win at the 2013 Shriners Hospitals and earned 20 additional top-10 finishes. But there was that hideous hosel-rocket in the third round at Augusta last year. Thankfully, no spectator was harmed in the making of that shot.
Singh has always been known as one of the hardest workers on Tour — the guy has made millions, won majors and yet when he misses the cut, he still goes and hits balls on the range all weekend when everyone else gets the hell out of town. He will have to work extra hard to compete at the Masters this year. The 2000 champ does have one top-10 finish this year, but at 53 years old, it should be tough for Singh to keep up with the young guns.
This has been disappointing season for Streb. In the 2014-15 season, Streb finished in the top 10 nine times, including a win at the McGladrey Classic. This season has yet to yield a top 10 and includes four missed cuts. Despite the hype from #StrebNation on Twitter, his form at the moment does not indicate that he’ll be a factor.
The winner this year at Pebble Beach, Taylor has not fared well before or since his surprising victory, missing four cuts in six events during the 2015-2016 PGA Tour season. Taylor was raised in Augusta, played golf for Augusta State, and resides in the city that hosts the year’s first major — which is about where his chances of winning the Masters start and end.
Wiesberger punched his ticket to this year’s Masters by finishing 2015 among the top 50 (No. 31) in the official world golf rankings. Wiesberger’s claim to fame is becoming the most successful Austrian golfer on the European Tour when he won the Alstom Open de France for his third tour victory. He’s the forgotten man from that incredible PGA Championship two years ago at Valhalla, where Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler played the 18th hole together in the darkness. Bernd was the fourth member of that group, playing in the final Sunday pairing with Rory. He’s got loads of talent but that may be as close as he comes to major championship glory.
The only Wood (with or without an s) in the field this week is the 28-year-old Brit who has two European Tour wins and one on the OneAsia Tour. He was the low amateur in the 2008 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale and tied for third the next year at Turnberry. Wood was the Euro Tour Rookie of the Year in 2008, the season he turned pro after his success at the British Open. He’s a goofy and charismatic chap, but not a contender.
Aphibarnrat, whom you may remember as Anujit Hirunratanakorn (he changed his name at age 16 as is the custom in his country), finished 2015 as No. 38 in the world, and well within the top-50 cut line to make the Masters. With his 2015 Shenzhen International win on the European Tour, Aphibarnrat, at 25, became the youngest Asian player to record multiple tour victories, overtaking Anirban Lahiri for the record. He’s also known as the "Asian John Daly" for his portly figure, occasional need for a smoke on the course and an extremely past-parallel wind-up when taking a cut with the big stick. You may have never heard of him, but you should absolutely root for him.
Berger — eligible for the Masters by virtue of qualifying for the season-ending Tour Championship — made recent waves for forcing Phil Mickelson to putt out a one-footer for par in the 2015 match play tourney and then had to concede on the 18th hole because he injured his wrist after smacking his club into a boulder (and subsequently whiffing on the shot) on the downswing. He’s also the reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year and one of those Spieth contemporaries expected to stick around for a few decades.
The Spaniard snuck in just under the wire, earning an invite by inching into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings the week before the Masters. That movement came as a result of his impressive showing at the WGC-Dell Match Play, where he made it all the way to Sunday, beat Rory McIlroy and finished third out of the top 64 players in the world. That recent success aside, this will be an entirely different challenge and experience for RCB and one that could overwhelm him.
At 37 years old, Gomez will make his first Masters start after winning twice on the PGA Tour since last year’s Masters. He took the FedEx St. Jude Classic last June and the Sony Open this January. Two wins is more than many, many people who have played this game. But if he’s leading on Sunday, interest and ratings for this Masters will tank.
The sixth-year pro makes his Masters debut thanks to his lone PGA Tour victory at the 2015 Frys Open. In his eighth Tour start and first as a member, Grillo outlasted Kevin Na by making a birdie on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff at the Frys. He’s a member of that "2011" group we hear so much about on Tour these days, marking the year he, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and others graduated high school and owned the junior circuits before making waves now on the most prestigious Tour in the world.
The last man in the field earned his first berth in the Masters late Sunday night by taking the Shell Houston Open, his first career PGA Tour win in more than 100 starts. Herman is a journeyman with no major championship history aside from one U.S. Open start six years ago. Winning the Houston Open was a longshot but now Herman has some security and a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. He was a Cinderella last week and he’ll be that again this week, when he’s trying to come down from that career-changing victory and gather himself for his first competitive trip to Augusta. Just getting here is an incredible story, now everything else is gravy.
An early candidate for PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, Kaufman will make his second career major start — and first at Augusta. He’s held his own in strong fields in 2016 at Doral (eighth) and Bay Hill (12th), and if the ride down Magnolia Lane isn’t too much for him, there’s a strong chance he’ll make his first major championship cut this week.
Want a storyline? Kisner grew up 35 minutes from Augusta National just across the state line in Aiken, South Carolina and still lives on the local country club there. A long time journeyman, golf fans got a crash course of Kisner with the former Georgia Bulldog’s three near misses in playoffs at the Heritage, Players, and Greenbrier in 2015. He got his first career Tour win in Sea Island in November — could he grab his second this week and write a movie script in the process?
Knox has posted two top-10 finishes so far during the 2015-2016 season. He’s been on Tour for several years now and contended at different events, but his win at the WGC-HSBC Champions got him into the field for his first Masters. Taking a lucrative WGC event is not a bad way to get your first PGA Tour win. He’s one of the best ball strikers on Tour and it’s not difficult to envision him posting a mid-60s 5-under round in one of his first few tours around Augusta.
2015 was a breakout year for Lingmerth. His win against a top field at the Memorial was impressive, going toe-to-toe with Justin Rose in a playoff. That got him a spot in this year’s Masters but his form hasn’t been great recently. His best finish in his last six starts is a T49 at the Cadillac Championship.
Merritt makes his first Masters appearance thanks to his victory at the Quicken Loans National, but his 2015-16 season has been brutal. Merritt has missed seven cuts in 11 events. His T3 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational is encouraging, but also anomalous. He came from nowhere to win Tiger’s event, so maybe that’s what will happen this … nah.
Raise your hand if you knew Smith finished in the top four at last year’s US Open. Unless you’re an Aussie super fan, you’re lying. Anyway, that’s good enough to get an invite to Augusta for the 22 year-old Aussie, who has loads of potential.
Like Danny Willett, this guy may be a part of that next generation of Ryder Cuppers that are going to crush American hopes. An accomplished Euro Tour player, Sullivan has played exclusively in the states since mid-February and acquitted himself well enough on the Florida swing. Three wins on the Euro Tour last year were plenty to put him inside the top 50 in the world at the end of 2015, punching his first ticket to Augusta. He’s got just three career major starts, but he’s been a top-20 machine and has form. You worry about his inexperience at a place where that seems to matter most.
At just 5’10 and 145 pounds, Thomas isn’t a big guy. But he’s shown glimpses of a player capable of winning multiple major championships — as he did in knocking off a strong field at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia last fall. Don’t let his stature fool you, either. If he struggles this week, it’ll likely have more to do with his inability to keep the ball in the short grass off the tee (161st in driving accuracy on Tour) than it does his length (29th in driving distance). Of all the rookies, he’s the most hyped and has the lowest odds to win.
Bard earned an invite to the Augusta for finishing as the runner-up in last year’s US Amateur. The Masters always promotes the amateur aspect of the game, a nod to founder Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur ever. A junior at Virginia, Bard is 26th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. Making the cut is always the goal for the Ams and it will be for Bard.
Want to feel old? The last time Tiger Woods won a major championship, a player in this field wasn’t even playing golf yet. The 16-year-old Costa Rican just took up the game in 2009 and is in the field by way of winning the second edition of the Latin America Amateur Championship, a tournament established in 2015 with the backing of the Masters Foundation. He’ll be the youngest player in the field, the second-youngest ever, and the first ever player in the field from Central America. He’ll be a storyline this week.
Bryson DeChambeau is one of the more quirky, interesting, and accomplished amateurs in recent golf history. He is a physics major and considers himself a mad scientist of sorts — he helps makes his own clubs, all of which are the same length of a seven iron. That’s, to say the least, extremely unusual. He’s also a rising star. Last year he joined the elite company of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ryan Moore as the only man to win both an NCAA Championship and the US Amateur in the same year. NCAA sanctions against SMU golf prevented him from defending his national title, so he left college and has been playing in pro events on both the Euro and PGA Tours thanks to sponsor exemptions. In those events, he’s made a major impression on some of the game’s top talents, who all rave about Dechambeau. He’s going to be a force but turning pro would have forfeited this exemption to Augusta, which he earned for winning that US Amateur title.
Cheng comes to Augusta via his Asia-Pacific Amateur championship. That’s an event the green jackets created back in 2009 to try and help promote and spread the game in new parts of the globe. It’s produced some future stars, like Hideki Matsuyama, and memorable Ams, like the 14-year-old Tianlang Guan, who made the cut. That will be the goal for Cheng Jin — just get to the weekend and play four rounds.
Golf needs more Frenchmen. Almost every one that registers at some point or another are exceedingly quirky and enjoyable. Langasque may be a future French contributor to the game. He earned a spot by winning the British Amateur title last summer and is currently seventh in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. Langasque did make the cut at The Open at St. Andrews, his only major start.
Schmitz won the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, which produces those older Ams and not the young college studs who are going to be turning pro soon anyways. Schmitz earned his berth in quite possibly the most dramatic way of anyone in the field. He made an ace on a par-4 in the finals of the Mid-Am that put him three-up with three holes to play. It’s an incredible backstory and now he’ll get to play dream week at Augusta.
Immelman is too young to be grouped with that Chares Coody-Gay Brewer group of elderly guys who kept cashing in that lifetime exemption, played for a couple days, and then went back into non-competitive obscurity. But since he beat Tiger Woods to take the 2008 green jacket, Immelman has … not done much. He’s just 36 years old but he’s had a variety of injuries. That Masters is his last pro win and he’s not been competitive or finished close to even-par the last four years at Augusta.
Want to take a flier on a name from Augusta’s past? The ‘85 & ‘93 Masters champion has been dominant against those of his age, having finished in the top 10 in each of the Champions Tour’s last 11 majors — with three wins in that time frame. Oh, and the 58-year-old German is just two years removed from a T8 finish here. Langer could linger around through the weekend.
Sandy did make the cut in 2013 and 2014, so he’s not as close to the point of being asked politely to, you know, stop using that lifetime invite and clogging up the course with your hackery. But since he won way back in 1988, Lyle has finished under-par just twice — in 1992 and 2009. He is beyond a long shot to win but that’s one of the many quirks of the Masters. It can be fun to have these old-timers around, like in 2014 when Lyle hit one so far off line at the 11th that it nearly drilled another competitor way over on the 12th tee.
Mize has the longest odds in the field at 9000/1, but the Augusta native is still and forever will be a fan favorite. He’s made just three cuts in his last 15 starts, so he’s approaching that Ben Crenshaw-Craig Stadler stage where he may call it a career at ANGC. He’ll get $10,000 just for showing up and have a nice meal at the Champions Dinner, plus his chip-in will be shown on those best-of retrospectives all week. It’s not a bad way to spend your time.
O’Meara does not have a chance of contending, but he did shock everyone last year by making the cut, posting two Rounds of 68, and finishing in the red at 2-under. That can happen at Augusta with some of the older veterans who can’t keep up week to week on the PGA Tour. It was the first cut he had made since 2005 and Tiger Woods’ old neighbor and friend definitely enjoyed himself. This year he’s likely to get back to the two-day routine but he’s a World Golf Hall of Famer so who cares.
The legend will make his final competitive stroll up the 18th at Augusta. Watson said at last year’s British Open, where he made his final walk across the Swilcan Bridge at St. Andrews, that this would also be his last year at the Masters. He’s not dominated the Masters like he did The Open, which he won five times, but he’s still a two-time green jacket winner and probably should have had at least one more. Watson will get the treatment all week and then they’ll clear the stage for him when he does come strolling up the 18th, hopefully on Sunday and not Friday. Watson has been able to hang with the young guys in some recent British Opens because he can play the ground game and works his way around the links. But his distance disadvantage at Augusta is just too much, especially since they "Tiger-proofed" it (just two made cuts since 1998) and he was ready to call it quits.
Weir has been, sadly, a punchline on the PGA Tour in recent years. He’s made it into many events on a medical extension, but his game is just not good enough to be on Tour anymore and he’s usually a lock to miss the cut and finish near or in dead last. His fall is almost exclusively due to the injuries that have wrecked the career of Canada’s best. Even with the abbreviated career, he still posted 15 professional wins, a green jacket and a boatload of top 10s across the majors.
The diminutive Welshman has not finished under-par this century at the Masters and has made just one cut since 2001. He has, however, provided the best GIF in the modern Internet era at the Masters. For that potential alone, here’s hoping Woozy keeps teeing it up until they tell him not to anymore.