Ten players who could win the Masters, and why

By Brandel ChambleeApril 4, 2016, 7:00 pm

In the 1920s, in particular the mid-to-late part of the decade, golf was, to quote the late Jim Murray, “as one-sided as a heart attack.” Bobby Jones was an amateur but even to the men who played professionally, his talent was imponderable. When he and 25-time winner Tommy Armour played practice rounds he would give the Silver Scot two strokes a side. When asked why he needed the shots, Tommy said, because that is how gosh dern good he is. Only he didn’t say gosh and he didn’t say dern.

From 1926-30 Jones won nine of the 14 majors he played, which includes the four in a row to end his career in 1930. Save for the interlude of runs by Ben Hogan from 1948-53, when he won eight of the 11 majors he played, and Tiger Woods from 1999-2001, when he won seven of the 11 majors he played, you’d be better off trying to win a street card game in New York City than trying to pick the winner of a major.

The Masters, however, gives us would-be prognosticators a little help. To start with, it is the smallest field in major championship golf. Usually shy of 100 players, but as a homage to Jones and to grow the game globally, a number of amateurs are invited, even though the last one to finish in the top 10 was Charlie Coe in 1962.

Furthermore, the confounding and tempting nature of the golf course keeps inexperienced players guessing. Adam Scott didn’t break 70 at Augusta National until his 28th competitive round and one gets a sense of how long it takes a player, even one as talented as Scott, to go from participant to contender. And this conversionary process is by no means a given when one thinks about what Augusta National asks of a player.

What Jones and Alister MacKenzie sought to reward with their collaborative effort was not just a technical eminence but an imaginative one as well, which reduces the field to little more than a dozen who have everything needed to win the Masters. Don’t believe me? Going back to 2000, 11 of 16 winners were ranked in the top 10 in the world on the eve of the event.

Keeping all of this in mind, I’ve reduced the field to 10 players, in ascending order as I see their chances.

10. Brooks Koepka: Ranked 18th in the world, Koepka is one of a few players on this list I’ve gone outside the top 10 for. He simply has the ability to hit the ball longer and better than anyone else. At the Open Championship last year, he led the field in greens hit in regulation with 64, and did it again at the Wyndham Championship and Alfred Dunhill Links, where he missed only seven greens all week. In 2015 he finished 33rd at the Masters, 18th at the U.S. Open, 10th at the Open Championship and fifth at the PGA Championship. His talent and that trend in majors gets my attention.

9. Louis Oosthuizen: Jones wanted to capture the spirit of St. Andrews at Augusta National. Judging by Louis’ play at these two venues, I’d guess Jones would like his game. Oosthuizen won by seven in 2010 at St. Andrews and lost in a playoff last year. He also lost in a playoff at the 2012 Masters to Bubba Watson’s C-shaped wedge at the 10th. He is as fragile as a wet bag of groceries but when he is uninjured, and on form, he makes the game look laughably easy.

8. Hideki Matsuyama: Even though Hideki is just 24 this will be his fifth Masters. Arguably the best iron player in the world, he has the ability to hit the ball high enough and stop it quick enough to have easier putts than most in this elite field. That ability helped him to a fifth-place finish last year.

7. Rory McIlroy: In his last three Masters, Rory has finished 25th, eighth and fourth. There are two reasons he’s not higher on this list. He makes a lot of big numbers at Augusta National (doubles or higher) – on average more than two per Masters - and has a less than stellar short game. With regard to the first of these caveats, since 1997 only Phil Mickelson in 2004, Trevor Immelman in 2008 and Jordan Spieth last year have recorded a score higher than bogey on the way to victory. The big numbers speak as much to a less than stellar short game as they do the wide miss. The combination of these two problems will likely mean Rory comes up just short of the career Grand Slam this year.

6. Phil Mickelson: No course in major championship golf treats past winners, or the elderly, better than Augusta National. This being the 30th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus’ win in 1986, it would be somewhat of an homage to the Golden Bear if Phil, at 45, won his fourth green jacket. Besides the fact that this course seems to bring the best out in him even when he’s a little off, his current form would rank amongst the best he’s ever brought down Magnolia Lane. Since 2004, Mickelson has led the Tour in scoring average four times going into the Masters and in two of those years (2004, 2006) he won. We’ll have to wait and see this year, because nobody in golf is better at the one stat that matters most, score.

5. Jordan Spieth: As only three men have successfully defended a Masters title, history is against the 22-year-old Texan, but so were the odds of a 20-year-old finishing second in his debut at Augusta and then winning at 21. The difference between his form last year and this year has more to do with him being fifth on this list, as he hasn’t had a top-10 finish on Tour since winning the Tournament of Champions. Miscues to the left off the tee - a no-no at Augusta - and some sloppy iron play will put a great premium on his scrambling.

4. Justin Rose: Although he has never been known as a great putter, the Englishman has a marvelous record in Augusta. In 2015 he hit it longer and straighter and hit just as many greens as Spieth, but he lost by four shots because he couldn’t keep pace (who could?) with Spieth in holing out. Like Adam Scott, Rose is so good tee-to-green that he needs only an average week with the putter to win a green jacket.

3. Jason Day: The No. 1 player in the world has won in his last two starts and like Spieth, Day nearly won in his debut at the Masters, finishing second in 2011. Unlike Spieth, though, Day has dominant length, as evidenced by his field-leading 326-yard average at Augusta last year. His only weakness is an occasional lack of control with his irons, which is why in spite of being the longest off the tee last year, he ranked near the bottom of the field in greens hit in regulation.

2. Rickie Fowler: In the past, Rickie’s inconsistency with his irons has hurt him at Augusta and put too much pressure on his short game to save par and given him too few looks at birdie. But his iron play is much improved, as is every other aspect of his game. He leads the Tour in the all-around category and is tied for first in par-5 scoring average along with… Adam Scott.

1. Adam Scott: The year began with many questions about his putting, all of which he has answered with his best work on the greens since he led the PGA Tour in putting back in 2004. Add to his improved work on the greens, his brilliance from tee to green, he is almost without peer and especially so on a golf course that puts a premium on versatility and trajectory. Since its inaugural tournament in 1934, no major has had more repeat winners than the Masters and Adam Scott is my pick to be the 18th such player in history to accomplish the feat.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.