Punch shot: Four questions for the 80th Masters


AUGUSTA, Ga. – Who will win, what will he shoot, who will surprise and who will leave devastated? Joe Posnanski, Rex Hoggard, Ryan Lavner and Jay Coffin are all at Augusta National and weigh in on these topics as we inch closer to the beginning of the 80th Masters.

Will the winner be a player ranked in the top 10 in the world?

POSNANSKI: The winner this year is a top-10 player. I actually believe it will be a top-five player. I actually think it will be a top-three player – Jason Day, Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy will win it this year.

HOGGARD: As a rule, Augusta National doesn’t serve up a lot of one-hit wonders and surprise winners. The list of champions reads like a “who’s who” list of greatness, but this year feels different thanks to a foreboding forecast. If the winds whip like predicted, the list of potential winners could extend well down the world ranking.

LAVNER: Yes. Too many top players are peaking for there to be a dud winner. In fact, don’t be surprised if Jason Day, my pick to win, becomes the first world No. 1 since Tiger Woods in 2002 to take the Masters.

COFFIN: Sadly, the winner will not come from the top 10. It makes too much sense that it will, which is precisely why it won’t. So much focus is on the top dogs and they’re all playing well. But it’s been several years since Augusta National has produced an unpredictable winner. We’re due for another.

Who will surprise this week?

POSNANSKI: I don’t know if it will be considered a surprise but I do think that Sergio Garcia contends this year. And Graeme McDowell maybe.

HOGGARD: Every time he rolls down Magnolia Lane Phil Mickelson looks as if he knows something everyone else is missing and this week has been no different. Simply put, Augusta National inspires Lefty and this year his game has shown flashes of the type of form that already delivered three green jackets.

LAVNER: Bryson DeChambeau. He’s as prepared as any amateur ever has been at the Masters, with a dozen practice rounds and priceless conversations about Augusta with many of the game’s legends. Ryan Moore’s tie for 13th in the 2005 Masters remains the gold standard for recent amateurs, but that mark is in danger this year.

COFFIN: Danny Willett, Branden Grace, Hideki Matsuyama. These guys are all world-class players and are hardly underdogs, but none are on the radar this week. Grace finished top-four in two majors last year, Willett is on the cusp of an American breakout performance and Matsuyama finished fifth here last year.

Will there be heartbreak?

POSNANSKI: Since I am predicting that Sergio Garcia will be in contention, he will obviously be the one to have the heartbreak because it always works out that way.

HOGGARD: There’s always heartbreak on Sunday. You can’t have that type of triumph without an equal amount of tears, and it’s increasingly beginning to look like Jason Day has the most to lose. Dubbed the favorite, Day ascended to world No. 1 with his victory two weeks ago at the Match Play and he’s played as well as anyone the last six months. The one title he wants the most, however, will have to wait for another year.

LAVNER: Oh, of course – the back nine always makes or breaks a player’s chances, and this year will be no exception. Pinpointing exactly whose Masters dreams will be crushed is more difficult. Likely candidates are Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson, who are playing well heading into Augusta but have faltered in plenty of big spots before.

COFFIN: There will be heartbreak because there always is, save for last year when Jordan Spieth ran away with it. Rickie Fowler strikes me as a candidate this year. Since his Abu Dhabi victory he’s been close to victory several times and hasn’t pulled it together. I see a major disappointment coming, which ultimately will lead to a major victory later in the year.

Will the winning score be over/under 12 under par?

POSNANSKI: Under because of the weather.

HOGGARD: Under, under, under. After Spieth’s 18-under romp last year the 2016 event was always going to be a tougher test, the powers that be at Augusta National wouldn’t have it any other way.

Add to that increasingly difficult conditions with winds predicted to whip to 30 mph and it has the feel of an 8-under year.

LAVNER: Under. The early forecast calls for morning thunderstorms Thursday and gusty winds of up to 30 mph on Friday and Saturday, with frost delays possible. This year’s Masters already reminds of the 2007 edition, when Zach Johnson won at 1 over par. The winning score will be closer to 8 under – players do most damage on the par 5s, anyway – but it won’t be the shootout that many of us expected going into the week.

COFFIN: Over. Jason Day said it would be 10 to 12 under. I still think the winning score will be lower than 12 under because these guys are just so damn good. Rain won’t cause as many problems as originally thought and Sunday looks beautiful. Marry those two and someone has to get to 13 or 14 under par.