Who To Look Out For at The Masters 2015
It's the time of year when amateurs up and down the country discuss how they would approach Amen Corner, what it would be like to walk down Magnolia Lane and where they'd hang their green jacket. These are the symptoms of Masters fever. Sports Gazette runs you through the top five players to look out for.
The American poster boy for the post-Tiger Woods era, Jordan Spieth looks every inch a future Major champion. He made his name with an impressive tied for second finish at Augusta National last year, chasing down eventual champion Bubba Watson with nous that belied his age.
Spieth is backing up the pundits' plaudits with titles, too. He won a three-way play-off against Patrick Reed and Sean O’Hair for the Valspar Championship earlier this month. An impressive Ryder Cup debut would also have caught the eye of the casual viewer. Tom Watson’s decision to partner Spieth with the divisive Reed was an astute one; perhaps one of the only positives from his captaincy if you subscribe to the painful fall-out from Europe’s victory at Gleneagles.
It was Spieth's dogged determination to track down Watson last year, though, that gives his Masters bid substance.
It’s hard to look past Watson, whose two wins in three years at the year’s first Major make him the favourite. Traditionally one of the PGA Tour’s longest drivers off the tee, Watson should enjoy the long par 5s; last year he made six birdies on the pars 5s and one eagle.
Watson is one of the more unique golfers for which the tour should be grateful. With his pink driver and brand of ‘Bubba golf’, the American is more box office than most. That being said, his presence alone and attempt to win a third Masters in four years won’t attract the television audience in the way the game’s governing bodies would hope.
It is one thing to have experience of a course, but another entirely to know how to win it. This year’s edition might be about Watson exercising his muscle memory around Amen Corner and those tasty par 5s.
If Rory McIlroy needed corroboration of his status in the game, he got it in a virtual sense last week. The Northern Irishman was revealed as the face of the new PGA Tour video game, succeeding Tiger Woods. That he is seen as the most marketable star of his sport is reflected in the decision to place his face upon the cover. His status might rise a few notches if he can seal the career slam at Augusta, too.
With two wins at the PGA Championship and one apiece at The Open and the U.S. Open, McIlroy is on the verge of joining a select group of players to have won the career slam, including Jack Nicklaus and Woods. He famously blew a four-shot lead in the final round of the 2011 Masters, but he will arrive at Augusta National this year a different man. Moulded by the experience of losing a significant lead and of winning four Majors since, McIlroy is the most dangerous competitor in the field.
If you were looking for a meaningful sign that Dustin Johnson is a contender for the Masters, then how about his win at the WGC-Cadillac Championship after six months away from competitive action? The nine-time PGA Tour winner was making only his fifth appearance after the break, with a play-off defeat and a fourth-placed finish two of his other early season results.
Johnson, like Watson, is another huge hitter off the tee. This doesn’t guarantee success, the same as a strong short game won’t. However, you can be sure that Johnson will make every drive count as he goes about claiming his first Major.
The perennial bridesmaid of last year’s Majors, Rickie Fowler will have a bigger point to prove than most in the field on April 9th. The Californian made the top five in each of last season’s Majors and even tied for second with Sergio Garcia as Rory McIlroy won the Open.
For a while now Fowler has been seen as the closest thing America has to a copy of McIlroy, but this appears to be based more on the fact that they grew up playing against each other and are close friends. McIlroy is just under five months younger than Fowler yet already has four Majors to his name. Fowler was also beaten by the world No. 1 as the pair faced off in the Ryder Cup singles.
He might not be McIlroy’s main threat, but if one of the members of the youthful American challengers is to break through, Fowler has as strong a shout as anyone.
Outside bets: Jason Day, Adam Scott, Billy Horschel, Patrick Reed, Henrik Stenson