Could old war horses Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson win The Masters? Combined, they’ve donned the green jacket seven times and have 28 top-10 finishes at Augusta National. They’re the modern-day Jack and Arnie. Sure, either could win.
But Woods’ last Masters victory predates the iPhone and Mickelson turns 49 in June. No one that old has ever won a major. So, as the Brits would say, I don’t fancy their chances.
I wouldn’t pick any of the last three Masters champions, either. Right now, Jordan Spieth (2016), Sergio Garcia (2017) and Patrick Reed (2018) are, to varying degrees, head cases.
So, which golfers are my favorites? In descending order, they are:
1. Rory McIlroy: The most talented player in the game has finished no worse than T-9 in seven starts this year. His worst score since October is 72. He has five consecutive top-10 finishes at Augusta National. He needs the Masters to complete the career Grand Slam. Now, he just needs to ignore the ghosts down in Amen Corner, get out of his own way and let it happen.
2. Dustin Johnson: Can you imagine D.J. finishing his career without a Masters title? I can’t. His power game is tailor made for this place and a softer, longer course this week will play into his hands. He’s able to detach emotionally from shots good and bad, a prerequisite here. The more difficult the course, the better he seems to play relative to the field. All signs point to a green jacket in his future.
3. Tommy Fleetwood: The guy exudes confidence and at 28 is in the sweet spot in his career. No doubt, he has the talent and temperament to win at Augusta National. He came up the hard way on Europe’s Challenge Tour and won in Kazakhstan, of all places. And he’s trending upward at the Masters, missing the cut in his first appearance in 2017 and finishing T-17 last year.
4. Rickie Fowler: He’s got a ton of game but not much hardware to show for it, a head-scratcher if ever there was one. You could say Rickie should have won three or four majors by now, but that would be ignoring the fact that he’s had to compete against the likes of McIlroy and Spieth. Everyone agrees Fowler’s time is coming. But as he said Monday, “I don’t think you could ever say ‘This is my time.’ You have to go win it and then say it afterwards.” Patience, grasshopper.
5. Justin Rose: With five career top-10s at The Masters and a pair of runner-up finishes in the last three years, Rose has done everything but put his arms in a green jacket. He’s ranked No. 1 in the world, picked up his 10th PGA Tour victory earlier this year and at the Players shot 66-68-68 on a tough TPC Sawgrass course after an opening 74.
6. Brooks Koepka: All he does is win majors. Koepka has won three of the last seven and could make it a Tiger-like four of eight at Augusta. He’s not in top form, however, having missed the cut at Bay Hill, finishing T-56 at the Players and going 0-2-1 in the WGC-Match Play in his last three starts.
7. Justin Thomas: His percentage of greens hit at Augusta National has gotten progressively better each year – 63.9% in 2016, 70.8% in 2017, 73.6% in 2018 – which shows he is figuring out the course. Thomas has been a bit quiet this year, but we’ve seen what happens when he gets hot.
8. Jon Rahm: A tremendously gifted player, Rahm is destined to join fellow Spaniards Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Garcia as a Masters champion. He tends to run hot, though, and that’s not helpful at Augusta National.
9. Francesco Molinari: Everyone marvels at his ball-striking, but he ranks 92nd in shots gained-tee to green and 196th in greens in regulation. Those aren’t great stats to take to Augusta, but the numbers don’t reveal his UFC fighter’s toughness. Recent history shows he’s hard to dislodge from the lead.
10. Jason Day: He knows his way around major championship leader boards and is magic around the greens (No. 4 in strokes gained-putting). But he’s like a jigsaw puzzle with one missing piece, always fighting some sort of injury or malady. Lately, it’s been a creaky back. Unlucky, or just fragile?
11. Matt Kuchar: The grinning assassin leads the FedEx Cup point standings and has a good track record at the Masters, with four top-eight finishes in the last seven years. But if he hasn’t won one by now, it probably ain’t going to happen.
12. Paul Casey: With a victory (Valspar Championship) and three other top-10 finishes in the last two months, Casey is one of the hottest players in the game. Here’s what I don’t like about his chances this week: He’s 41, and he’s never won a major.
13. Tony Finau: You’re tempted to tell Finau to “break a leg,” but given what happened here last year that’s probably not the best choice of words. He’s come miles since making his PGA Tour debut at the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee as a teen prodigy.
14. Bryson DeChambeau: His Stephen Hawking approach to golf either is going to work at Augusta National, or information overload will make his head explode.
15 Hideki Matsuyama: No. 3 in strokes gained-tee to green, No. 180 in strokes gained-putting. That gets you in the Masters conversation, but not in Butler Cabin on Sunday evening.