By Aaron Pennesi
As the celestial fireball shines down on Georgia, it seems that it’s radiance is most prevalent in one particular area this time of year… Augusta National Golf Club. Golfers, caddies, greenskeepers, clubhouse patrons, and fans alike, are all awaiting the year’s most exalted tournament: The Masters.
Considered by many, the most important and influential tournament the PGA tour has to offer, and being the first of the four major tour championships, the Masters seems to continuously leave a lasting effect on all of those who are lucky enough to place their cleats on those perfect Georgia greens. Being an invite-only contest, this pits the world’s best-of-the-best and most undaunted golfers against each other, in hopes of potentially joining the heralded club that dawns the revered Green Jacket.
Every year, the field gets deeper and deeper with skilled golfers, all possessing an arsenal of abilities that makes them worthy of competing for that viridescent blazer. And, every year, it becomes more and more difficult trying to decide who has the best chance of engraving their name on the Masters Trophy. But, I am here to tell you who I feel is best suited to do so in 2016.
Jordan Spieth (15/2 odds)
My overall favorite to win this year’s Masters is the reigning champion Jordan Spieth. Yes, this seems like an easy pick considering he put up one of the best performances ever last year, but repeating in this tournament is no simple feat. Also, compared to where he was this time last year, he is off to a bit of a slow start. He began with a decent start this season placing 7th in the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions Tournament and 4th in the (unofficial) Hero World Challenge. He then went on and had a strong performance winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. From there, he played in the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship with buddies Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy, and ended up placing third out of the bunch (T5 overall). After that, Jordan began a 5-tournament slide full of lackluster performances, and even missed the cut in one tournament. So, suffice it to say, he’s not entering the tournament in a fiery ball of momentum. But, his skill set is excellent for Augusta National. The course is set up for crisp and accurate iron/wedge play, and calls for great putting, which are Jordan’s strengths. He also owns a winner’s mentality where he knows when and where he should take risks. There are few golfers considered “built” for this tournament, but I believe Jordan is one of them.
Jason Day (13/2)
Jason Day…the awesome Aussie who’s golf game is engulfed in flames right now. Day ended last season hot and he’s brought the fire with him to start this year as well. He ended last season finishing Top Ten in 7 out of his last 9 tournaments (dating back to last year’s U.S. Open); winning four of them, including the PGA Championship. He started 2016 off with a Top Ten finish at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, then stumbled a bit, but any and all regression seems to be behind him. He went on to take the top spot at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, then again at the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play; where he powered through back issues and defeated Rory McIlroy along the way. Day is bringing some momentum into the Masters to say the least, and appears to be poised to make a nice run. He sat out of the Shell Houston Open and went straight to Augusta National to begin his practice, and to get more of a feel for the course. When in top form he is one of the most well-rounded golfers on the tour with both power and finesse, making his play style suitable for any course. Having the momentum, skill, and extra time on the course, Jason Day is definitely in the top of this year’s Masters favorites.
Bubba Watson (10/1)
Another golfer who seems built for Augusta, and one who is already apart of the green jacket brotherhood (doing it not once, but twice) is Bubba Watson. Bubba is having a quiet, but very solid 2016 season. So far this year he has 4 Top Ten finishes, including wins at the (unofficial) Hero World Challenge and the Northern Trust Open; with a 2nd place finish at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Though he got knocked out early at the WGC-Dell Match Play, Bubba is still playing solid golf right now, which is all he needs to do to be in the thick of things at the Masters. As previously stated his skill set is one that bodes well at Augusta National, with a big part of it being his left-handedness. Another big aspect is the fact that he typically has a “play to win” mentality, causing him to go for the big risk-big reward shot a lot of times. Because of this, along with his booming power, he tends to succeed extremely well at the Par 5’s. All of this put together, and adding his in-depth knowledge of the course, makes him yet again a favorite of mine to win. (*Side Note: Only eight players have won the Masters 3 or more times)
Rickie Fowler (16/1)
In 2014, Rickie Fowler placed in the Top Five of the Masters, and he wasn’t near being the type of golfer he is now. He has gained valuable experience since then, and his game is steadily on the rise. Last year he played his way into 7 Top Ten finishes, with wins at The PLAYERS Championship and the Deutsche Bank Championship; And a runner-up finish at the Quicken Loans National. So far this year he already has 4 Top Ten finishes, most notably his 2nd place at the Waste Management Phoenix Open (via playoff). He also beat Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, and Henrik Stenson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Rickie is a completely different golfer now, and he is demanding respect. He is playing with a desire to win, and he’s making a push to be in the Day-Spieth-McIlroy conversation. He is approaching his shots with a tenacity that is really helping him strike the ball well. He also has stepped up his putting vastly, which will be very important during this tournament. Over the past five years he has played Augusta with a consistency similar to that of Adam Scott, making the tournament cut every time. If Rickie can play with a confidence in his skills and knowledge, while maintaining to exude the grit he has been, he definitely has a shot at winning this tournament.
My (Not So) Sleepers
Rory McIlroy (15/2)
Rory McIlroy is an amazing golfer, one of the best, and he absolutely has the skills to do what it takes to win this tournament. He has shown this before with his great run in 2011 (though we all know what happened there; if not, see here), and he has placed in the Top Ten in the past two Masters tournaments, most recently his 4th place finish last year. So far in 2016 he hasn’t been playing the type of McIlroy-esque golf we have become accustomed to, but he still has 2 Top Ten finishes, with his best being at the WGC-Cadillac Championship (T3). His skill set alone makes him a worthy choice to win it all, due to his ability to consistently strike the ball with both power and accuracy. Though there are some competitors better suited for this course and tournament, you should never sleep on McIlroy.
Adam Scott (11/1)
Adam Scott is yet another golfer having a good season thus far. He, like Bubba, also has 4 Top Ten finishes this year. He has won at The Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship; and he was the runner-up at both the CIMB Classic and the Northern Trust Open (T2). Another aspect he has in common with Bubba, is that he too has already won a Green Jacket, and knows what it takes to do so. Playing at Augusta well is one thing, but consistently doing it and knowing how to do it, is another. Adam scott continues to show that he knows how to manage his game for the Masters, and if he can continue playing the way he is, he can definitely make a nice run toward his second jacket.
Justin Rose (28/1)
For my sleeper pick this year, I am going with Justin Rose. Rose hasn’t been playing his best golf thus far into the season, and he doesn’t appear to be in his top form. He has 3 Top Ten finishes this year, but has yet to place better than 6th. All that being said, I love the skill set Justin Rose possesses. In last year’s Masters tournament he posted a great score of -14, but ultimately finished 2nd. If it wasn’t for Spieth’s extraordinary performance, Rose very well could have been the 2015 Masters Champion. When he is on, his iron play is elite, and he has above average skill and accuracy with his wedges. What he does best fits this course very well, and if he can somehow make everything click, he could be this year’s dark horse winner.
My Honorable Mention
Dustin Johnson (22/1)
Last year Johnson put together a very good performance at the Masters. After the first two days, he seemed to be in position to compete for the championship in the final rounds. But, as it has happened many times throughout his career, he made mistakes when he shouldn’t and couldn’t take advantage of certain opportunities when he needed to. Though he had a solid performance throughout, he ended up placing T6 with a -9 score. Dustin has the power to hit farther than the field, and the ability to use his irons with precision. But, so far in his career, he lacks the ability to put it all together when it matters most (See: 2015 U.S. Open). If he can somehow figure out how to use all his skills, and seize the moment rather than succumb to it, DJ could be a surprising contender.