THE MASTERS is the first Major of the year and for me it signifies the beginning of the season.
Now is the time to dust off the clubs and get out on the course – it's spring after all.
This is the 82nd year the Masters has taken place at the magnificent Augusta National and the top players will all once again be there to try to win the prestigious Green Jacket.
Being the only Major that is played on the same course gives the Masters that bit of extra meaning. The beautifully-manicured course and the tradition of the Green Jacket just help to make it something special.
Since 1949 tradition states the jacket be presented to every winner by the previous winner inside the Butler Cabin.
With six triumphs the great Jack Nicklaus has won the Green Jacket more than any other player, the last being in 1986.
It was once said if you birdie all the par fives at Augusta you will be there or thereabouts come Sunday evening. Also putting is important on the fast Augusta greens so the stats I’m looking at are Par 5s: birdie or better, Strokes gained: Putting and Putting Average.
Course: Augusta National: 7435 yards, Par 72.
With Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Jason Day, Bubba Watson, Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson, Paul Casey and Rory McIlroy all winning since January it could turn out to be a hell of a shootout come Sunday.
All eight of the above will be classed as contenders along with Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods. In fact anyone from the top 25-30 in the betting are in with a chance.
Dustin Johnson is an obvious choice as he leads the stats in Par 5s: Birdie or Better, Putting Average and is 14th in SG:Putting. A lot of people will be on Tiger’s tail but I don’t think he’s done enough to be one of the favourites.
Yes, it’s a course he loves and we know how well he plays on it but there are just too many younger and fitter guys out there who are capable of winning at Augusta.
I backed Rose last year and he did everything right until the first extra play-off hole when he went into the trees. If you were being picky you could say missed putts on the 13th and the 18th on the Sunday cost him the title but to be fair Garcia also missed a couple of makeable putts in the last few holes.
Rose has been playing well again this season, winning the WGC-HSBC and four top 10s from five outings.
Sometimes you get the impression he isn’t really pushing himself when he gets into contention but that’s just his way. He’s steady and gradually chases down the leaders and when he gets to the front he’s not the easiest to dislodge. Definitely worth taking a chance on.
- Par 5s: Birdie or Better: 50.0% (25th). Strokes Gained: Putting: 1.022 (5th). Putting Average: 1.712 (7th)
I have already put my money on super Swede Noren. He has come to the attention of the folks the other side of the Atlantic with some really good results this season.
He had a T2 at the Farmers, third at the Honda Classic and I was really impressed with his game at the Dell Technologies Match Play when he finished third losing out on a place in the final when Kevin Kisner beat him at the first extra hole.
Last year on the European Tour Noren went off the boil a wee bit, only winning once and four top 10s after four victories the previous season. He’s playing more Stateside this year and the courses seem to suit his game. He is worth considering at the prices being offered.
- Par 5s: Birdie or Better: 56.52% (6th). Strokes Gained: Putting: 0.648 (20th). Putting Average: 1.752 (38th).
Since 1991 Phil Mickelson’s Augusta record is something to behold. In 27 years he has missed the Masters just once (1994) and had three wins and 12 top 10s. He has only missed the cut THREE times in those 27 years which in itself is an amazing stat.
In 2010 he won the Green Jacket for the third time with a score of -16. A few weeks back I tipped Mickelson when he won the WGC-Mexico Championship after nearly five years without a victory on Tour. It wasn’t a win that came out of the blue either.
Lefty's form had been good in the lead-up to Mexico with four top 10s this season. If Phil wins this week he will overtake Jack Nicklaus as the oldest champion and I for one would not be surprised.
Par 5s: Birdie or Better: 50.89% (21st). Strokes Gained: Putting: 1.082(2nd). Putting Average: 1.659 (2nd).
I couldn’t go a Major without picking world No.1 Dustin Johnson. His performance in the WGC Dell Matchplay a couple of weeks ago was poor but until then he had been superb.
In his five other outings he won the Sentry Tournament of Champions, had two seconds and T7-T14-T16 so I’m going to ignore the Matchplay.
It’s taken a while for DJ to get used to the Augusta course but a T6 in 2015 and T4 2016 show he is now comfortable there.
The negative side is no world No.1 has won the Masters since Tiger in 2002. However, records are there to be broken and if anyone can do it, it’s DJ.
He didn’t take part last year due to falling down some stairs so as long as he is staying in a bungalow he has a chance.
Par 5s: Birdie or Better: 62.50% (1st). Strokes Gained: Putting: 0.669 (14th). Putting Average: 1.655 (1st).
Another player I selected last year was Fowler who was also in the mix on Sunday. Playing with his pal Jordan Spieth fireworks were expected but unfortunately they both blew up.
First Jordan and then Rickie began to drop away and a final round 76 slid Fowler down the leaderboard to finish T11. This season has been very up and down, with two top 10s (2nd at OHL Mayakoba and T4 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions), the only results to enthuse over.
In fact last week at Houston he had his lowest finish of the season (T43). The good thing to take from that outing was a first-round 66 and second-round 68.
Fowler’s Masters record isn’t that great and his stats this year are below average but serendipity took a hand when, as I went looking for Henrik Stenson’s stats whose appeared but Fowler’s. So that was my decision made! Not got great faith in this selection but I just couldn’t leave him out.
Par 5s: Birdie or Better: 42.71% (101st). Strokes Gained: Putting: 0.49 (102nd). Putting Average: 1.748 (34th).