The Masters isn’t the most difficult major to win but it has become the most coveted because of what it represents. In Michael Bamberger’s Men In Green, he describes Ken Venturi’s inability to get past his defeat in the 1958 Masters, and how it haunted him the rest of his life. It certainly showcases the importance of winning this championship and how it can make or break a player.
The 2016 edition feels like the passing of the torch from the cadre of players in their 40s and 50s (Woods, Singh, Els, Mickelson, Couples), who competed and thrilled us for years, to the younger set that is dominating play today. Of the previous group, only Lefty can be considered competitive enough to have a chance. But at 45, he’s seeing the slow inevitable loss of “the edge”. Everyone who’s ever played the game goes through the process, as the venerable Arnold Palmer has described it.
A tip of the cap goes to The King who will not be hitting his ceremonial Masters tee shot this year because of an unfortunate injury. We wish him a speedy recovery.
Now to the business at hand, let’s break the field into three groups of contenders.
- Group 1 (Superstars): Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Adam Scott, and Bubba Watson. The world’s #1 ranking rotates regularly in this circle and sort of confirms the lack of importance of that title. Whomever is hot at the moment is the World #1.
- Group 2 (Cagey Veterans): Justin Rose, Louis Oosthuizen, Zach Johnson, and Jim Furyk. All major winners and usually in contention.
- Group 3 (BPTNWM: Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, and I’ll lump in Rickie Fowler, since he’s been so close with top five finishes in all the majors. Certainly he has the talent, and now he’s got the expectations.
There are plenty of great players on the periphery like Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Kevin Kistner, and Danny Willett, but the champion will come from one of the first three groups.
Picking major winners is hard so let’s use the process of elimination to arrive at a champion. Getting started, here’s why Rory McIlroy will not win it despite all that talent. Rory has won his four majors but also has that Masters bugaboo since he fired the final round 80 in 2011. Becoming a first time champion at Augusta is hard work as the magnolia baggage piles up. I’m not wild about the timing of his putting change to left hand low. It may be working for him now but I like to see stability with the flatstick heading into a date with these slickmeisters. Adam Scott is striping it too, but I don’t like him for the same reason. Too soon away from the broomstick to handle the mental grind on these greens.
Now we know what the issue with defending champion Jordan Spieth is. He overextended himself with commitments after his stellar year. Seems reasonable, and he appears to be regaining some mojo, but is also struggling with the putter and won’t get all the way back, at least not this week.
Someone with imagination will win The Masters Someone who’s a great putter will win. Someone who can grind will win. Ricky Fowler can make birdies with the best of them but can he grind? He got ground out in Phoenix as a front-runner and that didn’t sit well. To have a chance he needs to come from behind on Sunday. Not likely.
Jason Day fits the bill on the requirements. Before last year’s breakthrough in the PGA, he seemed to always have an untimely injury or bout with vertigo, or illness, or lost a little focus, or something that just prevented him from breaking through. Nobody was closer in the majors, but he finally broke through in 2015, but not at Augusta. He’s the hottest on the planet coming in and I like him for a top-3 but not a jacket.
If golf was played on a 15 hole course and majors were 60 holes not 72, Sergio Garcia would be challenging Jack and Tiger for all time supremacy. Maybe Sergio needs a golf shirt with an XXXXL size collar to have a chance. Sorry Sergio, no chance. I’m also losing faith in Dustin (more talent than anyone) Johnson. Seems he runs with a bit of Sergio fever at crunch time. I’m not picking him in a major until he wins one.
So who’s left? It’s Zach Johnson vs. Bubba Watson. David vs Goliath. Bubba is hitting the ball great and leads the tour in the all important GIR statistic. But unlike normal Bubba, his putting is mediocre and his scrambling is horrible and you’ve gotta have touch and guts around these greens to win.
So your 2016 Masters Champion will be touch and guts Zach Johnson, with Jason Day finishing second and Bubba coming in third. For those of you looking for a dark horse in your Calcutta, Charl Schwartzel is an ex-champion, has had a nice quiet but solid start to his season and will be cheap! Look for him to contend.
Call your bookies and good luck!