Beyond the players we outlined in part one of our Masters Preview, Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy has a solid track record at Augusta. He’s finished in the top 20 four times in just seven starts. His best finish was a solo 4th place last year. The Masters remains the only major championship McIlroy hasn’t won. Conspiracy theorists might argue McIlroy is jinxed at Augusta. In 2011, as a 21-year old, McIlroy played beautifully the first three rounds and took a four shot lead into Sunday. After shooting 37 on the front nine, and still leading the tournament, he collapsed with a 43 on the back nine, finally finishing in 15th place. His final round 80 was the highest score ever recorded by the third round leader. Of course, McIlroy bounced back and won the year’s next major with a dominating performance at the U.S. Open. With his length and short game, he remains a perennial threat to win this championship.
Australian Jason Day has a 2nd (2011) and a 3rd (2013) place finish at Augusta. That 2011 performance is notable; Day finished the tournament at 12 under par, the lowest score ever shot by a first-time participant.
Rickie Fowler is pushing hard to turn the current “Big Three” (Spieth, McIlroy and Day) into the “Big Four”. With his wins last year at the Players Championship, the Scottish Open and his win against a tremendous field at this year’s Abu Dhabi Championship, Fowler has the game and the makeup to make this happen. Rickie’s only played in five Masters. He tied for 5th in 2014 and tied for 12th last year and has never missed the cut.
World Golf Ranking #6 Henrik Stenson is beginning to make more noise at majors with four top five finishes in the past three years. Stenson, however, has never found the groove at Augusta where he has failed to crack into the top ten in ten career starts.
The rest of the Official World Golf Rankings Top Twelve consists of Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk, Patrick Reed, Branden Grace and Sergio Garcia. Of this group, 2013 U.S. Open Champion Rose has the best recent numbers with three top 10’s in the past decade, including a tie for 2nd last year. The snake-bit Garcia has twenty top 10’s in major golf championships. His best finish at the Masters was a tie for 4th in 2004.
The Old Guard
The Masters is unique in that past Champions enjoy a lifetime exemption and are allowed to tee it up until they reach 65 years old. The Masters also has a history of reviving golf’s older stars, many of whom have played their way into contention in their late 40’s and even early 50’s. Fred Couple, Bernhard Langer, Ben Crenshaw, Miguel Angel Jiminez and Kenny Perry have all had a legitimate chance into win the Masters in their late 40’s, or in the case of Couples and Langer, early 50’s. Perry came the closet, losing in a playoff to Angel Cabrera at age 48 in 2009. Who in the over 50 crowd could make a run this year? Davis Love III is 51 years old. He won his first tournament in eight years last year at the Wyndham Championship. He has six top 10’s at Augusta National and will be making his first start at Augusta since 2011.
Of course, anything can happen in golf. While this year’s winner is likely somebody from the group mentioned above, Larry Mize and Trevor Immelman are just a couple of champions who beat long odds to win the most coveted prize in golf.