Since 1998 when Tiger Woods burst on the scene with his record breaking -18 at Augusta, golf has exploded with popularity. The game has gotten more competitive, the drives have gotten longer and the pool of talent has grown immensely. Now, Tiger, who looks to be completing one of the hardest falls from greatness in sports history, gets to witness those that idolized him growing up fill the large shoes he created.
Augusta is one of the hardest courses to master, needing to possess the ability to hit long accurate drives, craftiness with irons, and precision with wedges and putting. The fairways are narrow, the boundaries are lined with the infamous “pine brush” and the greens can sometimes be impossible to read, so patience and focus are needed on every shot. Because once a player can’t overcome himself it usually means a drop from the leaderboard.
This year's Masters field is packed with talent. A lot of the guys we have watched over the past twenty years such as Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods are being pushed out of the pack by young players like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. In one of the most fun sporting events of the year, we get to see the greatest golfers in the world play their best rounds of the season. Here is a look at fifteen golfers with the best chance to take home this years Green Jacket.
15 Fred Couples
You won’t see Fred Couples name in many tournaments besides The Masters these days, he has played in only six such events since 2012. You will however see his name on the leaderboard when Saturday rolls around every year at Augusta. Since missing the cut in 2009, Couples has finished in the top-20 each year since. He doesn’t have the driver that most of the young players possess today, but he does make up for that with experience and one of the highest “greens in regulation” percentages in history. The 56-year-old wily veteran looks to add his second Green Jacket and become the player with the largest gap between Masters victories (won his only Masters in 1992).
14 Billy Horschel
Billy Horschel wasn’t exactly impressive by finishing 37th last year in his Masters debut. He did however quietly win the last two tournaments of last season's FedEx Cup, and looks like he finally has his game figured out while finishing third at this years Valero Texas Open. This enigmatic golfer who isn’t afraid to throw his hat on backwards has managed his way to a World Golf Ranking of 18 by doing just enough of everything to keep his name at the top of the leaderboard on Sundays.
13 Tiger Woods
Though it looks as if this generation's greatest golfer has finally reached the dark days of his career, he can never be counted out. Many will point to the fact that Woods did not play in last year's Masters and when he hasn’t been forced to withdraw, he has either missed the cut or finished in the back of the pack. But this is the same Tiger Woods that has finished eighth or better in thirteen of the nineteen Masters tournaments he has participated in. Think about those numbers for a minute and think about the fact that no one believes in him right now. It could be the end of the road for the Tiger, but he isn’t going to leave quietly.
12 Jason Day
When healthy, Jason Day has been one of the most consistent and promising young players in golf. He has also been a mainstay on Augusta’s leaderboard, finishing second, third, and twentieth in three of the four times he has participated (was forced to withdraw in 2012). Day has made the cut in every one of his events this year and comes into The Masters healthy and under the radar, exactly what he needs if he hopes to join Adam Scott as the only Australian born players with Green Jackets.
11 J.B. Holmes
Many PGA prognosticators have J.B. Holmes as one of the favorites to win this year's Masters. Deservedly so, as he has been one of the hottest golfers on the circuit this year. Holmes has finished in the top-ten in four of his last six tournaments, winning one and being the runner up in two others. If this is any indication of how Holmes will play at Augusta over the weekend, it is safe to place him in the same company as some of the leaderboard regulars. However, Holmes has only been invited to The Masters once, back in 2008, where he finished a pedestrian 25th with a score of +4.
10 Matt Kuchar
Matt Kuchar started off the season hot by finishing in the top ten in four out of five tournaments over December and January, but he has since fizzled out and has only cracked the top-25 twice. The Georgia resident has however shown that he can show up at any major and has been amongst the best at Augusta, finishing in the top ten in each of the past three years and having tied for 27th as his worst finish in The Masters. His drive has never been great but he makes up for it by averaging the second fewest putts per round, and having the second highest one-putt percentage.
9 Phil Mickelson
In 2004, Phil Mickelson finally picked up his first major victory at The Masters, in the middle of a fourteen year period where he finished within the top-ten twelve times and collected three Green Jackets. However, over the past two years, golf’s most famous lefty has finished no better than 52nd and missed the cut. His putting game seems to be struggling more and more every year. Regardless, Mickelson is one of the best to ever play Augusta and has finally shown some signs of life by finishing -9 in last weekend's competitive Shell Houston Open.
8 Lee Westwood
Lee Westwood has been a solid but not attention grabbing golfer this year. Finishing inside the top 25 for the six events he has made the cut (out of seven), however he is yet to finish in the top ten. Don’t let these numbers fool you though, as Westwood is one of the most consistent players in major tournaments, especially The Masters where he has finished eleventh or better in six of his past seven tournaments at Augusta.
7 Dustin Johnson
Of the eighteen events that Dustin Johnson has made the cut in over the past two seasons, he has finished in the top-ten at eleven of them. Johnson may be the most complete player in golf, with golf’s longest drive, pin-point accuracy with his wedges and one of the smoothest putters in the PGA. However, off the course issues have been a distraction. He has however shown that he can still play since returning from his six-month leave of absence, by posting finishes of tied for fourth, second (playoff loss), first, and tied for sixth so far this season.
6 Rickie Fowler
Though many golf experts aren’t favoring Rickie Fowler in this year's Masters because of mediocre play for most of this year, you still have to look at the whole picture. Last year, Fowler finished in the top five of every major. Tying for fifth at The Masters, tying for second in both the U.S. and British Open Championships, as well as a third place tie in the PGA Championship. He became just the third player in PGA history to finish in the top five of all four majors. And the first since Tiger in 2006. Fowler has had solid rounds followed by bad rounds at Augusta, but if he can play consistently this year he should be the darkest horse in the pack.
5 Jimmy Walker
Currently the tenth ranked golfer in the world, and current FedEx Cup points leader, Jimmy Walker looks to follow up last year's eighth-place at Augusta by continuing on the success he has built so far in 2015. Walker has made the cut in all twelve events he has participated in this season, posting two wins (by nine and four strokes) and a playoff loss along the way. One of the hottest golfers in the PGA right now, Walker hopes to add to the five wins he has picked up since the end of 2013, also number one in the PGA.
4 Jordan Spieth
Last year, in Jordan Spieth’s first Masters, he finished tied for second-place with a score of five-under-par. The 21-year-old from Dallas, TX is second in this season's FedEx Cup points standings after ten events. Seven of which he has finished in the top-ten, including a win, a runner up finish, and a three-man-playoff loss over his past three events. While Spieth doesn’t have the long drive that most of the competitors in the field will possess, he makes up for it by having one of the best wedges and putters in the game.
3 Adam Scott
Adam Scott has been lights out at The Masters over the past four years, finishing in the top-15 in each of those tournaments. including a win in 2013 and being the co-runner-up in 2011. Though there are concerns about Scott, who will no longer be playing with caddy Steve Williams, and the question of his recent experimentation with a traditional short-stick putter effecting his game (Scott will switch back to the long stick putter that has brought him most of his recent success), Scott has finished even-par or better in 16 of his past 20 rounds at Augusta, a dangerous golfer who should be within striking distance at the end.
2 Rory McIlroy
The number one ranked player in the world, Rory McIlroy, comes into Augusta needing only a win at The Masters to complete his career Grand Slam. However, The Masters has not exactly been friendly to McIlroy. Last year was his first top-10 at Augusta, which was afforded by a low scoring field allowing an even-par eighth place finish. And everyone remembers the colossal collapse on Sunday in 2011, where he shot an 80 after starting the day with the lead. If, McIlroy, Vegas’ co-favorite for the weekend, can hit his driver consistently and put well, he could run away with his elusive Green Jacket.
1 Bubba Watson
There is no reason to believe the defending champ can’t hold on to his Green Jacket for another year. Bubba has won two of the last three Masters and hasn’t finished outside of the top 15 yet this season, including his playoff win at the HSBC World Golf Championships. Watson’s long-drive is made for Augusta and his ability to use his wedges through Amen Corner are as good as anyone in the field. The third ranked golfer in the world has taken the past month off to prepare for The Masters and all signs point to him being able to keep his spot atop of the leaderboard.