Perhaps the most anticipate Professional Golf Tournament of the year is finally upon us with The Masters. There are a ton of headlines to talk about going into Thursday morning along with making my predictions.
Will Tiger Woods contend, or even make the cut?
Of course the biggest story of the week is the return of Tiger Woods to Augusta and to professional golf in general. Tiger has not played a tournament since the Farmers Insurance Open back in early February, and he did not even make it through the first round before withdrawing. There were many questions earlier in the week if he would even try to play this week, but after missing last year’s Masters, there was no way he would miss two in a row. As for if he will contend, I do not believe his game is where he wants it to be, or where it needs to be to contend at a major. I would consider it a success if he makes the cut and gets to play the weekend.
Can Rory McIlroy complete the career Grand Slam?
There are only five players in the history of golf that have won all four majors in their careers. They are Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, and Gene Sarazen. Rory is looking to become the sixth, and at the age of 25, it would be an incredible feat. Rory is currently the number one ranked golfer in the world, and is the favorite to win at 7/1. Rory should be on the front page of the leaderboard for most of the week because his game has been sharp, and he is coming off his best Masters finish in 2014 with an 8th place finish.
Can Bubba Watson win three Green Jackets in four years?
Augusta has belonged to Bubba Watson these last three years by winning twice and even with all the pressure of defending his first ever major, he still made the cut in 2013. Augusta has seemed to favor left handed golfers over the last decade or so, and some people attribute that to trying to make the course tougher for Tiger Woods. However, Bubba, Phil and even Mike Weir in 2003 have taken advantage of the sudden left handed paradise that has seen lefties win six of the last 12 Green Jackets. I expect Bubba to make the cut, but not much more, and it to be a similar tournament that he played back in 2013. He admits that he feels a lot of pressure when he plays and there is not more pressure a player could feel than walking onto the first tee as the defending champion. In 2013 he said the pressure got to him and caused him to perform poorly to his standards, and I expect that pressure to be there again as he is defending the second time. Although it would be incredible to see Bubba win the Masters three times in four years, do not look for him to be in contention Sunday afternoon.
Which young golfers will contend on Sunday?
A lot of the talk has been about Jordan Spieth this year, and rightfully so. He has been one of, if not, the hottest golfer on tour and has been in contention in almost every tournament he has entered this year. He is coming off a win at the Valspar Championship and two straight runner up finishes at the Valero Texas Open and the Shell Houston Open. Spieth is a popular pick this week and I would be very surprised if he is not on the front page of the leaderboard come Sunday morning. However, there are many other young golfers that are playing well and could upset the field in capturing their first Masters Championship. The first one has to be Rickie Fowler. He finished in the top five in all four majors last year, and even though he is not having a great years, he is someone you have to keep your eye on this week. Patrick Reed is another young golfer who is having a fantastic year, and has a real shot to contend with his long distance off the tee and consistent putting. Finally, last week’s winner JB Holmes is coming in with the most momentum since he won the Shell Houston Open last Sunday. He is also a very long hitter which is a huge advantage at Augusta, so keep an eye on him as well.
Most intriguing pairing of the first two rounds.
This was an easy answer for me, and I could not believe they put these three players together for the first two rounds, and that is Patrick Reed, Keegan Bradley, and Ian Poulter. These are three of the loudest, and outgoing players at the Ryder Cup, and there is no love lost between the United States and Europe when it comes to that. Ian Poulter has the bragging rights of beating Reed and Bradley in the Ryder Cup last year, but having two Americans to one European should be very interesting. I doubt there will be any animosity or trash talking between them, however it should be a popular topic between these three golfers to talk about while they are walking around August together Thursday and Friday. Expect a match play feel from these three players since they all excel in that format against each other during the Ryder Cup.
My official prediction to win the 2015 Masters Tournament is Dustin Johnson. I think he is in the perfect position and plays the perfect style to do well at Augusta National, and this year is the year that he puts it all together for his first major victory. Dustin is a 30 year old American golfer who has yet to win a major, but has come close in the past. He made headlines at the end of last season by saying he was taking some time off to focus on himself and his family, but there were rumors that he was actually suspended for cocaine use, but that was never confirmed. Dustin has been playing exceptionally well, playing in six tournaments this season, making the cut in four, all four of those are top 10s, three top five’s, a win and one second place finish by losing in a playoff. He is a very long hitter, and if he can be in the top half of the putting statistics he should have no problem contending all week. He is currently sitting at 12/1 odds which is tied for the fourth favorite with Jason Day. My sleeper pick this week is another big hitting American golfer, Brooks Koepka. He is a 24 year old up and coming golfer who has already put his mark on the 2015 season with a victory at the Waste Management Open. He is currently the 19th ranked golfer in the world and is currently sitting at 80/1 odds to win the Masters. One deep sleeper to think about if you believe in the Rory McIlroy affect would be Jason Dufner. Him and his wife have just announced that they are getting a divorce, and after the run that Rory went on after breaking off his engagement with Caroline Wozniacki, there is a chance Jason focus’ all of his energy towards golf and has a good week this week. He is currently at 125/1 to win. This week should bring all of the excitement that majors usually bring, especially since there is no clear cut favorite to win like there has been in years past, so look for an amazing week and hopefully a close finish on Sunday evening.
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