Countdown to Masters 2017: Top Ten in Focus
With the first major championship due to commence on the hallowed fairways of Augusta National this Thursday, time for Hole19 to focus in on the best players in today's game to help whet the appetite for the greatest spectacle in all of golf.
Choosing a possible winner of the 81st Masters will be no mean feat. It's possible that the Green Jacket will be captured by one of the players in the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) Top Ten.
Well then, let's have a look at who's in the mix.
Dustin Johnson (World Number 1)
Having won all three of his most recent starts, DJ enters the first major of the year as every rational commentator’s safe bet. That in itself is a worrisome pedestal to be placed upon; no Masters favourite has captured a Green Jacket since Tiger Woods back in 2005.
The modern Augusta National seems set up perfectly to allow players like the current world number one to flourish. No longer the second shot course it once was, driving length certainly comes into play and, as we all know, Johnson is pretty much unrivalled in that department.
Watch below as Dustin crushes one down the fairway at last year’s Memorial tournament:
Rory McIlroy (World Number 2)
The Northern Irishman is a Masters win away from emulating the true greats of the game and completing a ‘Career Grand Slam’, with Tiger Woods the only player who has managed to win all four major championships in the past 50 years
Though his season has been rather stop-start due to a troublesome rib injury, an impressive performance at last month’s Arnold Palmer Invitational followed up a solid showing at the WGC in Mexico.
There seems no obvious signs of ring-rustiness after the recent lay-off. Especially if this monster of a drive is anything to go by:
Jason Day (World Number 3)
Despite an emotional few weeks, Day has made himself available for the first major championship of the year. The former world number one received more positive news this week when his mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis was reversed.
A more focused Jason Day, with a renewed perspective on life, has to be in the reckoning for a first Green Jacket. Don’t expect there to be a dry eye in the house if the Aussie sinks the winning putt come Sunday evening.
Hideki Matsuyama (World Number 4)
There’s a current trend of Asian players lighting up world golf with increased regularity, and not just in the ladies game either. The continent’s second major winner – after Y.E. Yang’s 2009 PGA Championship win – seems just around the corner with Hideki seemingly the most likely to capture it.
Recent wins have shown the Japanese to be a player who creates more birdie chances than most in the field. If the putter gets hot then he could storm into an unassailable lead.
Here are some of his impressive highlights for February's Waste Management Open in Phoenix. His wedge game was really on point:
Henrik Stenson (World Number 5)
Last year’s ding-dong battle with Phil Mickleson at Royal Troon was a real seasonal highlight and will go down in history as one of the truly great major tussles.
In terms of his chances this week, the Swede comes into the Masters having showed sketchy form at best. He has started 2017 slowly missing two cuts in his four tournaments, including finishing T121 at last week’s Shell Houston Open.
Never featuring inside the top ten at Augusta is a worry. He needs to harness the confidence gained from the breathtaking play at Royal Troon last year to have a chance.
Jordan Spieth (World Number 6)
If Spieth is to prevail at this year’s Masters he will have laid to rest the demons of twelve month previous when a calamity on the 12th hole at Augusta National – and a late surge by Englishman Danny Willett – helped the 2015 champion snatch defeat from the very jaws of victory.
There are few players in today’s game who seem to have the armoury to win multiple Green Jackets, though it seems very likely that the young Texan will challenge on many occasions.
Justin Thomas (World Number 7)
Though we’re barely into April it would be safe to say that Thomas is enjoying a real breakthrough year. Being one of the game’s longest hitters and best ball strikers has helped capture three wins already this season.
If he can keep his game on point, and his temper in check, then he may be ready to cash in early on his undoubted status as a major champion in waiting.
If Justin can turn it on like he did in January's Sony Open, where he shot an outstanding 59, he'll be right at the top of the field:
Rickie Fowler (World Number 8)
Outside of an emotional win for Jason Day, you would be hard pushed to find a more popular winner of the Masters than Rickie Fowler.
Despite his incredibly consistent major form of 2014 Fowler has flattered to deceive in majors since. That said, he managed to put together some impressive play in Houston last week to finish in a tie for third place.
Adam Scott (World Number 9)
Scott’s sole major win to date came here at Augusta in 2013. He has been a little bit in and out since, not least due to the rule change around the anchoring of putters, and will come into this year’s Masters somewhat under the radar.
A player who has winning pedigree at Augusta National is always to be taken seriously and, if he can find his rhythm (and a reliable putting stroke), then we could see him threaten the top of the leaderboard.
Some memorable moments from his 2013 win:
Alex Noren (World Number 10)
Winning on four separate occasions during last year’s European Tour propelled Noren into the world’s top ten and to within a hair’s breadth of qualification for Paul McGinley’s European Ryder Cup team.
As an Augusta rookie he would be doing well to feature as not since Fuzzy Zoeller, in 1979, has there been a debutant winner of a Green Jacket. In fact, there has never been a Swedish winner of a Green Jacket. Could it happen this year? Stranger things have happened.
Who is your pick for this year’s Masters? Will then winner come from the current official top ten in the world? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter.