Masters: 15 con­tenders for a pre­cious green jacket

The Standard Journal - - NATIONAL SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son AP Golf Writer

A cap­sule look at 15 top con­tenders for the Masters, to be played this week start­ing on Thurs­day (listed in pre­dicted order of finish):

Age: 30. Coun­try: United States. World rank­ing: 8. World­wide vic­to­ries: 8. Ma­jors: None. Masters ap­pear­ances: 8. Best Masters: Runner-up in 2018.

Masters memory: Mak­ing birdie on the 18th hole in 2018 for his best finish. He was one shot be­hind, the clos­est he has been to the win­ner in a ma­jor.

Back­spin: Fowler has paid his dues in ex­pe­ri­ence on Sun­day at the ma­jors, hav­ing been in the mix eight times go­ing into the last round. Most of the time he has shot him­self out of it be­fore a strong rally at the end when it was too late. Last year gave him another taste of it. His vic­tory in the Phoenix Open in­cluded two balls in the wa­ter on one hole that cost him the lead, which showed his re­siliency. His great­est strength might be a relentless pos­i­tive at­ti­tude.

Age: 34. Coun­try: United States. World rank­ing: 1. World­wide vic­to­ries: 21. Ma­jors: US Open (2016). Masters ap­pear­ances: 8. Best Masters: Tie for 4th in 2016.

Masters memory: Fall­ing down the stairs at his rental home and hav­ing to with­draw mo­ments be­fore his tee time in 2017 when he was No. 1 in the world and the over­whelm­ing fa­vorite to win.

Back­spin: The most tal­ented player in golf also is the best player with only one ma­jor. He is closer than ever to his best form two years ago when he won three straight times be­fore hav­ing to with­draw from the Masters. His win in Mex­ico for his 20th ca­reer PGA Tour vic­tory was dom­i­nant. He has all the tools for a green jacket, but oddly has only been in the mix once. He will be No. 2 the week of the Masters.

Age: 29. Coun­try: North­ern Ire­land.

World rank­ing: 3. World­wide vic­to­ries: 23. Ma­jors: PGA Cham­pi­onship (2012, 2014), US Open (2011), Bri­tish Open (2014). Masters ap­pear­ances: 10. Best Masters: 4th in 2015. Masters memory: Los­ing a four-shot lead in the fi­nal round in 2011 by clos­ing with an 80.

Back­spin: He needs only the Masters for the ca­reer Grand Slam. McIl­roy won The Play­ers Cham­pi­onship to be­come a Masters fa­vorite. He comes to Au­gusta Na­tional preach­ing a bal­anced life that doesn’t re­quire suc­cess on the course to feel good off the course. He says he wants to win the Masters but no longer feels he needs to. The trick is con­vinc­ing that to the winds of Au­gusta Na­tional, which never play fa­vorites. He has fin­ished in the top 10 in all seven of his tour­na­ments this year.

Age: 43. Coun­try: United States. World rank­ing: 12. World­wide vic­to­ries: 91. Ma­jors: Masters (1997, 2001, 2002, 2005), PGA Cham­pi­onship (1999, 2000, 2006, 2007), US Open (2000, 2002, 2008), Bri­tish Open (2000, 2005, 2006).

Best Masters: Won in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005.

Masters memory: His 12-shot vic­tory to set the tour­na­ment record of 270 in his Masters de­but as a pro­fes­sional in 1997.

Back­spin: Woods took care of one come­back by win­ning the Tour Cham­pi­onship last year for his first vic­tory in five years. All that’s left is a ma­jor, and the Masters al­ways has been re­garded the ma­jor as his best bet. This will be the 14th Masters since his last green jacket in 2005. He has shown small im­prove­ments each event and has been gearing to­ward this week. Woods at his best will have an opportunity. Like all his chances he’s had in the last year, the key is getting off to a good start.

Age: 36. Coun­try: Italy. World rank­ing: 7. World­wide vic­to­ries: 8. Ma­jors: Bri­tish Open (2018).

Masters ap­pear­ances: 7. Best Masters: Tie for 19th in 2012.

Masters memory: Go­ing to the Masters for the first time as a cad­die for his brother, Edoardo, the U.S. Am­a­teur cham­pion.

Back­spin: He has won four times since the last Masters, in­clud­ing the Bri­tish Open, and still gets over­looked as a threat. He is not an in­tim­i­dat­ing pres­ence be­cause he’s not a power player. He just plays bet­ter golf than every­one else. Kevin Kis­ner re­ferred to him as “Iron By­ron” at the Match Play for how well he hits the ball.

Age: 25. Coun­try: United States. World rank­ing: 5. World­wide vic­to­ries: 10. Ma­jors: PGA Cham­pi­onship (2017). Masters ap­pear­ances: 3. Best Masters: Tie for 17th in 2018.

Masters memory: Play­ing the fi­nal round in 2018 with friend Jor­dan Spi­eth who shot 64 and nearly won as Thomas closed with a 73.

Back­spin: He has taken his place in the last two years as among the most com­plete play­ers in the game — power, ball strik­ing, short game and putting. Even though he faded last year in the fi­nal round, the ex­pe­ri­ence should serve him well. His last vic­tory was at Fire­stone in early Au­gust, but he made a spir­ited de­fense of his PGA Cham­pi­onship title. A ma­ture head will go a long way at Au­gusta.

Age: 28 Coun­try: United States. World rank­ing: 4. World­wide vic­to­ries: 8. Ma­jors: PGA Cham­pi­onship (2018), US Open (2017, 2018).

Masters ap­pear­ances: 3. Best Masters: Tie for 11th in 2017.

Masters memory: Miss­ing the Masters last year while re­cov­er­ing from a left wrist in­jury. He then won two of the next three ma­jors.

Back­spin: Koepka has be­come a ma­jor player in ev­ery sense of the word. He has won three of the last six ma­jors he played, two of them last year, and is itch­ing to get back to Au­gusta Na­tional af­ter sit­ting out last year with a wrist in­jury. He doesn’t tend to throw shots away at the ma­jors. This is only his fourth Masters, not a long enough his­tory to sug­gest how well it suits him. His power won’t hurt him.

Age: 25. Coun­try: United States. World rank­ing: 32. World­wide vic­to­ries: 14. Ma­jors: Masters (2015), US Open (2015), Bri­tish Open (2017). Masters ap­pear­ances: 5. Best Masters: Won in 2015.

Masters memory: Win­ning by four shots in 2015 and be­com­ing the first player to reach 19-under par at any point in the tour­na­ment.

Back­spin: Out­side of Tiger Woods and Rory McIl­roy, he might be the most fas­ci­nat­ing story at this Masters. He has had a chance go­ing into Sun­day at ev­ery Masters he has played, and al­ready has led af­ter eight of the 20 rounds he has played. But he hasn’t won since the 2017 Bri­tish Open, and a slump has sent him to No. 32 in the world. His best finish this year is a tie for 24th at the Match Play. Au­gusta Na­tional fig­ures to pro­vide the ul­ti­mate gauge on his game.

Age: 25. Coun­try: United States. World rank­ing: 6. World­wide vic­to­ries: 5. Ma­jors: None. Masters ap­pear­ances: 2. Best Masters: Tie for 21st in 2016 as an am­a­teur.

Masters memory: Win­ning the sil­ver cup as low am­a­teur in 2016.

Back­spin: The man who brings sci­ence to golf might need to rely more on the space be­tween his ears. No one can ar­gue with his ap­proach to the game be­cause he has won four times in the last 10 months, in­clud­ing the Memorial and two FedEx Cup play­off events. He is a per­fec­tion­ist on a course that de­mands pre­ci­sion into the greens. DeCham­beau has shown plenty of emo­tion in his quest for per­fec­tion, of­ten be­rat­ing him­self dur­ing prac­tice. Lost in the sci­ence is his knack for be­ing a good closer.

Age: 28. Coun­try: United States. World rank­ing: 18. World­wide vic­to­ries: 6. Ma­jors: Masters (2018). Masters ap­pear­ances: 5. Best Masters: Won in 2018. Masters memory: Hear­ing loud cheers for Rory McIl­roy on the first tee in the fi­nal group and go­ing on to win his first ma­jor in 2018.

Back­spin: He has not won since the Masters, and his game has looked lost in the first few months of the year. He last fin­ished among the top 10 on American soil at the U.S. Open last sum­mer. He said he was in a bet­ter place now than he was at this time last year. A week later, he brought David Lead­bet­ter into his camp to help sort out his swing. The last Masters cham­pion to de­fend was Tiger Woods in 2002.

Age: 38. Coun­try: Eng­land. World rank­ing: 2. World­wide vic­to­ries: 24. Ma­jors: US Open (2013). Masters ap­pear­ances: 13. Best Masters: Lost in a play­off in 2017.

Masters memory: The emo­tions of los­ing in a play­off to Ser­gio Garcia in 2017 and be­ing happy for a long­time friend.

Back­spin: He will be No. 1 in the world dur­ing the week of the Masters. Among play­ers re­garded as con­tenders, Rose tops the list of those with­out a green jacket be­cause of his his­tory of good re­sults at Au­gusta Na­tional. His driv­ing and irons are his strength. His putting of­ten de­cides how well he goes. Since win­ning at Tor­rey Pines, he has not been a threat to win any tour­na­ment and was ousted on the week­end at Match Play by Kevin Na. His cad­die, Mark Fulcher, should be back on the bag at Au­gusta.

/ aP

Some of the golfers ex­pected to compete in the Masters golf tour­na­ment in Au­gusta, Ga. Shown are Bryson DeCham­beau, Rickie Fowler, Dustin John­son, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIl­roy, Phil Mick­el­son, Francesco Moli­nari, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Jor­dan Spi­eth, Justin Thomas and Tiger Woods.

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