Ahhh The Masters… my favorite sporting event of the year. It’s FINALLY here! It really is a tradition unlike any other, with views of Magnolia Lane, the beautiful azaleas, Amen Corner, the classic 16th hole, and the presentation of the Green Jacket awarded to the winner on Sunday night. These are images forever ingrained in my head and sights I cannot wait to see this week. As always there are dozens of major story-lines heading into the week. Here are a few that I’m really keeping an eye on…
Can Jordan Spieth find his form?
Photo credit: NYT
Personally, I think this is the most intriguing story-line headed into the 1st major of the year. We all know the affinity Jordan Spieth has for The Masters. He’s had some of the most unforgettable moments at Augusta over the last several years. From his breakthrough win at 21 years old, to his collapse on the 13th hole in 2016, and his final round 64 (-8 under par) to almost force a playoff last year. But for those who haven’t been paying attention to the tour lately, Spieth has been a disaster the last 9 months. His last top 10 came all the way back in the Open Championship last July. He didn’t finish inside the top 30 in the FedEx Cup rankings last year, meaning he didn’t make it to the Tour Championship which is the final event of the golf season. His best finish to date this year is T24 and he has fallen all the way down to 33rd in the world golf rankings, a far cry from occupying the 3rd spot after last year’s Masters. The reason for his struggles… well Spieth cannot seem to hit his driver with any accuracy anymore. He’s ranked in the 200s on the tour in strokes gained off the tee and he’s continuously missing putts from inside 5 feet. He’s had some good rounds this year but constantly has one blow up hole or round to take him out of contention.
So is Augusta the place where he turns his game around? While Spieth has never struggled with his game to this degree heading into the Masters before, he’s had questions going into the first major of the year… and always proves the doubters wrong…
Yes you’re reading that right, Spieth’s worst finish in 5 Masters appearances is a T11. I’ve made the mistake of doubting him here before… and I promised myself I won’t make it again (memo to self DON’T FADE SPIETH AT THE MASTERS!). I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a player navigate his way around Augusta like we have with Spieth. There’s something special about this course for him and I think he’s going to be in contention this week. Right now Spieth’s odds sit around 16-1 or 18-1 to win the tournament.
Is Rory ready to complete the career Grand Slam?
Photo credit: Golf Digest
Rory McIlroy is arguably the hottest golfer on the tour right now. He made a concerted effort to play in the United States earlier than he has in the past and to play more on the PGA Tour this year (he hasn’t renewed his European Tour membership yet which is a story in its own). McIlroy started the 2019 calendar year at the Tournament of Champions (the first tournament of the new calendar year), an event he’s had the chance to play in just about every year of his career. This was his first time participating in the TOC. Rory has played in 7 events since the start of the new year and has 7 top 10 finishes including a win at the Players Championship. He’s driving the ball as straight and far as he ever has, ranking 1st on tour in Strokes Gained Off the Tee. His putting has looked improved, and it can be argued that this is the best he’s ever been playing heading into his 5th chance at completing the Career Grand Slam. He’s the odds on favorite (7-1) to receive the green jacket Sunday night. He was 2nd headed into Sunday at last year’s tournament before faltering to a round of +2 and finishing a “disappointing” T5.
Rory knows he’s going to be getting questions about whether or not he can complete the Career Grand Slam all week. The real question is can he handle the pressure. I don’t care if you’re Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, or MJ DeDonato, if you’re in contention on the back 9 of any golf tournament, never mind The Masters and going for the Career Grand Slam, you’re going to feel the pressure. I expect Rory to be there on Sunday as his length off the tee and around the green game (2 of the most important traits to succeed at this tournament) have always helped him in the past at Augusta. Am I convinced he’ll be able to handle the pressure and slip-on the green jacket… well you’ll have to keep reading to find out.
Does Tiger actually have a chance to win his first major since 2008?
Photo Credit: Golf.com
Now that Tiger got the monkey off his back winning the Tour Championship, his first win on the tour since 2013, his main focus is on winning majors. All the tournaments he’s played in this season, are to gear himself up to compete and win the tournament that means the most to him; The Masters. I’ve said before that I doubted his ability to really compete for a major win ever again. He obviously proved me wrong after his electric performances last year at The Open (T6) and the PGA Championship (Solo 2nd). Augusta is a ball-strikers course. Tiger’s strength these days is his iron game. He’s still one of the best iron players on tour. Woods ranks 3rd in strokes gained approach over the last 50 rounds, amongst all players in the field (87).
The biggest question for Woods since the start of last year is constantly his driver/game off the tee. It was a big issue for him last year heading into the Masters and it let him down at times as he finished the tournament at +1 and a tie for 32nd. His driver has been a little more consistent as of late. Woods has gained strokes off the tee in 7 of his last 8 tournaments, a very good sign heading into the week as Strokes Gained Off the Tee is constantly one of the best indicators for success at Augusta. Should Woods drive the ball far and straight this week, he should be in contention come Sunday. Everyone loves Tiger and wants to see him recapture his magic at The Masters. If he does falter this year, this will still be an amazing tournament, so don’t be one of those fair weather golf fans who taps out on the tournament… nothing beats The Masters!
Top 5 Predictions
5. Hideki Matsuyama – My friends know that… HIDEKIIIII is one of my favorite golfers on the tour. He’s been absolute hot fire with his irons the last several months. He has the course history, current form, and tee to green game to be in the running late Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, he also has the entire country of Japan on his back as no Japanese golfer has ever won a major and I expect those pressures to be too much for him to actually win at Augusta this year. (Odds to win 35-1 via Westgate Las Vegas)
4. Rory McIlroy – As I mentioned above, Rory is arguably the hottest golfer on tour. He’s the best driver in the field and has the length to dominate Augusta. If Rory tees off in the final group on Sunday, this could hurt his chances to win. It adds to the pressure of trying to complete the Grand Slam. If he tees off in the penultimate twosome or 3rd to last, I think this would help lessen the pressure and give him a better chance to wear the green jacket come Sunday night. (Odds to win 7/1 via Westgate Las Vegas)
3. Francesco Molinari – The casual golf fan may not be familiar with this name, but they should be. Molinari won the Open Championship last year, becomingthe first Italian to ever win a major (making all us fellow Italians proud). He then proceeded to finish 6th at the PGA Championship last August, the final major of the year. Simply put, Molinari has been a stone-cold assassin on the golf course the last several months. He’s coming in with scorching hot form, winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month and finishing 3rd in the WGC Match-Play a little over a week ago. Molinari seems to never find himself in trouble off the tee and never makes a big number on a hole. He’s as consistent as a golfer you find on the tour, missing just 2 cuts over the last year. The big con against Molinari is his course history. His best finish ever at Augusta was T19 back in 2012. He also had a solid showing last year as he finished T20. I’m willing to overlook Molinari’s spotty course history because quite frankly he’s a different golfer today than he was a year ago, nevermind the last several years. Do yourself a favor and do not overlook Molinari! (odds to win 20-1 via Westgate Las Vegas)
2. Dustin Johnson – Between Rory’s hot run, Tiger being Tiger, Fan favorite Rickie Fowler winning this year, it seems as if DJ has become somewhat of a forgotten man. I’m not totally sure why, as DJ has already won once on the PGA Tour this year and once in Europe. He’s coming in with 4 straight Top 10’s and his stats check out as good as anyone in the field, ranking 4th in strokes gained off the tee, 3rd in approach, and 2nd in strokes gained tee-to green. DJ is also great in the wind due to his low ball flight. We’ve seen the wind pick up at Augusta in the past (i.e. 2016 when Danny Willett won at -5). Should the wind become a factor, DJ’s game might be best suited amongst all the big guns. (Odds to win 10-1 via Westgate Las Vegas)
Photo Credit: Heavy.com
1. Justin Rose – Your 2019 Masters Champion will be none other than #TeamRose (He loves putting that in all his Instagram posts) aka Justin Rose. It’s been a long time coming for Rose. His course history at Augusta is as good as anyone without a win. He has 5 top 10’s including two 2nd place finishes. He’s never missed a cut in 13 appearances. He has 11 top 25 finishes, and has never finished worse than 39th (which was all the way back in 2003, his first start ever at Augusta). Course history has proved year in and year out to have more significance at Augusta than anywhere else on the PGA Tour. Rose has already won on tour this year and similar to Tiger, is really concerned with trying to win majors first and foremost at this point in his career. He has the length off the tee, the iron game, game around the greens, and has been rolling the ball on the green as well as he ever has over the past year. Rose also has a U.S. Open victory to his name, so we know he can deal with the pressure of the back 9 of a major on a Sunday. As I mentioned, this has been a long-time coming for Rose and he feels destined to finally breakthrough and receive his first green jacket come Sunday afternoon. (Odds to win 12-1 via Westgate Las Vegas)
Buckle up everyone it’s going to be one helluva week. Feel free to reach out to me for any advice in your pools (if I’m not in it), betting advice, and DraftKings. Hopefully you enjoy the tournament and win a little money while doing it!