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Sunday, January 26, 2014

My First Look at Potential Major Contenders

With Torrey Pines playing more like Winged Foot during the US Open (anyone for a massacre?) and the other tours back in action, perhaps we can begin to identify some of the potential contenders at this year's majors.

Augusta National clubhouse

In case you've forgotten, here are the 4 venues for this year's majors:
  1. US Masters: Augusta National (Georgia -- pictured above)
  2. US Open: Pinehurst No 2 (North Carolina)
  3. Open Championship: Royal Liverpool aka Hoylake (England)
  4. US PGA: Valhalla Golf Club (Kentucky)
(A quick note: The Open is in the city of Hoylake, England but many players just call the Royal Liverpool golf course "Hoylake.")

Several commentators have already noted that Tiger has a great record at all of these courses and should perhaps be considered the favorite. But with him not playing well at Torrey this week, I think it's too early to decide whether he's a favorite or not.

The same goes for Phil, who has been playing well but had to withdraw from Torrey with a strained muscle. Until we find out whether this is a nagging injury or not -- remember how badly Brandt Snedeker was sidetracked by a muscle strain to his ribs in 2013? -- I will refrain from labeling him a favorite as well.

Likewise, I think Henrik Stenson may have cut his off-season too short. He seems to have cooled down a bit too much right now, and it may be weariness and/or that wrist injury. I need to see some Top10s from him.

So who has an early start out of the gate as we head toward the Masters? I looked for some consistency and, if possible, recent wins. I think a few early possibilities stand out.
  • Sergio Garcia: With his win on the ET this week (his first in the Middle East btw) Sergio now has two wins in less than two months. Coupled with his good finishes since September, he's put himself into the conversation for sure. Plus I really like his improved attitude on the course.
  • Adam Scott: I don't think I need to explain this choice. The player with three wins since September is also the defending Masters champ.
  • Zach Johnson: Like Sergio, he has two recent wins and a half-year of good play. I also like the way he got things back together after a lackluster round at the Humana. Finally, he's proven he can win on a long major course by winning the 2007 Masters... and I'd argue that he's playing much better now than then.
  • Webb Simpson: Webb's been playing much better as of late and he's already won twice in the 2014 wraparound season. My one concern with him is that he might play too much leading up to the majors. If he paces himself, he's a potential contender.
  • Jordan Spieth: Although he only has one win and NO familiarity with the courses, I'm hard-pressed not to have him as an early favorite. If anybody can break through this year, he can.
  • Matt Kuchar: Kuch comes in late on my list simply because he hasn't won since the Memorial last year. But I like all the Top10s -- in the tough conditions of a major, his consistency could make a major his first win in nearly a year.
Yeah, some two-time winners didn't make my early list, like Jimmy Walker and Harris English. That's because they've been pretty much all or nothing -- they win or they don't place particularly well. Thomas Bjorn is in the same boat; I'll be keeping an eye on his progress. And Rory certainly appears to be on the comeback trail but I need to see a little more before I feel good putting him on this list.

I'm sure things are going to change as we near Augusta since there are 11 tournament weeks between Torrey and Augusta. But barring injury, these six players look like pretty good early bets to me.

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