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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

My "5 to Watch" at the Masters

Well, after continuing my amazing track record with my ANA picks last week -- at least Inbee made the playoff! -- I'm ready to try again, this time with my picks for the Masters.

Sergio with Masters trophy

Let's be clear on this one. There are SOOOOOO many good picks this week that you could take just about any five players in the field and have a decent chance of picking the winner. And the Masters has a way of giving us unexpected winners. How many of you picked Sergio to break through last year?

After some personal debate, I have decided not to include Tiger in this list. While he has improved much faster than I expected and I won't be surprised if he does win, he doesn't make my "5 to Watch" list. Why? Because I still see him making strategic errors coming down the stretch in regular events, and I suspect he's still learning how his body reacts to adrenaline after the fusion. That can only be amplified in a major, and he hasn't even teed it up in a major in two years. You have to go all the way back to the 2015 Masters just to find a major when he played the weekend!

For the record, I do expect Tiger to contend this week and I expect getting a "major rep" will help him start winning the regular tournaments soon. But I feel that he's still one, perhaps two, majors away from being a serious favorite in the big ones. So, barring any wins before the US Open, I'm targeting Carnoustie as a realistic chance for a Tiger major.

In the meantime, who are my frontrunners for a Masters win? They might not be the ones you would expect. Here's my list:
  • With three Masters in his pocket and a WGC win already this season, Phil Mickelson seems ready to get back in the mix. Phil generally plays well here, no matter what his game looks like coming in, but he's shown steady improvement in all areas of his game through the early part of this year. He might not be my top pick, but he's definitely Top5.
  • Rory McIlroy seems to have finally found his putter, which should worry the rest of the field. And if any of his competition hopes that's a fleeting thing, Rory's win at the API should have them shaking in their Footjoys. When Rory's firing on all cylinders, he can seduce a really low score from Augusta National's sensuous greens. Look for him to make a good run at the career Grand Slam this week.
  • Bubba Watson has two Masters already, but he's never come into Augusta with two other wins in his rear view mirror. His putter is rolling well, his driver is seeking fairways better than it has in a long time, and his mind seems free from the boogeymen that have haunted him at times. And like Phil, Bubba has a special relationship with Augusta. I like his chances as well.
  • Last year Justin Rose came up just short in his duel with Sergio -- not as a result of bad play, but simply because Sergio was "on." Justin has since rebounded from that loss, posting a couple of wins in the past few months and Top5s in the Valspar and API, so he's also in good form. He's somewhat under most people's radar, and I think that's a shame.
  • And my flier is... Ian Poulter. I've already written about how I think the last couple of years have changed Ian's perspective, and I think he's primed to play well this week. It's easy to forget that he has a pretty good record around Augusta, and I think he's in a good frame of mind to make a push for his first major this week.
I know I've left out a lot of players who are getting much more media attention, but this year has given us a cornucopia of surprise winners and I see no reason this week should break that trend.

As for my pick, I've already written in past posts that Bubba Watson moved to the top of my list when he got his second win in Austin, and I've seen nothing since to change my mind. Given Bubba's current form, I think my picks may fare better this week than they did at Rancho Mirage.

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