by Malec Fahmy ’20
“It’s a tradition unlike any other.” CBS announcer Jim Nantz’s famous line is not just a promotional phrase, it is reality. This Thursday, golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player will hit their inaugural tee shots to start off the 83rd edition of The Masters. Unlike in years past, this year’s tournament will have one of its smallest field in decades, but the excitement is greater than ever.
Some of the most intriguing storylines come from Ireland’s Rory McIlroy. The four-time major champion comes into this year’s Masters looking to achieve the career grand slam, something only five other golfers have ever achieved. McIlroy is playing arguably the best golf of his career, being first on tour in Strokes Gained (SG) Total, SG Tee to Green, and SG Off-the-Tee. McIlroy has seven straight top ten finishes this season, including a runner-up at the World Golf Championship (WGC) – Mexico Championship and a win at the Players Championship.
Aside from McIlroy, the biggest storylines always follow Tiger Woods. Last year, the questions were if he could compete at majors, win on tour, or even stay healthy. He has now answered all of those questions, finishing in a tie for sixth at the Open Championship at Carnoustie, where he held the lead on the back nine on Sunday, and finishing second at the PGA Championship at Bellerive, where he battled it out with three time major champion Brooks Koepka. Then, weeks later, he won the Tour Championship against the best golfers in the world, putting all questions about whether the comeback was real to rest. Now, he looks forward to trying to capture his fifteenth major championship, and his fifth green jacket.
In 2017, Dustin Johnson was best best player in the world by leaps and bounds, rattling off three straight victories coming into the Masters, but when he arrived, he slipped down a set of stairs and was forced to withdraw. Now, he is as close to the form he was in then, with his overpowering length off the tee and world-class putting. Johnson is among the favorites to take home his first green jacket this year. Another player to watch is Rickie Fowler, a player who has never won a major but who has been in the top five countless times. Last year Fowler finished runner-up after making birdie on the seventy second hole which would land him one shot behind eventual champion Patrick Reed. All three players will be in contention on the back nine on Sunday so long as they avoid costly mistakes.
Although all of these players have the potential to win, there are a few other names that will assuredly be ready to play. World number one Justin Rose is as good as it gets; he has every shot in the bag and is very consistent. Jordan Spieth is a player who lives for the Masters. It does not matter how well he has been playing, Augusta National brings out the best in his game. He has four top three finishes at the Masters in five starts, and has a share of the 72 hole record with Woods at 270 (18 under par).
With a wide open field this year, these players are the most high profile names in the game, and all plan to peak at the greatest tournament in the world. No matter who you pick to win, this year’s edition of The Masters is guaranteed to have an exciting finish. With the way McIlroy is playing, he would be my pick to finish on top this week, capturing his first green jacket.