The first golf major of the year starts on Thursday and conditions at Augusta look even more testing than usual. The Masters is notoriously tough to predict but we’ve picked out a few of the leading contenders.
With heavy rain and thunderstorms predicted in Georgia and the notoriously quick course always a stern test for players, Jack Nicklaus – the event’s honorary starter along with Gary Player – said putting in particular will prove a challenge.
The 7,435-yard course will “get fast pretty quick,” confronting players with surprises, The Golden Bear predicted. “It keeps you off balance. When it’s wet, it’s not too bad,” Nicklaus told reporters on Tuesday.
“Once it starts to get firm and the wind starts to blow … it blows from so many different directions that the golf course changes constantly. “I don’t care how good you are, how much you play, the greens are the most severe greens in the game of golf, and I would say they are the most difficult to putt.”
Last year, Englishman Danny Willett was the shock winner after Jordan Speith collapsed on the back nine, where the event is often decided. Here’s a look at a few of the major contenders for the 2017 edition.
The in-form favorite
Since the beginning of February, world number one Dustin Johnson has won three tournaments in North America and goes in to the big one in fine form.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in my game right now,” the big-hitting American said after a practice round on Tuesday. The 32-year-old has built solidly on a breakout year in 2016, when he picked up a first major win at the US Open, and boasts an average driving distance of 316.2 yards, second on the PGA Tour this season.
But he knows big driving won’t be enough at Augusta. “Everything has got to be working this week,” he said. “If you want to win, you’ve got to drive it well, you’re going to have to hit your irons well. You’re going to have to putt it well. That’s what it takes to win.
On the search for the full set
Rory McIlroy is is a four-time major champion and the Northern Irishman needs just this event to become only the sixth golfer to secure a career grand slam.
The 27-year-old famously let a four shot lead slip in the 2011 Masters before winning his maiden major at the US Open just 70 days later. He announced on Wednesday that he has changed his brand and model of fairway woods, introducing new TaylorMade woods alongside Callaway irons and driver because he believes they better suit the fast course at Augusta. He said he now knows what to expect.
“It’s always important to get off to a decent start but especially here,” he said on Tuesday. “You don’t want to feel like you’re playing catch up on this course, because you feel like the more you force the issue, the more things can go wrong.”
Emerging Spaniard Jon Rahm looks to have a genuine shot at becoming the first Masters debutant to slip on the famous green jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, after winning his maiden PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines earlier this year.
The powerful 22-year-old has impressed many observers and, while his lack of experience may have showed at last month’s WGC Match-Play – where he lost to Johnson at the 18th hole – he’s not short of belief.
“If I didn’t think I could win it, I wouldn’t be here,” he said after arriving in Georgia. “Obviously this is different. This is a major and my first time in Augusta. It is very, very impressive. I am going to tee up believing that I can win. I might do it. I might not. But that’s how I do it.”
The Masters master
Just a year older than Rahm , Jordan Spieth already has 9 Tour wins and two majors to his name, including a win at Augusta in 2015. The Texan, who is paired with German Martin Kaymer for the opening round on Thursday, is again among the favorites to take the green jacket.
Spieth, who equaled the course record in his win two years ago, tied for 2nd in 2014 and 2016 and is likely to be in contention once again. “It’s my favourite tournament,” he said. “I love being in contention here. I’ve had the luxury of having that every time I’ve been here.”