It is Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, and a tradition unlike any other is about to commence once again! It is the first major of 2018, and the fight for The Green Jacket will be intense as the world’s best, and some of the greatest of all-time attempt to win The Masters.
Coming into Augusta, there has been one player who has been creating all of the major headlines thanks to his wonderful comeback after his tremendous struggles with a back injury, and that man is of course the four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods.
The 14-time major champion since his return at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December last year has only missed the cut once, and has had three top 10 finishes from his six events on his return from injury, including at the Hero World Challenge (Tied for ninth), and at his last two events coming into The Masters at the Valspar Championship (Tied for second behind Paul Casey), and at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard (Tied for fifth behind Rory McIlroy).
Overall, Woods has played in just nine events over the past 24 months, and while he may be ranked 103rd in the world, based on the points he has garnered in those nine events, he is very much playing like a Top 10 player, there is no doubt about that! However, if Woods were to claim The Masters this week for the fifth time, not only would he become the lowest-ranked player to win at Augusta National, it would also be his first major since the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines, which he of course won in that 18-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate (which then went to a sudden-death playoff) while battling a knee injury, which he was forced to miss the rest of 2008 season because of that.
And, considering what Tiger Woods has been through over recent years, if he were to claim his 15th major crown, it would rank as one of the greatest sporting achievements of all-time!
However, there are plenty of others who are willing to contend for the title of being a Masters champion, including World No.1 and 2016 US Open champion Dustin Johnson, who of course missed The Masters last year due to a back injury suffered by falling down a staircase at his rental home near Augusta; World No.2 and the winner of the 2017 PGA Championship Justin Thomas; World No.3 Jon Rahm, who won the Farmers Insurance Open in 2017, which was his first professional victory, to announce himself to the golfing world as a future star; World No.4 and three-time major champion Jordan Spieth, who of course won The Masters in 2015; 2013 US Open champion, and 2016 Olympic gold medallist Justin Rose; Hideki Matsuyama, who won the WGC -HSBC Champions in 2016, and the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational in 2017; four-time major champion Rory McIlroy; World No.8 Rickie Fowler, who won THE PLAYERS Championship in 2015, and defending Masters champion Sergio Garcia.
However, recent history is against the likes of Johnson, Thomas, Rahm, Spieth, Rose, Matsuyama, McIlroy, Fowler, and Garcia, who are all ranked inside the world’s Top 10, as eight of the last 11 Masters tournaments have been won by a player ranked outside the world’s top 10, including three of the last four, and the last two. The last four of those eight who won The Masters while ranked outside of the world’s top 10 were ranked inside the Top 20, with the last three ranked 12th or higher.
So, if you are looking for outside contenders to win The Green Jacket, you would be looking at the likes of Jason Day, who won the PGA Championship in 2015; World No.12 Tommy Fleetwood, who has won in Abu Dhabi for the last two years (2017, 2018), and is slowly rising up the rankings, as well as World No.13 Paul Casey, who won the BMW PGA Championship in 2009; World No.15 Alex Noren, who won the BMW PGA Championship in 2017: three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson.
Overall, when I look at all of the contenders, the one that stands out is Justin Thomas, who had a breakout year in 2017, winning five times, and has already won The Honda Classic in 2018, finishing inside the top 10 in his last four events, and in my opinion is the one to beat at Augusta National.