The Masters – 2018 Preview

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.

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2017 Australian Open – Preview

This week, the 102nd Australian Open takes place at The Australian Golf Club,  located in the suburb of Rosebery, which is around 10 kilometres south of the central business district of Sydney, and it will host the PGA Tour of Australasia’s flagship tournament for the record 20th time.

The 2017 Emirates Australian Open brings together some of Australia’s and the world’s best golfers to Australia, but the field is headlined by two of the best golfers in the world in current World Number Two and defending champion Jordan Spieth, and current World Number 12 Jason Day.

Spieth has had another strong and consistent year in 2017, winning three tournaments, including The 146th Open Championship, as well as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and the Travelers Championship before that. In total, Spieth has recorded 11 Top 10 finishes out of the 22 events he has competed in this year, and heads into the Australian Open in solid form, having finished inside the Top 10 in his last four events, but he hasn’t won a tournament since winning The Open Championship back in July.

However, Spieth has great memories of Australia having won the Australian Open twice, including last year at the Royal Sydney Golf Club, where he won in a playoff over Ashley Hall and Cameron Smith, as well as at The Australian Golf Club back in 2014, where he shot an eight-under final round of 63 to claim his first Australian Open title by six strokes, and just the second title of his then young career to announce himself to the world as a potential superstar in a tragic and symbolic week for Australian sport, a week that we remember oh so well!

In between that, Spieth finished second at the 2015 Australian Open behind Matt Jones by just a single stroke at The Australian Golf Club, so he will certainly be primed for a huge showing this week.

However, what do I make of the form of Jason Day?

He hasn’t had the greatest years on so many levels, dealing with the health issues of his mother, and then later on in the year, he parted ways with his caddie Col Swatton, although Swatton is still a key part of Day’s team as a swing coach. This is before you get to his form on the course.

Only five Top 10 finishes from 21 events in 2017, with his best finish being a second-place finish at the AT&T Byron Nelson back in May after being defeated in a playoff by Billy Horschel. Day’s last Top 10 finish came at the BMW Championship, where he finished fourth behind eventual winner Marc Leishman, as well as Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler.

At this stage, Day is facing the prospect of becoming the first player since Tiger Woods to finish a year outside of the Top 10 on the Official World Golf Rankings after being the year-end world number one the year before. In addition to this, Australian men’s golf is facing the prospect of having no golfer inside the end-year Top 10 on the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time since 2010.

However, Day has finished inside the Top 20 in six of his last seven events, so he heads into the 2017 Australian Open in decent form.

So, who is my tip to win this week at The Australian Golf Club?

For me, it is hard to go past Jordan Spieth given his strong record not only in Australia, but also at The Australian Golf Club, but I sense that Jason Day is going to be on much better than he has been throughout 2017, and will be looking to win his first tournament since winning THE PLAYERS Championship in May 2016, aiming to avoid his first winless year since 2012.

 

 

99th PGA Championship – Preview

The fourth and final major of the year, the 2017 PGA Championship takes place this week from the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte in North Carolina, and it will be the first time that the club will be holding a major championship.

However, it has been a regular destination on the PGA Tour, having hosted the Wells Fargo Championship, which has been known as the Quail Hollow Championship (2009-2010) and the Wachovia Championship (2003-2008), since 2003, with the exception of this year to focus on getting the club and the course ready to host its first major championship, which should provide a challenging test for the best professional golfers in the world.

Looking at the history of the 14 times that the Quail Hollow Club has hosted the Wells Fargo Championship, the worst winning score has been eight under par back in 2013, and only twice has the score of the winner been worse than 10 under par. However, the Quail Hollow Club is a tough place to play if you are not from the United States, with the Wells Fargo Championship only being won three times from a player not from the United States, Rory McIlroy (2010 and 2015), and Vijay Singh (2005).

And while Singh, the winner of the PGA Championship in 1998 and 2004, is now well past his best, McIlroy, the winner of the PGA Championship in 2012 and 2014, is getting back to his best after a tough start to 2017.

A tie for fourth at The 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, and a tie for fifth last week at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club has given McIlroy, the world number four, a huge confidence boost, and given his record at the Quail Hollow Club in his career, he has to be one of the ones to beat.

However, given the lack of success international golfers (those from outside the United States) have had at the Quail Hollow Club, we need to consider golfers from the United States, and those who are in great form as contenders to win the 2017 PGA Championship.

The two golfers who I believe are in the best form heading into the 99th PGA Championship are Hideki Matsuyama and Jordan Spieth.

Matsuyama, the world number three, comes into the final major of the year off the back of a wonderful win at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, including shooting an equal-course record of 61 to win by five strokes at the Firestone Country Club. Matsuyama has also had a consistent year in the majors, finishing in ties for 11th, second, and 14th at The Masters, the U.S. Open, and at The Open Championship respectively as he aims to become the first Japanese golfer to win a major.

Spieth, the world number two, comes into the PGA Championship having won two of his last three events, including winning The 146th Open Championship, and he finished in a tie for 13th last week at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, and is primed to become the youngest man to claim the career grand slam, surpassing Tiger Woods, if he wins at the Quail Hollow Club this week.

Other players who cannot be ruled out of contending this week include Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm, Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Alex Noren, and Rickie Fowler.

Johnson, the world number one, has won three times this year, but has only finished in the top 10 once in his last seven events, and has had an awful year at the majors, missing The Masters due to injury, missing the cut at the U.S. Open, and finishing in a tie for 54th at The Open Championship. As strange as it sounds, a win here for Johnson would be a major turn-up for the books.

Garcia, the world number five, has made the cut in his last 20 events, but has finished in the top 10 only once in his last seven events since winning The Masters back in April. It would be a big surprise if Garcia claimed the second major crown of his career here.

Rahm, the world number six, has had a good year, winning twice, but it seems judging by his form in his career to date that he only strikes when he is feeling good, so he might be a dark horse here.

Day, the world number seven, has had a shocking year so far, with only two top 10 finishes from 14 events in 2017, and dealing with a myriad of personal and family issues. Probably unlikely to challenge here.

Stenson, the world number eight, has had a slightly better year than Day, with five top 10 finishes from 15 events, but a win here would be unexpected.

Noren, the world number nine, is in similar form to Stenson in 2017. Five top 10 finishes, including a victory at the BMW PGA Championship back in May, but is in inconsistent form, with two top 10 finishes in his last six events, but includes a tie for sixth at The Open Championship. May surprise a few here, but I wouldn’t tip him for the victory.

Fowler, the world number 10, is in some strong form, having finished inside the top 10 in five of his last seven events, and you sense that this is the time for Fowler to break-through and win his first major.

However, despite Rory McIlroy’s record at the Quail Hollow Club, and Jordan Spieth chasing his own piece of history, I am going to tip Hideki Matsuyama to continue his run of great form, and claim his first major championship.