What happened last year…….
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A baby one week, a green jacket the very next. Danny Willett, the son of a Sheffield vicar, ensured his life would never be the same again by capitalising on Jordan Spieth’s capitulation and winning Britain its first Masters in two decades.
On a final day bursting with at times excruciating drama, Willett, 28, was a model of composure as he claimed the glory on five-under, three clear of Spieth and Lee Westwood. But this day will also be remembered for Spieth’s Masters meltdown. Five clear after nine holes, three behind three holes later. This was an unprecedented Augusta collapse.
The main contenders
Plenty of people are backing Dustin Johnson to win his first Green Jacket.
Johnson is the 5/1 favourite to win his second major title at Augusta National, having won the US Open at Oakmont last year.
He is the current world number one, seems to be at his peak physically and mentally, and cannot stop winning.
The American, 32, has been head and shoulders above his rivals over the past nine months, winning his third successive tournament when he beat exciting Spanish prospect Jon Rahm in the World Match Play final in late March.
That means he has won seven of the 17 tournaments he has played since claiming his first major at the US Open at Oakmont in June, racking up another seven top-10 finishes in the process.
Basically, he is bang in form.
However, Johnson remains cautious – perhaps wise when the man considered the favourite has not won the Green Jacket since Tiger Woods in 2005.
“Golf is a funny game, it doesn’t matter how good you are playing you can still not win,” he said.
“If I want to win here then everything is going to have to go well for me.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in my game now with how I’ve been playing over the past few weeks.”
Mr. Spieth is expected to be among Johnson’s main rivals as he looks to banish memories of last year’s spectacular final-day collapse by winning his second Masters.
The American, 23, led by five shots as he approached the 10th at Augusta on the Sunday, only to dramatically drop six shots in three holes and allow England’s Danny Willett to take advantage.
“No matter what happens at this year’s Masters, whether I can grab the jacket back or I miss the cut or I finish 30th, it will be nice having this Masters go by,” he said earlier this month.
“The Masters lives on for a year. It brings a non-golf audience into golf. And it will be nice once this year has finished to be brutally honest.”
Spieth has dropped to sixth in the world rankings since his Masters meltdown, but did claim his first PGA Tour title since May when he won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am last month.
World number three Jason Day will play at Augusta after pulling out of a recent tournament to spend time with his mother, who has been treated for lung cancer.
The Australian, 29, broke down in tears after withdrawing from the WGC Match Play a fortnight ago.
“There’s been a lot of things go on this year that have been somewhat distracting to my golf,” he said.
“Golf was the last thing that I was ever thinking about when this first came about. I’m in a much better place now.
“I feel happier to be on the golf course and enjoying myself out here a lot more than I was the last month or two.”
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama is bidding to become the first Asian player to win the Masters, having risen to fourth in the world after a stellar finish to the 2016 season.
The 25-year-old ended last year with four victories in five tournaments – finishing second in the other – but has not been able to recapture the form in recent weeks.
“I’m really not hitting it as well as I would like, so whether or not my confidence level is where it should be, I’m not sure,” said Matsuyama, who finished fifth in the 2015 Masters and shared seventh place last year.
Will McIlroy complete the GRAND Slam OF MAJORS?
That is the question we have been asking since McIlroy won the 2014 Open Championship at Hoylake.
The Northern Irishman steps on to Augusta’s first tee on Thursday (18:41 BST) aiming to become only the sixth man to win all four majors.
He is seeking a first Masters title following victories at the US Open, the Open Championship and the US PGA Championship.
Winning the Green Jacket would propel the 27-year-old into exalted company alongside Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Gene Sarazen, Gary Player and Ben Hogan.
And, after three consecutive top-10 finishes at Augusta, the world number two has made no secret that finally sealing victory is his main priority.
“I don’t feel like I can fly under the radar anymore, but at the same time it has been nice to just go about my business and try to get ready for this tournament,” McIlroy said.
“I’ve realised that the more I can get comfortable with this golf course and the club as a whole, the better.
“The more I can just play the golf course and almost make it seem like second nature to me, the better.”
Since winning the Open Championship in the summer of 2014, McIlroy has been one Green Jacket shy of golf’s full house and having worked his way back into contention in this event following his famous 2011 meltdown, the pieces are at last falling into place.
His Season to date
Although it’s been a stop-start season, in which a rib injury and then an early exit in unfortunate circumstances at the Match Play were certainly not part of the plan, McIlroy arrives at Augusta fresh and in-form and the former could be a significant advantage.
He’s playing as well as ever, really, and having dominated the par-fives all year looks set to take advantage of a potentially soft Augusta National to land his fifth major championship and the one that matters most.
The Best of the Rest
Heading the dark horses list is Rickie Fowler, who warmed up for this with third place in the Shell Houston Open.
A winner at the Honda Classic earlier this season, Fowler therefore brings some of the strongest recent form to Augusta, where prior to last year he’d never failed to make the weekend.
Granted, opening with a disastrous 80 in 2016 leaves him with questions to answer, but 12 months on Fowler has never been playing better, his game is ideal for the course and, at 28, he’s ready to win his first major championship.
He is already a major champion and he so very nearly made it two when losing a play-off here five years ago.
In fact, Oosthuizen has been runner-up in three majors since winning the Open at St Andrews, so he’s a big-time golfer and one whose game sets up well for Augusta.
Finally, and this is Playnbrag’s mad cap prediction –
We actually think that Lee Westwood will take the Green jacket this year. Banana’s, I know.
Which would be his 1st major ! He came close last year with a joint second place alongside Jordan Spieth. Remarkably, the 6th time he has finished in the Top 3 in the Majors. I guess it’s only a matter of time that he finishes at the top of the pile 🙂 And just maybe this time, his time has come.
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