NATE CHOUKAS ’18
With the Olympics behind us and the Super Bowl a distant afterthought, few events in sports can live up to the hype of the Masters. Golf fans around the world will be perpetually glued to their televisions for the season’s first major from April 5-8, as the best in the world tee it up at Augusta National for a chance to win the coveted green jacket.
If that weren’t enough, this year marks the first time since 2015 that Tiger Woods will be back in the tournament field. Woods, who has battled a multitude of injuries since 2008, has returned with a fused lower back and is playing pain free. To the astonishment of many, Tiger has played his way into contention in several tournaments this year, despite showing clear signs of rust early in the season. Woods finished T-2 at the Valspar Championship and T-5 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and seems to be improving every time he tees it up. Combine recent solid play with a legend the likes of Tiger Woods, and you get the betting favorite heading into the Masters.
But if Tiger is to win the sixth Masters title in his storied career, he’ll have to do it playing against the strongest field he has ever faced. Partly due to Tiger’s dominance in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and entire generation of young players who emulated Tiger growing up have emerged and are playing in their prime. These include World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who is possibly the best athlete to ever play professional golf. Many would agree that if Johnson plays to his ultimate potential, he will blitz the field and nobody will be able to keep pace.
If anybody can contend with Johnson when he is on, it would be Rory McIlroy. One week ago, nobody would have picked Rory to win the Masters – a cold putter and inconsistent wedge play have plagued his game for the last two years. But Rory spent the week leading up to The Arnold Palmer Invitational taking putting lessons from fellow tour veteran Brad Faxon, and the results were nothing short of perfection. Rory shot an incredible eight under par 64 en route to his three stroke victory over Bryson DeChambeau at a stunning 18 under par. More importantly, Rory was first in the field in strokes gained putting, a feat nobody could have imagined having watched him all season. If Rory keeps the putter rolling at Augusta, he will have a great chance of winning his first green jacket and completing the career grand-slam.
As if that isn’t enough, Tiger, Dustin, and Rory are joined by young-guns Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, and Rickie Fowler. These three are all ranked inside the top 10 in the world, with Thomas currently sitting in the No. 2 spot, Spieth No. 4, and Fowler No. 8. Thomas has been white hot all season, and is pound for pound the longest hitter on tour. Spieth has struggled recently with his putter, normally his greatest asset, but Rory showed last week that putting can turn very quickly when dealing with the best players in the world. Spieth has both fond memories and demons associated with Augusta National. He shocked the world at age 21 when he won his first major title at Augusta, but then blew a massive lead the following year in his campaign to repeat. Despite a crushing loss in 2016, Spieth has shown a great deal of mental toughness in his career and is expected to contend again this year. Rickie Fowler has not yet won his fist major, but all the components of his game are there. Perhaps this is his year.
The 82nd edition of the Masters tournament promises to be excellent entertainment as the best in the world tee it up in Augusta, Georgia on April 5-8.