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Shane Ryan: Why Rory McIlroy & Jordan Spieth need their ‘A’ game ahead of the WGC-Cadillac Championship

World's top players suffer mini-crisis a month out from the US Masters at Augusta

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For my glorious return to Paddy Power in 2016, I’m going to shock you all and turn my attention to four golfers: Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, and Adam Scott.

I’ll give you a few moments to gasp.

Let’s start with the golden boy. Jordan Spieth recently had the worst round of his professional career with a Thursday 79 at Riviera, and all of us want to know exactly what that means. Is he due for a dramatic let-down after his spectacular 2015, or was it just a strange anomaly that we’ll forget in a month when he’s spinning in circles trying to drape a green jacket on his own shoulders? (That’s what happens for repeat winners, right?)

To answer that question, here’s a bit of context from Spieth’s off-season.

With his popularity in the stratosphere, Team Jordan took an emphatic make hay while the sun shines approach to the winter months, with big money stops in China, Australia, Dubai, and Singapore between his usual Stateside obligations.

Spieth admitted that the travel wore him down, and that he’ll never make the same mistake again. In that way, the 79 was inevitable—the guy was beset by fatigue, and overdue for a meltdown. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a one-and-done phenomenon.

Smart money says Spieth recovers with the alacrity of youth and hits his stride again soon, but we saw with Rory last season how a brutal travel schedule can have lingering effects for months. Before I feel completely comfortable that Spieth’s performance was just a blip, I want to see him return to his dominant ways.

Will Mc go on the attack? The latest golf odds on PP.com

As for the once and future king, Rory McIlroy, I’m going to keep this very simple: I have no idea what’s happening with Rory’s game, and neither does anyone else. My gut instinct, for what it’s worth, tells me he’s shaping up for a big summer, but after a year of poor choices and near-misses, there’s nobody on Earth, including Rory himself, who can predict this guy’s future with any confidence. Through 14 PGA Tour rounds, all we know for sure is that his putting is atrocious. Like Jordan, I think we’re a few weeks away from peak-Rory.

Adam Scott, on the other hand, has seemed to respond to the ban on anchored putters better than anyone might have expected. It’s hard to overstate the importance of his enormous win at the Honda Classic last week—no player needed it more. I don’t love him at Doral, if only because it’s so incredibly rare for a player to win back-to-back, but there’s nobody I like better at the Masters.

Well, almost nobody: If we forget odds and wagers for a moment, and go to the classic ‘pick-the-winner-with-a-gun-to-the-head’ scenario, the one name on the tip of my lips would be Bubba Watson. For all his strange mental quirks, we know that Bubba plays best at courses where he’s comfortable, and Augusta fits his game to a tee (no pun intended). The only question you ever have to ask of Bubba Watson in the lead-up to the US Masters next month is whether he’s on form. And his win at Riviera was the answer I needed.

The shadow of Augusta looms next month but there’s a pretty great tournament this weekend at WGC-Cadillac Championship, Doral.

Can Bubba tame the Monster? Latest odds on PP.com

1. Bubba Watson

There’s that man again! Here are Bubba’s last four finishes at this course: 3rd, 2nd, 18th, 2nd. Remember what I just said about how he plays well in familiar surroundings? The Blue Monster isn’t quite Augusta for Bubba, but it’s close. With this smaller field I would be fairly shocked if he didn’t finish in the places at least.

2. Rickie Fowler

No need to spend a lot of words on this guy. Other than a weird missed cut at the Farmers Insurance Open, he’s finished in the top six at every tournament he’s played in 2016, and won against a terrific field in Abu Dhabi. You don’t have to be a world-renowned expert like me to understand that he’ll probably be in contention on Sunday.

3. Graeme McDowell

Every year, you hear breathless stories about which player has recovered from an injury or a divorce or sheer apathy to re-focus on his game. In 2016, all of that rebound attention is going to Jason Dufner. But in my book, McDowell is getting the short end of the stick. We almost seem not to take him seriously anymore, and part of that is his inability to keep up with the bombers. But this is a Ryder Cup year, and nobody loves the Cup more than McDowell (okay, maybe Poulter). He played excellent golf at the Honda, surviving tough conditions to finish fifth, and he has a solid history of playing well at Doral. I really like him this weekend, and I like him even more at the price.

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Will Danny deliver? Shoot over to all the betting on PP.com

4. Danny Willett

Let me level with you: I love Danny Willett. I love his toughness, I love his Yorkshire background, I love that his father was a preacher, and I love that he grew up playing in a sheep field. He’s my favorite European golfer, and he nabbed himself a huge win in Dubai last month. I’m utterly convinced that he’s going to win multiple majors, and I think he’s going to start making an impact this year in the big American events. His odds don’t represent the ability of the 15th-ranked golfer in the world. Don’t let his current anonymity fool you—Willett is a strong value play here. Remember me fondly if he delivers.

5. Marcus Fraser

This is a classic “why the hell not?” bet. Fraser just won at the Maybank Championship in Malaysia two weeks ago, and put up a pretty solid 15th at the Perth International last week. Are there reasons to think he’s going to have at least one terrible round at Doral, to the tune of 78 or 79? Sure: He’s bound to be suffering from travel fatigue, and the truth is that we rarely see great WGC results from a European Tour-only player. But it has happened — F-Bomber Shane Lowry at least year’s Bridgestone Invitational. Fraser is indisputably the European hot hand. He’s under-valued and well worth the change in your sofa cushions.

What do you think?