The Green Jacket is the only Major missing from Rory McIlroy’s locker and he’ll want to get the Grand Slam done and dusted with the market for Major winners looking decidedly more competitive than a couple of seasons ago.
Chief among the weekend threats is reigning champ Jordan Spieth who is looking to become the first player since Tiger Woods (2001/02) to go back-to-back in the Masters while Jason Day is going for back-to-back Majors after popping his cherry at the USPGA Championship last season.
Here are the 7 best-backed players in Paddy’s book as of 2pm on Wednesday. Just make sure none of them win the Par 3 tournament later today and jinx themselves.
1. Henrik Stenson
The Swede hasn’t set the world alight in his 10 visits to Augusta with a 14th place finish to Bubba Watson in 2014 mixed in with three MC’s for the wannabe Terminator. A final day 68 last year has apparently convinced him to play a little more aggressively this year.
Certainly being showing the right kind of form this season after finished of T11, T3 and second last weekend in Texas with the Shell Houston Open at his mercy, but didn’t manage to close out the tournament as well as eventual maiden winner Jim Herman.
Stats graph trending in the right direction but he needs to get hotter with the Flat stick around Augusta’s tricky greens to bag the Green Jacket – and his first Major – this weekend.
2. Rory McIlroy
The golden boy. Or at least he was until he thought he just had to turn up at Augusta last year to complete a Major Grand Slam a la Tiger Woods.
But the hole in Macca’s pre-Masters schedule last year was as wide as the one he left in Caroline Wozniaky’s wedding plans and he couldn’t shake off the rustiness in time before a final-day 66 rocketed him into fourth place – and a feeling of what might have been. Will be motivated to get his revenge this year.
A hole-in-one at the 16th in practice this week will get thew US Networks all giddy but its his performance on the greens rather than the approach to them, that needs serious attention. Swerves the Par 3 tournament but going out Paddy last on Thursday night isn’t ideal.
3. Jason Day
The curse of being the World’s No 1 golfer heading into the Masters is nothing compared to the Australian’s ill health if the latest dispatches are to be believed.
Day, who combines his day job as a golf pro with being a full-time hypochondriac, apparently lost 11lbs when winning his five-day Match Play marathon last month, on top of a sore back and regular bouts of vertigo.
It hasn’t stopped him winning though and Day – a Major in his back pocket after last year’s emotional USPGA Tour win – has two Top 5’s – in his five starts at Augusta.
4. Louis Oosthuizen
A stellar 12 months for the South African who rediscovered his Mojo big time with a narrow play-off defeat at St. Andrews hot on the heels of a US Open second T2 at Chambers Bay. Opened the year with a win in Perth and went toe-to-toe with Jason Day in the final at the World MatchPlay last month.
While you can ignore a missed cut in Houston as the chance to get an extra couple of days practice in at Magnolia Drive, Oosthuizen’s overall course form is harder to ignore.
Losing a play-off to Bubba Watson in 2012 should indicate he has Amen Corner mastered, but four missed cuts in his last seven appearances doesn’t.
5. Zach Johnson
The reigning Open champion already has a Green Jacket from 2007 and rediscovered his Augusta touch when ninth last year to Jordan Spieth. His course form had been mixed until then with a Top 20 the high water mark in a sequence that included three missed cuts.
But Johnson proved he had the stones to get the job done when seeing off Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen and has posted three Top 10’s this season including when fifth Jason Day at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his last stroke-play tournament.
6. Adam Scott
You more or less disappear off the stage for a couple of seasons, come roaring back with back-to-back wins out of the blue, so what do you do? Sack your caddie Dave Clark and bring back Steve Williams for the first Major of the season.
Granted Williams was on the bag when Scott triumphed at Augusta in 2013 so he’s not a bad replacement. With the Aussie proving he was no one-trick-belly-putting pony after Honda Classic and WGC-Cadillac Championship wins, he’s now perched in sixth spot in the World Rankings
Scott’s in the best form he’s been for years and with Williams on the bag to guide him again (like he also did the now lesser-spotted Tiger Woods) at Augusta, what’s not to love?
7. Rafael Cabrera-Bello
An out-of-nowhere pick, the Spaniard was on fire early doors on the European Tour and in the past month since his switch Stateside. Opened the season with two T2’s at Qatar and Dubai and picked up a nice chunk of change when beating Rory McIlroy in the third-place play-off at the World Matchplay.
Before that, he’d finished T11 in the Cadillac Championship and was bang in contention all week before finishing fourth at the Shell Houston Open last weekend.
Has yet to win in the States to add to his two European Tour wins but the odds of him becoming the first European winner of the US Masters since compatriot Jose Maria Olazabal win in 1999 this weekend seem about right.