Every golfer lucky enough to earn a bid into the Masters 2017 prays that his game will bloom with the azaleas, peaking just in time for the second Sunday in April. Few, if any, have rounded into that ideal form quite like Dustin Johnson in 2017.
His last three results are staggering – first at Riviera, a tough course that rewards long hitters; first at the WGC-Mexico, against one of the toughest fields in golf; first at the WGC-Match Play, with that same tough field, but an extra premium on shot-making under pressure. Taken together, these three wins are Tiger-esque, and they came under the kind of conditions that prevail at Augusta—the pressure, the competition, and even the course profile.
In years past, that may not have been enough, but after winning the U.S. Open last year, Johnson seems to have flipped a switch. He’s not just the world’s best golfer – he’s dominating anyone who dares to cross his path.
He’s been so good, in fact, that discussing anyone else as a Masters favorite – including massive names like Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, and Rory McIlroy – borders on ludicrous.
DJ tops them all, and he may even have fortune on his side as the certainty of rain on Wednesday should soften the famously devilish greens, which will make putting easier and mitigate the so-called “weak” part of Johnson’s game. If mother nature puts a premium on tee-to-green ball-striking, and slows down the glass-like greens, it gives an even bigger advantage to a player who already seems to have every edge in sight.
Among the other very big names, only Johnson can claim so many positive omens. Spieth, whose meltdown on the twelfth hole last year cost him a second Green Jacket, hasn’t quite recovered in the ensuing Majors.
His results have been “good,” but only by standards lower than Spieth himself holds. He didn’t crack the top 10 in any other Major in 2016, and though he won at Pebble Beach this year, he’s coming off a second-round 77 and a rare cut at last weekend’s Houston Open. He has played exceedingly well at Augusta for three straight years, posting two-second place finishes and a win, but thus far in 2017, we haven’t seen the neurotic wunderkind who threatened to win every single Major just two years ago.
Jason Day has a long and complicated history at the Masters, with two top-three finishes since 2011 – including a mini-collapse on the last three holes in 2013 when he was in position to win the tournament – and it’s hard to imagine that he won’t wear the Green Jacket one day.
Unfortunately for the Australian, his mother was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, and this will be his first tournament back since withdrawing from the WGC-Match Play to be at her side. A win would be miraculous, and just the latest inspirational story in a very inspirational career, but it would also be very understandable if Day’s focus wasn’t solidly on golf at such a difficult time.
Which leaves Rory McIlroy, who has been hunting doggedly for this title since 2011, when he held a four-shot lead heading into the final round and blew it to smithereens with a Sunday 80. He recovered from that disaster quickly enough, winning that year’s U.S. Open and kick-starting what is already a very successful Major career, but he’s never been able to conquer Augusta.
In fact, it’s the one major that still eludes him. A bigger story, though, is that he’s now gone two years without a Major win, and can’t seem to cobble his game together for the marquee events. It’s a high standard, sure, but it’s one he set for himself. The question is, have we seen enough from Rory in 2017 to declare him Masters-ready? The answer is “not really”.
He’s been solid since winning the FedExCup last fall, but not spectacular – three top-10 finishes speaks to a player that is absolutely among the best in the world, but not one who is living up to his own cut-throat form of 2014.
Three against the field
Dustin Johnson is the favorite. But winning a tournament like this is an uncertain proposition even for a World no. 1 playing at the peak of his powers. The question is, which players look likely to steal the Green Jacket off his broad shoulders? I tip these 3 gents:
John Rahm 25/1
The Spaniard is as good as advertised, and he has the fearless streak and the power game that is heavily reminiscent of Jose-Maria Olazabal, who won twice at Augusta. Recent form has been excellent, with five top-tens and a victory in his last six starts.
Justin Thomas 30/1
It’s easy to forget, but just two months ago, Thomas was exhibiting the kind of play that you normally only see from red-hot superstars. He’s cooled slightly since then, but a fifth place finish at the WGC in Mexico proves he can find his groove quickly.
Thomas Pieters 66/1
Question: Do you like a guy with massive power, age 25, who earned four wins for Europe at a very hostile Ryder Cup last year?
Then take a flyer on Pieters, who could bludgeon his way to a high finish as a Masters rookie.
*Prices correct at time of publication