Shane Ryan: Greats like Tiger, Rory & Spieth have most to gain at Augusta

A win at Augusta could transform the careers and legacies of the three greatest players in golf

Tiger Woods Rory McIlroy

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The three greatest players in professional golf each find themselves at crossroads, and each of these crossroads are very different. But the stakes, in every case, are the same: A win at Augusta would mean achieving an incredibly important milestone that could prove transformative not just to a career, but to a legacy.

For Tiger Woods, there is only one relevant, linger question in what remains of his time at the top of the sport: Can he win another major? A few other questions—can he come back? Can he win any tournament?—were answered emphatically in 2018, and doubts about whether he could sustain his excellence into 2019 have been put aside. A tenth-place finish in Mexico and a quarterfinal appearance at the Match Play prove beyond doubt that he still has the chops, and he has a chance to make history at the Masters.

It’s a decent chance, too. There is no major he’s more likely to win, for the simple fact that Augusta National rewards intimate knowledge. Tiger knows the course better than any contender who will tee it up on Thursday, and even before he developed that intense familiarity, ANGC suited his eye. Time stops at the Masters for this man, and if he can pull off the late career miracle, it will redefine how we view his comeback and everything that came before.

Rory McIlroy may look back at his 2019 Players Championship win as the most important of his career. It wasn’t a major, but it proved something that we’d begun to doubt—that he could, against the best fields in golf, hold his nerve on a Sunday and fight for a victory. His final round performances prior to that triumph had been abysmal—nine final group pairings, zero wins. Those of us who watched him slaughter his enemies in 2014 found this hard to believe, and his win at Sawgrass marked a welcome return to form.

But let’s recognize a hard truth: until he does it at a major, we won’t truly believe he’s back. And until Rory wins a Masters, the one major that has dogged him year after year, his career resume will not be complete. He’s in top form, he shrugged the choke-prone monkey off his back, and now he has a chance to surge to the top of the sport and capture the career slam. To Rory, Augusta in 2019 means everything.

Unlike Tiger and Rory, Jordan Spieth is fighting an ugly fight to recapture his dizzying skill. It’s been almost two years of struggle since he won the 2017 Open Championship, and it’s not just the absence of victories—it’s that his game has looked positively wretched, and a series of lackluster missed cuts has seen him fall to an unthinkable 32nd in the world rankings.

There was very little reason for optimism even a month ago, but slowly the worm has begun to turn—a handful of decent putting showcases in otherwise tough events, a near-visit to the knockout rounds at the Match Play, and, finally, a strong performance at the Valero this past weekend has Spieth believing he’s figured things out.

At Augusta, simply put, Spieth has been phenomenal—he’s led in nine of the 20 rounds he’s completed there, and even when his game is in rough shape, as it was in 2018, he can come close to winning. If he’s truly rounding into form, you’d be a fool to bet against him at a course that he loves like no other…and that loves him right back.

So who should you back? These are my favorites for what should be a thrilling Masters.

Jordan Spieth – 16/1

His record here is just otherworldly, and his struggles mean you’ll get better odds than usual. Spieth has a renewed faith in himself, and I believe him—he’s too smart to mistake false promise for the real thing. He’ll be near the top of the leaderboard Sunday, and trust me, you’ll never have a chance like this again. Seize the moment, friends. I even like him more than Tiger and Rory.

Rickie Fowler – 16/1

A win at Phoenix broke a long dry spell, and a second-place finish at the Honda proved it was no fluke. Knowing that, look next at how he’s finished in his last five Masters tournaments, starting in 2014: T-5, T-12, CUT, T-11, 2. He’s learning this course, and a smart player like Fowler will only get better as time goes on. He has an enormous leg up on the field, and you can bet he’s going to take advantage.

Bubba Watson – 28/1

When Bubba plays well in the winter and early spring, he plays well at Augusta. It’s not more complicated than that. He didn’t bag any wins this year, but he has four top-20s and two top-tens. He’s miserable when he’s not comfortable, but when he feels “safe,” he thrives. There’s no safer space for Bubba than the Masters, and you can count on his big lefty drives to tear up the par-5s and carry him into the weekend with a chance to take his third green jacket.

Rory McIlroy is 6/1 favourite to win the 2019 US Masters

What do you think?