Early April can only mean one thing: it’s U.S Masters time. The most prestigious prize in golf starts on Thursday and it promises to be one of the most fascinating in recent memory. Can Tiger keep it all together to win his first major for five years? How will Rory McIllroy fare in his first major since switching suppliers? Can one of the Europeans mount a challenge for the famous green jacket? Below are some of the main challengers for golf’s most famous trophy.
Tiger Woods (U.S.A)
World Ranking: 1
Tiger is the bookmakers’ favourite for his fifth green jacket and with three wins already this season on the PGA tour it would take a brave man to bet against him. Didn’t play last week in Houston so as to be extra prepared for this week and he will need to bring his A game, especially off the tee. He is apparently a lowly 142nd in Driving accuracy on tour and he can’t afford to be messing around in the tress round Augusta. If he stays out of the long stuff he will be hard to stop because his short game seems to have returned better than ever. If he’s leading after round 3, I can’t see him losing it.
Rory McIlroy (Northern Ireland)
World Ranking: 2
McIlroy had a timely return to form last week with a 2nd place in the Texas Open. After such a poor start to the season, little is expected of the man from Holywood around Augusta’s hallowed turf so he goes into the tournament with slightly less pressure on him which could be to his advantage. The course suits his style of play with lots of right to left tee shots and if he can find his range with his irons, he could go really low. In the past couple of weeks the mental side of his game has improved drastically; the ghosts of the WGC Cadillac event last month where he withdrew have been firmly laid to rest. Will definitely want to improve on his relatively modest T15th best at Augusta, and it would be a fool not to back him to do so.
Matt Kuchar (U.S.A)
World Ranking: 10
Kuchar came close to winning last year’s Masters and is definitely in good enough form to be up at the business end this week. He has won the World match play title already this season and has yet to post an over par four-day total in 2013. This consistency should hold him in good stead round Augusta but he may not quite have the game in his locker to produce the unpredictable and spectacular shots that are required once or twice per round. I predict a top-10 finish.
Phil Mickelson (U.S.A)
World Ranking: 9
‘Leftie’ has had a quiet season so far, punctured by two outstanding performances at the TPC Scottsdale where he won and at the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral where he finished a creditable 3rd. If he makes it to the weekend anything can happen and if anyone can pull it out of the bag, the likeable Californian can. He likes Augusta having won here 3 times in the past but he will need his putter to be hot for all four rounds if he is to add to his major tally. This wedge wizard will feature strongly if he can drain those niggly 5 footers.
Ian Poulter (England)
World Ranking: 12
The gobby Englishman has been in strangely subdued form recently. Two strong early-season performances at the Tournament of Champions and the World Match play have been followed by three midfield finishes. His putting is second to none but he will need his long game to be firing on all cylinders. Poulter doesn’t hit it a huge distance off the tee so his iron play really is key to success this week. He has finished in the top 10 in three of the last four majors so he knows how to produce the goods when it matters. My outside bet for the tournament.
Justin Rose (England)
World Ranking: 3
Other than Tiger Woods, the Englishman is the form player in the world right now. In 6 stroke-play starts this term he has finished in the top 10 in five of those, and 16th in the other. He has previous down Magnolia Lane with a tied 5th finish last year and a tied 8th in 2007. Rose also knows how to win across the pond, winning a tournament on the PGA tour every year since 2010. He will be looking to lengthen that streak with victory on Sunday, and he certainly has to golf game and the form to do so. Expect to see him up on that leaderboard whilst you tuck into that second bottle of Rioja on Sunday evening.
Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa)
World Ranking: 6
The smiling South African has certainly shown that he isn’t a one-hit wonder. After unluckily missing out to Bubba Watson in a play-off at Augusta last year, Oosthuizen has his sights set on going one better this time around. He already has one victory to his name on the European tour this season and last week’s 10th finish in Houston confirmed that he is striking the ball as well as ever. The 2010 Open Champion has the correct mental attributes to go with his undoubted golfing talent to win and lay last year’s heartbreak to rest.
Well there you have it. As comprehensive a preview as you’re ever likely to get. Some lucky fellow will be walking out of Magnolia lane on Sunday night with a brand spanking new natty green jacket to go with their fat cheque. Who will it be? Now that I’ve given them the kiss of death, probably none of the above. All the same, it promises to be hugely exciting four days.