Masters Field 2012: Players in Line to Capture First Major
While the Masters has a tendency to be won by elite players, it's also seen plenty of first time major winners. Who can ever forget Phil Mickelson in 2004? More recently we've had the likes of Zach Johnson (2007), Trevor Immelman (2008) and, of course, Charl Schwartzel in 2011.
If this year's tournament will produce a brand new major winner, look for one of these guys to be the man to break through. Yes, you will notice a few big names missing. No, I did not forget about them.
Jason Day, Best Masters Finish: T2, 2011
Day made quite the entrance at Augusta in 2011, as he was a real contender throughout the entire tournament. Putting up that kind of a performance in his first showing is a big deal, even if the green jacket ultimately didn't come his way.
Day has a great game for Augusta. He is an aggressive player, which means we'll see a lot of birdies. The thought of him coming down the stretch and taking dead aim through Amen Corner the subsequent holes is pretty enticing.
Mentally, it doesn't take much to see that he has what it takes. Day doesn't seem to be the kind of guy that's all that eager to wait for his turn to win majors. After watching him at the Masters and U.S. Open in 2011, he won't have to wait long.
Hunter Mahan, Best Masters finish: T8, 2010
This is my pick to win this week. As you can see here, I picked it before he won in Houston. He's just playing incredibly hot right now, as there are no real holes in his game.
Mahan has always been stellar tee to green, but is now backing it up with strong play on and around the green, which makes him one of the best players in the world, as is reflected by his ranking.
The fact is that Mahan has won twice before the Masters, which is the sign of a genuinely good player playing with a lot of confidence. Combining distance and accuracy, there isn't a better overall driver of the ball in the world.
That plays big at Augusta, as it will allow Mahan to attack nearly every green from the fairway from a close distance. The way he putted in Houston (which does everything it can to set itself up like Augusta), Mahan is one of the top names to look at, whether we're talking about prior major winners or not.
The last seven major have gone to first time winners. Will the 2012 Masters be number 8?
Adam Scott, Best Masters finish: T2, 2011
It was hard to not be impressed with Scott a year ago at the Masters, and he's only gotten better since then. Scott would have at least been in a playoff had Schwartzel not finished with such a flurry, which really highlights what can happen at Augusta.
Now he's entering the Masters with Stevie Williams on the bag. Obviously, the player is the one hitting the shots, but having a caddie who's been down the stretch and on the bag for three Masters wins is extremely valuable.
The long putter has made a big difference for Scott, as he's struggled with that club in the past. Not unlike Mahan, the ball striking has always been stellar, but the flat stick has been shaky. With the long putter, that seems to be solved. Don't be surprised to see it all come together this week.
Steve Stricker, Best Masters finish: T6, 2009
This would be the longest shot of the group, but Stricker has the game to come through. Over a two-year window in 2007 and 2008, we saw some tougher Masters where shorter hitters (Zach Johnson, Trevor Immelman) won.
If this tournament plays like those years, Stricker is a real threat. He is going to have to hit a lot of long irons into the greens, which is tough. But if the scores are a little closer to par and it turns into a flat putting contest, you'd be a fool to bet against Stricker.
If the scoring gets a little lower, Stricker can still handle it. No, he doesn't hit the ball a long way, but unlike the not mentioned Luke Donald, he is deadly accurate. That gives Stricker an advantage going into the green, even if it is with a longer club than would be ideal.
Lee Westwood, Best Masters finish: 2, 2010
Of all the players with previous negative baggage (Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson), Westwood is the one to feel the best about. He's got a game to win on the course and likely would have two years ago had it not been for this Saturday flurry from Phil Mickelson.
Westwood hits the ball a long way, but battles consistency issues with the putter. If he is going to win, that club will need to be better.
Still, he's got more positive vibes than the other big name players without major do. Those other guys consistently move backwards when they're in major contention and while Westwood has done that, it has not been with the same consistency. That makes him a much greater threat.
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