With Tiger Woods out of The Masters due to injury, the year's first major is as unpredictable as ever. Almost anyone in the field could potentially win but not every golfer will be able to handle the pressure.
Not only do golfers have to string together four excellent rounds in order to don the green jacket, but they must also display nerves of steel. Putting all of that together over the course of four days is perhaps the tallest task in golf.
Here are three golfers who seemingly have a great chance to reign supreme at Augusta National Golf Club but will ultimately fall flat.
No athlete ever wants to be known as the best person to never win a title, but England's Luke Donald is very much in that conversation. He has been among the top-ranked players in the world for the past several years; however, he has been unable to break through in major tournaments.
Donald has finished eighth or better in all four major tournaments, including a third-place finish at the 2005 Masters. Donald's Masters performances have largely been inconsistent, though. He has just three top 10 results in nine tries, and he has been a non-factor on many occasions.
That doesn't bode well for Donald at The Masters this year, especially since he isn't playing his best golf this season. Donald has two top 10 finishes in six PGA Tour events this year, and he hasn't fared better than 19th in three tries on the European Tour. After a pedestrian start at the Shell Houston Open, Donald critiqued his putting on Twitter:
Game has been a little loose the last couple of days. Greens are putting a lot slower than they look which makes reading them difficult.— Luke Donald (@LukeDonald) April 4, 2014
Donald's psyche doesn't seem to be very positive right now, and that has been an issue for him in majors over the course of his career. Without good vibes heading into The Masters, don't expect Donald to contend.
He may not be the most accomplished or experienced golfer on the PGA Tour, but Rickie Fowler is certainly one of the most exciting. Not only does he have a ton of talent, but his colorful Puma outfits always draw plenty of attention as well. The 25-year-old Fowler could be the future of the sport alongside Rory McIlroy, but he may not be ready to grab the brass ring yet.
Fowler's only PGA Tour win came in 2012 at the Wells Fargo Championship, so he has very little experience when it comes to topping the rest of the field. Fowler's results have been up-and-down this year, but he may be coming into his own at the right time. Fowler sits in fifth after three rounds at the Shell Houston Open, which caused Jason Sobel of GolfChannel.com to ponder his Masters chances:
Rickie Fowler. Fifth place. With the Masters just a few days away. Hmm.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) April 5, 2014
While having momentum ahead of a major is certainly important, there are other factors as well. Fowler has never finished better than 27th at Augusta, and that is probably a mental hurdle that he will have to get over in order to win the green jacket.
Fowler's professional career is still very young but with just two top 10 finishes in majors to his credit, winning The Masters would be a huge jump. He needs to build toward that type of accomplishment, and he simply isn't ready quite yet.
With four major titles to his credit, Ernie Els is unquestionably one of the all-time greats. Few players in history are as calm and cool under pressure, and that has allowed him to achieve a great deal of success. Els has pretty much done it all as a professional, but he has yet to capture the green jacket. At 44 years of age, this may be one of his final realistic opportunities to do so.
Which big-name golfer will struggle most at The Masters?
Els has come agonizingly close to winning The Masters before with a pair of second-place finishes. He certainly deserves to win one before his career comes to a close but time isn't on his side. Even though Els is perfectly capable of stringing together four good rounds in a row, there is no doubt that his skills are starting to decline, which is natural in any sport.
Aside from a great showing at the Accenture Match Play tournament, Els has had a miserable 2014. He has missed three cuts between the PGA and European Tours, and he doesn't have a finish better than 29th.
Els has also had his issues at Augusta in recent years. His last top 10 result came in 2004, and he has missed several cuts since then as well. Els is savvy enough to battle through his struggles, but it's extremely difficult to imagine him sustaining a high level of play for four days right now.
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