The 2014 Masters: Top Young Golfers to Watch

Richard Leivenberg@@richiemarketingContributor IIIApril 7, 2014

The 2014 Masters: Top Young Golfers to Watch

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    Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    When Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw wryly observed that, “Youth is wasted on the young,” he had not yet seen this year’s crop of young golfers who will descend upon the 2014 Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga.

    In no time in recent history has there been a better, more accomplished and more prepared group of youngsters on the professional scene.

    This A-list of golfers who are 26 years old and younger includes American and international players who have a combined total of 42 professional wins and two major titles.

    At only 24, Rory McIlroy is the most successful among the group with 11 wins, including two major titles. With Tiger Woods missing his first Masters in 20 years due to back surgery, McIlroy is among the favorites to don the green jacket.  

    The precocious group comes in all shapes and sizes. They hail from France, Italy, Australia, Scotland and Japan as well as Georgia, New York, Vermont and Texas. They may be self-effacing, like Harris English; self-important, like Patrick Reed; or simply unintimidated, like last year’s Rookie of the Year Jordan Spieth.

    No matter where they are from, how big they are or how loud, they should be no less respected or feared due to their age.

    And don’t be surprised if you see one of these young men step up to the podium on Sunday at Augusta.

John Huh

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    The 23-year-old Huh’s short ride on the tour has had its ups and downs, but he made it into this year’s Masters field due to a fine showing in last year’s event, where he tied for 11th.

    Following the 2013 Masters, he landed in the 17th spot at the U.S. Open and ended his second season with eight top-25 finishes. However, he also missed the cut 11 times.

    Although 2014 has been anything but great for Huh—five missed cuts in 12 outings—he has shown he knows how to win. In his first year on the tour, he won the fifth event he entered, the Mayakoba Classic, and then went on to be named Rookie of the Year for his all-around competent play.

    Can he revive his game in time for Augusta? He will be one to watch.

Matteo Manassero

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    As child prodigies go, Manassero ranks high in terms of his golfing accomplishments.

    At age 16, he was the youngest winner of the British Amateur Championship. He scored his first win a year later in Spain and followed that with the Maybank Malaysian title before he turned 18.

    On American soil, he showed his youthful brilliance when he made nine birdies in the first two days of the 2014 Valspar Open, eventually finishing in a tie for eighth. He also finished in a tie for 12th at the Honda Classic to give him four top-25 finishes in six events this season.

    The lithe, 20-year-old Italian will look to make history at Augusta, where he would be the youngest to ever win the event, beating Tiger Woods' record by a year.

Russell Henley

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Henley made headlines when he beat out Rory McIlroy earlier this year at the Honda Classic. But don’t be surprised if Henley’s winning ways are repeated many times throughout his career.

    This is the same guy who won the first event he was allowed to enter as a member of the PGA, the 2013 Sony Open in Hawaii.

    Although he has had a wobbly year so far with five missed cuts, the 24-year-old should have a much better showing at Augusta, which just happens to be in his home state.

Hideki Matsuyama

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Although he hasn’t won yet on the PGA Tour, 22-year-old Hideki Matsuyama has done a pretty good job of hanging around the top of the leaderboard, especially at majors.

    Last year, he finished in a tie for 10th at the U.S. Open, a tie for sixth at the Open Championship and a tie for 19th at the PGA Championship.

    This year, he has followed suit by finishing in the top 25 in six of eight tournaments, including a tie for third at the Open.

    Now ranked 26th in the world overall, this will be his first time playing at Augusta.

Victor Dubuisson

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    Stanley Chou/Getty Images

    Dubuisson entered the American consciousness as an imaginative battler.

    He almost got his first PGA win earlier this year when he battled Jason Day at the WGC–Accenture Match Play Championship. Following a variety of miraculous shots, he finished second after playing 23 holes on the final day.

    The 23-year-old from Cannes will bring his dramatic flair to Augusta, where he will most likely capture the interest of the crowd, if not the title.

Harris English

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    Lynne Sladky

    Currently ranked fourth in the FedExCup race, English is playing like a 30-year veteran rather than a 24-year-old newbie.

    Now in his third year on the tour, he has amassed over $5 million in prize money while finishing in the top 10 an impressive 13 times.

    He has also accrued two wins, including the OHL Classic at Mayakoba earlier this year. At 6’3”, the big Georgian is knocking the ball on the green with amazing regularity and is now ranked second on the tour in that category. He is also ranked 22nd in driving distance and fourth in scoring average.  

    Those stats and his penchant for staying near the top of the leaderboard should give him a leg up at Augusta.

Patrick Reed

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    Wilfredo Lee

    With two wins this season and the No. 2 ranking in the FedExCup race, the outspoken 23-year-old Patrick Reed is among the hottest players going into the Masters.

    Clad in Tiger red on Sunday, he became the youngest winner of a WGC event when he won the Cadillac Championship in Doral.

    His youthful exuberance came through when he said after the win, "I truly believe that I am a top-five player in the world."

    He has gone from a 586th world ranking in 2012 to 23rd today.

    He is another player who is familiar with the Augusta environment, having played at Augusta State and the University of Georgia.

    Let’s see how he performs in his first Masters.

Jordan Spieth

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    Matt York

    Last year’s golden boy, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth has come down to earth a bit, but his fire still burns bright.

    We saw it at the Valero Texas Open, where he opened with a 75 and followed with three rounds under par to finish in 10th place.

    It is that kind of competitive drive that makes Spieth a rising star who could win his first major very soon. In his last seven events, he has scored in the top 25 six times, including a tie for fourth at the AT&T Pebble Beach National and a tie for fifth at the WGC-Accenture Match Play.

    Spieth has not scored so well at majors, and this is his debut at Augusta. But as the 13th-ranked player in the world, he will have something to prove, which can make him very dangerous.

Jason Day

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    Tony Gutierrez

    The 26-year-old Day shines in majors, finishing in the top 10 four times. He almost won the Masters in 2011, when he birdied the last two holes.

    Day stuck gold earlier this year when he won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. He also finished tied for second at the Farmers Insurance Open.

    He is now ranked fourth in the world and 20th in FedExCup points. He is also driving the ball consistently over 290 yards and hitting 73 percent of his greens in regulation.  

    Suffice to say his day has come, or it very well could when he tees off at Augusta.

Rory McIlroy

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    Lynne Sladky

    McIlroy may have slipped a bit when he lost the Honda Classic after being the 54-hole leader. But at least he didn’t walk off in the middle of the tournament as he did last year.  

    The return of McIlroy as the player to beat is a welcome sight for golf fans, but it may create fear in the eyes of his competitors.

    That’s because they know what he can do on the course when he is playing well, as he was at the Shell Houston Open, where he shot a closing 65 and renewed his confidence going into the Masters, per The Independent (subscription required). 

    As of now, he has played in four PGA events this season, made five cuts and scored five top-25 finishes, three of which were top-10 placements. He is averaging over 300 yards off the tee and hitting fairways, and he seems pumped and primed for success.

    As someone who has won two majors (the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA Championship) and let others slip away (the 2011 Masters), McIlroy should be one of the favorites to win the Masters this year.