2015 Masters: Who's in the Best Position Heading to Augusta?
His impressive start to this calendar year makes him a good bet to capture a third green jacket at Augusta National—but then again he’s not the only one in the PGA Tour field with the skills, experience and timing to challenge at this major.
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, perennial challenger Lee Westwood and a pair of audacious Aussies are all positioned to make a major run in April. Can any of them depose the defending champ?
Here’s a look at the top contenders for this year’s Masters.
No. 5: Lee Westwood
World Golf Ranking: 29
Last Three Finishes: T-25 (Honda Classic), T-12 (WGC-Cadillac), T-17 (Valspar Championship)
Lee Westwood is so overdue for victory at the Masters that his green jacket must have postmarks from at least 100 different countries by now.
When it comes to golf’s first major, Westwood has been the definition of consistency in recent years, which means he will be hanging around the top of the leaderboard again in 2015.
As CBS Sports’ Kyle Porter notes, Westwood has made eight straight cuts at the Masters. He’s also finished in the top 11 at Augusta for the last five years running with an aggregate score of 30 under par.
That’s better than Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy or anyone on the PGA Tour.
However, Westwood’s 50-1 odds reflect his habit of often coming close without ever actually claiming a green jacket. Does he lack the killer spark needed to win majors, or could this be the year that consistency finally pays off for the Englishman?
Perhaps his more aggressive green-side play, noted in the above video from PGATour.com, will be the final piece he needs to get him across the finish line in style.
No. 4: Jason Day
World Golf Ranking: 5
Last Three Finishes: P-1 (Farmers Insurance Open), T-4 (AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am), T-31 (WGC-Cadillac)
Jason Day is looking as good as anyone in 2015. In just four starts this year, he has finished in the top 10 three times (including the win at Torrey Pines).
When it comes to his career history at the Masters, the Aussie tied for second in 2011 and managed a third-place finish in 2013.
PGA.com’s T.J. Auclair notes, “Since he started playing the majors in 2010, Day has snagged a top-10 finish at least twice in the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship.” In other words, he is no stranger to being in the hunt on a major Sunday.
Not unlike Westwood, it feels like Day is destined to nab his first major any moment now. But unlike Westwood, Day is currently second on tour in greens in regulation at nearly 73 percent, per PGATour.com.
Add in his average 305-yard drives (eighth highest on tour) and you’re looking at a serious threat to the driver-friendly Augusta National course.
As the man himself explains in the above video, Day is feeling comfortable in all aspects of his game at the moment. When a player of his caliber combines his present form on tour with confidence and the experience of having been in contention on a major Sunday, he looks every bit the part of a 2015 Masters champion.
No. 3: Rory McIlroy
World Golf Ranking: 1
Last Three Finishes: 3rd (PGA Grand Slam of Golf), CUT (Honda Classic), T-9 (WGC-Cadillac)
The new face of EA Sports PGA Tour franchise hasn’t quite found his rhythm on tour this year, but you’d have to be crazy not to count him among the favorites.
The 25-year-old world No. 1 has captured four majors already in his career, but his first green jacket remains elusive.
For the player who has long been garnering praise as the newest tour de force after Tiger Woods’ decline, nothing would help McIlroy attain legendary status better than completing his career Grand Slam this April.
In the above interview with CNN’s Shane O’Donoghue, McIlroy may have said he won’t feel any added pressure to win at Augusta, but the Northern Irishman will surely want to replace his infamous 2011 debacle with the more pleasant memory of a win.
Since that fateful day, McIlroy’s best finish at the Masters was last year’s tie for eighth place. That’s all the more reason he’ll need to make a big statement this year, even though he hasn’t quite rediscovered his dominant form on tour yet.
However, considering he won back-to-back majors (British Open, PGA Championship) to close out 2014, you could say his momentum in the biggest tournaments is still powerfully intact.
“It's been really good,” said McIlroy about his swing after working with instructor Michael Bannon over the weekend, per Bob Harig of ESPN.com. “[I’m] feeling much better about my game now than I was walking off Doral 10 days ago.”
As his own confidence implies, you should never doubt Rory.
No. 2: Adam Scott
World Golf Ranking: 4
Last Three Finishes: T-12 (HSBC), T-4 (WGC-Cadillac), CUT (Valspar Championship)
Odds aren’t everything in sports (as anyone who’s already had his NCAA tournament bracket thoroughly busted can attest). Records and performance are important, of course, but when it comes to the Masters, mental fortitude can make or break a would-be champion as he heads into that final turn at Augusta.
One look at the reinvented putting stroke of the 2013 Masters champion tells you the Aussie has overcome the mental hurdle of returning to a more traditional flat stick and is ready to hole those pressure putts.
Though he missed the cut at the Valspar Championship last week, Scott was only two strokes off the lead at this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational after Round 1. His T-12 and T-4 finishes before that show the Valspar Championship was really just more of an off day than any kind of worrying downturn.
Scott’s only major win was the 2013 Masters, but he’s often been in contention at the highest level (he finished his last three British Opens tied for fifth, tied for third and second). Last year, the Aussie managed to finish in the top 15 at all four majors.
CBS Sports’ golf writer Kyle Porter went so far as to call Scott and McIlroy “the only two golfers I trust every time out at the majors.” Given that record, Porter’s confidence is well-placed.
With average drives of 309 yards and nearly 72 percent greens in regulation, per PGATour.com, Scott has the tools to play his way into another green jacket.
No. 1: Bubba Watson
World Golf Ranking: 2
Last Three Finishes: T-2 (Waste Management Phoenix Open), T-14 (Northern Trust Open), 3 (WGC-Cadillac)
Bubba Watson has only broken par twice at the Masters, and yet he won on both of those occasions. When talking about this year’s contenders, it would be insane not to put the 2012 and 2014 champion at the No. 1 spot.
Watson started the 2015 season in excellent form and is showing no signs of slowing down. The two-time Masters winner will be looking to capitalize on his excellent recent form and devastating driving skills to repeat this year.
As PGA.com’s T.J. Auclair reminds us: “He’s proven himself to be a force at Augusta National and should be a factor there for as long as he’s one of the game’s longest hitters and most creative shot-makers.”
Watson currently ranks second on tour in driving distance and first in scoring average, per PGATour.com. Though he is only ranked 137th in driving accuracy, he doesn’t really consider that an issue when playing Georgia’s legendary course.
“I like Augusta because it's Augusta. You can hit drivers, and it's a bigger golf course. At the same time there's not a lot of rough,” said Watson, per Kyle Porter of CBS Sports. “There's thick trees but not a lot of branches...right now it helps me when that driver is working pretty good. [It] give[s] you a chance to hammer it and use [your] imagination.”
That combination of big driver and big imagination for creative solutions (as demonstrated in the above clip, courtesy of ESPN) may just be the perfect recipe for a third green jacket.