The wait is over.
After seven long months of major-free golf, the first major of 2019 – The Masters – is here and it’s glorious.
Spring may have arrived a couple of weeks back, but we all know it doesn’t officially begin until we see the azaleas in bloom at Augusta National Golf Club.
With the Masters here, it’s time for everyone to analysis and speculate who will emerge as the champion and slip into a coveted green jacket come Sunday night.
When it comes to predicting that sort of thing, there are no better experts than the people who will be walking alongside the players inside the ropes all week – the caddies.
The Caddie Network asked three caddies to offer up three potential Masters winners each. To protect their identity, the caddies made their respective picks anonymously. Here’s a closer look at the players they’re keen on along with an explanation why…
- Justin Thomas. “The 2017 PGA Champion makes his fourth Masters start this week. If you look at the way he’s been trending at Augusta National – T39 in his 2016 debut, T22 in 2017 and T17 in 2018 – it would appear to me that we’re assured a top 10 at the very least this time. Currently the No. 5-ranked player in the world, Thomas has done everything but win this season. He had a runner-up showing at Riviera and finished third twice – once in Maui and again in Phoenix. Length is always a factor at the Masters and Thomas checks that box. If that short game is clicking and he’s watching some putts drop early in the tournament and gaining confidence, look out.”
- Tiger Woods. “Sure, he’s 43 years old. Hasn’t won a major since 2008. Hasn’t won a Masters since 2005 when he won his fourth, but you cannot bet against the G.O.A.T. at Augusta National. He’s shown glimpses this season but hasn’t snagged a win since that incredible breakthrough last fall in the Tour Championship. He has played in the Masters 21 times previously. Seventeen of those starts have yielded a top-25 finish with 11 of those of the top-5 variety. Because of injury, this will mark just his third Masters start since 2013 – the last time he truly contended, finishing in a tie for fourth. He was the last guy to leave the property on Sunday evening. Tiger wants major win No. 15. He’ll have a great chance to get it this week.”
- Rory McIlroy. “There’s a little more pressure on Rors than everyone else in the field this week. Why? Because it’s the only major that eludes him and a victory would make him just the sixth player in history to complete a career grand slam. He should still be riding high on confidence having already collected a win in one of the game’s biggest events just last month at the Players. Couple that with the fact that he’s finished no worse than T10 at the Masters in his last five starts and I’d say he’s got to be the favorite. At times in the past, Rory’s putter has been a liability. But not this season, where he ranks sixth in putting average.”
- Rory McIlroy. “It’s time. Five top 10s in his last five starts here. He’s already won the Players. Right now, he’s showing the kind of form that won him two majors in 2014. He wants that career slam so bad and I think he’s going to go out and get it this week.”
- Matt Kuchar. “This guy is in the zone and on cruise control. With the way he’s played this season – including two victories and then a runner-up two weeks ago at the Match Play – I don’t know how you don’t pick him to win any week. He has more top-10 finishes – four – at the Masters than any other major. With the career that he’s had, it just doesn’t seem right that he doesn’t have a major win to this point. Maybe this is the week that changes.”
- Kevin Tway. “Son of PGA Champion Bob Tway, Kevin punched his ticket to the Masters by virtue of his win at the Safeway Open – the very first tournament of the 2018-19 season back in October. We haven’t heard much from the first-time winner since. He comes into this week having missed the cut in all of his last six starts. No momentum whatsoever, but a funk you have to snap out of eventually, right? He’s my sleeper pick. If he plays well, I look like a genius! If he doesn’t, no one expected much. But he’s a long hitter, a huge asset around here. And he’ll surely have some extra adrenaline pumping playing in his first Masters. No Masters rookie has won since Fuzzy Zoeller turned the trick 40 years ago in 1979. Feels like it might be time for a first-timer to get it done again.”
- Charley Hoffman. “If you look closely at Charley’s career, you’ll see he plays well, year after year, on the courses he feels most comfortable on. The Valero Texas Open in San Antonio has been somewhat of an annuity for Charley, and bam, he finishes solo second last week, after a slow start to the season. His name has been synonymous with the early tournament leaderboard at the Masters the last bunch of years and I won’t be surprised when we see him up there again. With a better Sunday this year we’ll see Charley right in the thick of things again at ANGC.”
- Paul Casey. “Another player who is often high up the leaderboard at the Masters year after year. A wiser, calmer and in form PC will be very competitive this year. He’ll be teeing off late Sunday is my guess.”
- Marc Leishman. “You cannot hit it as good as Marc does and not eventually snag a big one. He’s driving it long and straight and one of the best distance-control iron players out there. History shows us he loves the Augusta layout with a T4 in 2013 and a solo ninth just a year ago. He’ll be right there down the stretch again.”