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We’ve waited since the Open Championship last July at Royal St. George’s, but major Championship golf is back!
The Masters will feature a full gallery for the first time since 2019, and the roars are sure to reverberate throughout the most iconic course in all of golf. Last year we saw Hideki Matsuyama carry the weight of a country on his back and win his first major with one of the most impressive performances ever seen at Augusta National. Will we see another first-time major Winner this year, or will one of the game’s best add to an already impressive resume?
Profiling the Winner
Augusta National challenges every aspect of the game to the highest degree. These are some of the most severely undulating greens players will see all year. With all the different tiers and slopes, holes can play drastically different from one day to the next, simply based on where the pin location is. With that being said, the two biggest keys to success at Augusta National in recent years were approach play and scrambling. There is a decent amount of room in the Fairways and the rough is not penal as long as the large trees are avoided. Being able to control distances off uneven lies will be tough, but the player that does it best will likely be walking away with the green jacket on Sunday afternoon.
There is expected to be a fair amount of wind during the tournament, which will stress approach play even further. When the players do miss the greens, their short game will be tested to an extreme level. There will be both chips from well below the level of the green and pitch shots out of the deep bunkers to the greens that run away. Because of all the slopes, players with a creative Imagination can work the ball close to the hole, and it is always entertaining to watch.
The last key to success is obviously the putter. No matter what comes of the rain early in the week, the greens will still run extremely fast. If you miss a slope or a tier, you are going to have an extremely difficult putt. Lag putting is as important here as any place. But it always comes back to iron play and short game because you’d much rather have a 15-footer up the hill than a five-footer on a downslope.
Players Included: Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson
Guru Verdict: Thomas feels primed to explode. He has not won a major since 2017 and has not won at all since last year’s PLAYER Championship. The numbers are there for Thomas, who ranks 14th in SG: Off-the-Tee, fifth in SG: Approach, second in SG: Tee-to-Green, sixth in GIR percentage, 12th in Proximity, sixth in scrambling and fourth in putts per GIR. He has never finished Worse than T39 in six career starts at August, including a Solo fourth in 2020. Rahm and Spieth have two of the best statistical records in Masters history, but both are struggling with their putter.
Players Included: Cameron Smith, Patrick Cantlay, Viktor Hovland, Brooks Koepka, Hideki Matsuyama, Scottie Scheffler
Guru Verdict: There is a very good chance this week’s Winner comes from this group. The hottest player in the world and now the top-ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking, Scheffler, comes in with wins in three of his last five starts. Hovland was the hottest player on the planet prior to Scheffler’s run, having also won three times in five starts and reaching as high as third in the OWGR. But the player I’m going with in this group is Smith. The Aussie has had a few weeks to rest and refocus after his brilliant final-round performance at THE PLAYER. Smith Ranks top-10 on Tour in SG: Approach, SG: Putting, GIR percentage, birdie average and scoring average. He posted top-10 finishes in three of his last four starts at Augusta.
Players Included: Bryson DeChambeau, Will Zalatoris, Daniel Berger, Sam Burns, Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele
Guru Verdict: Finau and Schauffele have the best records at Augusta among this group, but based on recent play, it really feels like a two-horse race between future stars Zalatoris and Burns. I’m giving the edge to Zalatoris due to his impressive runner-up performance in his Masters debut last year. The 25-year-old leads the PGA Tour in SG: Tee-to-Green and is top-10 in SG: Off-the-Tee, SG: Approach and GIR percentage.
Great Britain & Ireland
Players Included: Paul Casey, Shane Lowry, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood, Robert MacIntyre, Lee Westwood, Seamus Power
Guru Verdict: This is another category that feels like a two-horse race. Casey and Rose easily have the two best records at Augusta in this group, but Casey is dealing with a back injury and Rose has just one top-30 finish in 2022. The race should be between Lowry and Fitzpatrick, who are both Rolling right now. I lean toward Lowry, who ranks 11th in SG: Approach, 17th in SG: Putting, 26th in SG: Tee-to-Green, third in Proximity, seventh in scrambling and fifth in scoring average. The Irishman finished top-25 in his last seven stroke play events and finished top-25 the last two years at Augusta.
Players Included: Louis Oosthuizen, Joaquin Niemann, Sungjae Im, Marc Leishman, Abraham Ancer, Corey Conners
Guru Verdict: From top to bottom this is probably the most even category on the Slate. Oosthuizen and Leishman both carry the experience advantage at Augusta, but Conners is the player that sticks out the now due to his elite iron play. The Canadian Ranks third in GIR percentage and is also 14th in SG: Tee-to-Green. It’s no surprise why Conners finished top-10 each of the last two years as the Masters.
Players Included: Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Tiger Woods, Danny Willett, Zach Johnson
Guru Verdict: Well, there’s the name you’ve all been waiting to see in Woods. The five-time Masters Champion has said that he will be a game-time decision due to injuries sustained in a car accident just under 14 months ago. While nobody in this field knows Augusta better than Tiger, it is a bit of a reach to bet on a player who hasn’t made it up in a PGA Tour event since the November Masters in 2020. That said, this is the second easiest category of the week to pick. Scott is playing really well and owns four top-10 finishes in 2022. What’s crazy is that it is his putter that has been leading the way, as he ranks 13th in strokes gained on the greens. Scott made his last 12 cuts at the Masters, and over that span they notched a win, four top-10s and seven top-20s.
Players Included: Webb Simpson, Harris English, Max Homa, Jason Kokrak, Matthew Wolff, Gary Woodland, Brian Harman, Kevin Kisner, Billy Horschel, Russell Henley
Guru Verdict: Horschel, Woodland and Homa are playing the best in this group, but none of them have figured out Augusta just yet. Honestly the only player in this group that has is Simpson, who went T20-T5-T10-T12 the last four years. In a group with a bunch of solid players, Simpson gets the nod. He missed two months with a neck injury but looked better at the Valspar Championship and Match Play event. When Simpson is at his best, his iron play, short game, and putting are all elite, which is why he’s fared well at Augusta in his career.
Players Included: Francesco Molinari, Erik van Rooyen, Si Woo Kim, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Luke List, Ryan Palmer, Kevin Na, Cameron Champ, Mackenzie Hughes, Thomas Pieters
Guru Verdict: Kim has a pretty underrated record at Augusta National. After missing the cut in his first start here in 2017, Kim went T24-T21-T34-T12 the last four years. The 26-year-old has made 13-of-15 cuts this season and has notched 10 top-26 finishes. Kim has had a strong short game ever since they came onto the scene with an epic performance around the greens at TPC Sawgrass in 2017. This season he is also driving it great, ranking 21st in SG: Off-the-Tee and 10th in total driving. Na is probably the only other player I’d consider in this group, thanks to his four top-15 finishes at Augusta.
Players Included: Sepp Straka, Cam Davis, Lucas Herbert, Guido Migliozzi, Talor Gooch, Harold Varner III, Min Woo Lee, Garrick Higgo
Guru Verdict: Don’t overthink this one. Gooch might be making his debut, but his game fits Augusta National so well that it would be a surprise not to see him in the mix over the weekend. Gooch is elite both approaching the greens and around them, which is perfect for the profile we outlined above. The 30-year old Ranks 15th in SG: Approach, fifth in SG: Around-the-Green and 21st in GIR percentage. Gooch picked up his first win last November at the RSM Classic and has already piled up 11 top-30 finishes this season.
Hot Favorites: Justin Thomas
Front-Runners: Cameron Smith
US Elite: Will Zalatoris
Great Britain & Ireland: Shane Lowry
International Stars: Corey Conners
Past Champions: Adam Scott
US Contenders: Webb Simpson
Long Shots: Si Woo Kim
Debutant: Talor Gooch