5 contenders for this year’s Masters at Augusta National
Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson are all in with a chance.
The eagerly-anticipated first golf major of the year gets under way next week.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at five contenders for the Masters at Augusta National.
McIlroy’s victory in the Players Championship made him the bookmakers’ favourite and it is easy to see why. As well as his win at Sawgrass, McIlroy had finished in the top six in each of his five previous starts and has been fourth, 10th, seventh and fifth at Augusta in the past four years. However, the only time McIlroy was truly in contention on Sunday afternoon came 12 months ago and he struggled to a closing 74 in the final group with eventual champion Patrick Reed. McIlroy says he has come to terms with the fact that he will “fail more times than I succeed” in his bid to win the Masters and complete a career grand slam, but whether that translates into success this year remains to be seen.
It has been something of a mixed bag for Woods so far in 2019, with an encouraging run of results (20th, 15th, 10th) interrupted by a neck injury which forced him to withdraw from the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Woods admitted the problem was related to the spinal fusion surgery he underwent in 2017 and knows he will have to listen to his body more often than he did in the past, when playing through the pain barrier had long-term effects. After finishing a distant 30th in the Players Championship, Woods beat McIlroy to reach the quarter-finals of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play before losing to Lucas Bjerregaard and a fifth green jacket remains a realistic possibility.
Johnson was a 5/1 favourite to win the Masters in 2017 after victory in the Genesis Open took him to the top of the world rankings for the first time and was promptly followed by further success in the WGC-Mexico Championship and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. However, he then fell down some stairs at his rental house in Augusta and was forced to withdraw, returning in 2018 to post a third top-10 finish in the last four years. Johnson has won twice in 2019 and was fifth in the Players Championship.
On the basis of recent form, Spieth looks an unlikely contender given that the former number one has slipped to 32nd in the world rankings and has yet to finish better than 35th in a strokeplay event in 2019. However, the three-time major winner’s record in the Masters simply cannot be ignored. He finished second on his debut in 2014, won the title in 2015 and finished runner-up the following year after squandering a five-shot lead with nine holes to play. A comparatively-modest 11th place in 2017 is his worst finish in five appearances and last year he led after 18 holes for the third time in four years following an opening 66, the ninth time in 17 rounds he had held at least a share of the lead at the end of the day. After falling off the pace, Spieth almost snatched the green jacket away from Patrick Reed with a closing 64 and cannot be discounted at his favourite venue.
Fowler has been part of the “best player not to have won a major” discussion ever since he finished in the top five in all four of them in 2014. He was also fifth in the US Open and US PGA in 2017 and finished runner-up to Reed at Augusta 12 months ago after weekend rounds of 65 and 67 were not quite enough to overcome a slow start. The manner of his victory in Phoenix in February – where he rallied after a triple-bogey seven on the 11th but still carded a closing 74 – resulted in as many questions as answers, but there is no doubt Fowler has the talent to contend at Augusta.