Maybe it’s the beguiling beauty of the blooming azaleas or the lush green fairways between avenues of towering pines trees. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s the first and possibly most revered major of the year. Whatever it is, though, there’s nothing quite like the Masters.
This annual major championship at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, USA is perhaps the most famous event in golf. Famously dubbed by Jim Nantz “a traditional unlike any other,” the tournament has seen some of the game’s most memorable moments and greatest champions.
Let’s hope this year is no different. As the opening event on the major calendar and the first in the eight months since the previous year’s final one, the Masters is always preceded by heightened expectations and endless speculation on who might be donning the coveted green jacket at the end of the week.
Early-season form is the subject of close analysis, but this year it’s all about one man: Dustin Johnson. The six-foot, four-inch powerhouse has been the outstanding player on the PGA Tour this season, having won his last three tournaments in a row. His combination of bone-crushing power and deft touch have seen him rise to number one in the world rankings.
This year, he also joined the elite company of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and the late Arnold Palmer as the only players to have won in each of their first 10 seasons on tour. Although Johnson has previously crumbled amidst contention in the majors, he finally overcame that barrier by winning last year’s US Open with a commanding performance. If the tournament runs true to form, then it’s very hard to look past the big American for the trophy.
However, the Masters is a famously unpredictable tournament, and the winner could come from anywhere. Just ask Jordan Spieth, 2015 winner, who last year looked certain to retain his green jacket before succumbing to the infamous 12th hole in the final round and allowing England’s Danny Willett to run away with a victory. Spieth’s recent results have been steady, and he managed to capture a win at Pebble Beach in February. The same cannot be said for Willett, but as a past winner he cannot be ruled out.
At Augusta, experience is very much the order of the day. What will make this year’s tournament particularly interesting, though, will be the bevy of young talent set to make an impression. Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama was one of the stand-out players of last season and reaffirmed his status as a contender with a victory at the Phoenix Open two months ago. To make his case stronger, he has finished in the top 10 at the Masters over the last two years. Justin Thomas is another youngster with a point to prove, having already won twice this season in impressive style. Like Matsuyama, he will be desperate to get a first major under his belt, and what better place to do so than at Augusta?
In terms of the European challenge, all eyes will be on Rory Mcilroy to see if he can finally secure his first green jacket and become just the sixth man ever to complete the career grand slam. His infamous meltdown at the 2011 tournament is his closest run yet, but the 27-year-old’s form has been consistent this year, and there is no doubting he will be one of the biggest talents in the field.
Another individual in fine form is Spain’s Jon Rahm, who will make his Masters debut fresh off a runner-up finish at the WGC Match Play in which he battled Dustin Johnson to the death. The 22-year-old is tipped to be one of the stars of European golf in years to come and will be eager to make a name for himself.
One notable absentee will of course be Tiger Woods. The aging legend has once again been struggling with niggling injuries and, for the third time in four years, will miss the tournament at which he was once seemingly unbeatable. This is especially poignant given that 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of Woods’ record-breaking first major win. That year he defied the critics who said he was too young and became the first minority golfer to win at a club whose patrons are still overwhelming white. Woods even won by a record 12 shots. That victory did more to change the game than any other and is partly why, 20 years on, the Masters simply won’t be quite the same without him. Nonetheless, every top golfer in the world will be ready to bring their A-game with the hope of capturing what is arguably the game’s most prestigious prize. For fans of golf, this is not one to be missed.