Dunton’s Third Annual Masters Special: Green in regulation

Last year we witnessed a meteoric rise of a young star in the world of golf. Jordan Spieth completely obliterated the field at the Masters and pretty much left nothing in doubt going into Sunday carrying a four shot lead. Forget about that back nine roar on Sunday, we witnessed a back nine coronation of the next big star in golf.

It helped that he went on to win the US Open and then almost win the Open Championship. At that moment in the summer, the professional golf world hitched its wagon to their future star to carry the torch.

Well we thought we did. Then something –or actually someone else — happened. Jason Day. We watched Day come oh so close at the US and British Opens and then as he won the PGA Championship we officially had our new 1-2 punch of contenders.

Let’s not forget Rory, Rickie, and Dustin Johnson who was two putts away from winning the US Open (how did he miss those?). Anyway, it’s Masters week.

ctm-0410-nantz-640x360

So here we are back at our old familiar place, a tradition like no other (am I allowed to say that? Please). The official start of the 2016 golf season. Yes, I know that we actually started this back in October, but get over yourself. You know we all start really paying attention now.

We are driving down Magnolia Lane, looking at blooming azaleas, buying pimento cheese sandwiches and marveling at the beauty that is Augusta National. All the players are gearing up for this event hoping that they can etch their names in history. Jordan is preparing his menu for the Champion’s dinner, Rory is still looking for his ball from 2013 that was way far left off of 10, and Tiger, well let’s just say he will be in attendance at the dinner and that’s it. So who walks away with a green jacket to add to their wardrobe?

CONTENDERS:

It’s easy for me to tell you to pick Jordan, Rory, or Jason. Anyone who knows the difference between a putt and a drive would probably tell you one of these three is going to win the Masters. So I will be going out on a (short) limb here for the sake that you are smart enough to know that these three top most lists. So who else has a shot of winning? Here are two full fledged contenders:

ADAM SCOTT 

Here is a guy who has won at Augusta before and coming into the Masters is playing really well. Adam is number one is FedEx cup points. He has ditched the belly putter per new rules and is number one in strokes gained putting. Adam is coming off of two first place wins at the Honda Classic and WGC Cadillac Open which have him finding his winning swing again. Scott is a great driver of the ball, which is important at Augusta, but it’s his touch around greens that is going to make a difference this week. If Scott can find that touch in his short game and continue his amazing putting don’t be surprised if he is once again wearing green.

BUBBA WATSON 

He’s been voted the least liked player on tour but the guy loves Augusta. Bubba is part of my “lefties have an advantage” argument at Augusta National when you look at the current layout. Here’s the thing. Bubba has been up and down at Augusta. He won in 2012, T-50 in 2013, won in 2014, and T-38 in 2015. Is he the San Francisco Giants of golf? Who knows but Bubba has won three events this year and fished in the top 10 four times. Maybe this even year thing isn’t a fluke. He needs to sure up his putting if he plans on winning: he currently he ranks 144th in strokes gained putting despite being number one strokes gained tee to green. If he can make some putts a third green jacket is not out of the question.

Feeling a little risky and want to look a little deeper in the field? Try on these:

Louis Oosthuizen

Remember his Albatross (Double Eagle for those new to the game) at the second hole on Sunday in 2012? It was only overshadowed by Bubba’s amazing shot out of the pine straw to set him up for a victory on the second playoff hole. Here’s the thing — Louis has not been a flash in the pan since winning the Open Championship in 2010. He has flirted with some other major victories, most notably the 2012 playoff loss to Bubba Watson and last year’s Open Championship. This year Louis has two top 10 finishes including a second at the WGC Match play. What intrigues me the most with Louis has been his ability to handle the pressure of the moment. Despite not winning in 2012, it’s not like he lost that event. Bubba hit an unbelievable, unforgettable shot that defied logic and the basic laws of golf to win. I think Louis can handle the moment of being atop the leaderboard on Sunday.

Phil Mickelson

Those who know me know how much it pains me to have this name here. I don’t know why I’m putting it here other than the fact that Phil is two months shy of 46. Remember the 1986 Masters? If you don’t stop reading now and never watch golf again. Okay those still here know what I’m speaking of. Nicklaus’ historic back 9 comeback at the 86 Masters at the young age of? You guessed it 46.

There is some synergy there and sports seem to love synergy. Phil finished in 2nd place at the AT&T Pro and 5th place at the Cadillac WGC. Lefty knows how to win here and he is ranked number one in scoring average on tour this year. Remember my argument that lefties have an advantage? Well, no lefty has a bigger advantage than Lefty himself. The crowd has no problem getting behind him here so watch out if he is contention, the roars will be that much louder, and we may be speaking of an almost 46-year old 30 years after the most amazing performance of golf’s greatest 46-year old.

Hideki Matsuyama

I don’t have a concrete reason of why I’m leaning towards Hideki other than I like his game, and always have. He is a consistent ball striker and his game his solid from tee to green. Hideki has three top ten’s this year and carries a number one birdie average on tour alongside his seventh ranked scoring average. Hideki is only 69th in driving distance but that’s not a major issue at Augusta where putting is a premium. This is Hideki’s kryptonite (ranked 151st on tour) but it takes a hot Thursday on the greens to carry through the weekend so I’ll take that chance.

So who is wearing the green jacket as the sun goes down Sunday night?

After all is said and done I am going to go with Rickie Fowler. Yeah it’s a huge leap but you have to take one to make a big splash. Rickie is still too young to be on the “Yet to win a major list” but he is going to get one. Why not here? This place is perfect for him, and this weekend is even better. Everyone is focusing on the big three and the usual suspects, which Rickie is sometimes a part of but for some reason not here.

Well that changes this weekend. Rickie has played in nine events and finished in the top 10 five times. His past two Masters finishes are T-12 (2015) and T-5th (2014). Rickie is ranked second in greens in regulation, an important stat at Augusta, and third in ball striking. If he can keep his wits about him and stay in the moment it’s not far fetched that we will hear Jim Nantz say, “It looks like orange and green are a good match” as Rickie’s final putt finds the bottom of the cup on 18.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s