Check out the former Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley's Masters Preview
Paul McGinley Masters Preview In partnership with the Ballantine’s Golf Club
This Masters is going to be one of the greatest in recent memory. You could build a strong case for about eight guys who could win it and a good case for another 10. So it is unlikely we are going to see an outsider coming through that group. One of those 18 is going to catch fire.
You have to put World No.1 Jason Day as favourite. He was impressive winning recently at Bay Hill and at the Match Play in Texas. Mentally and physically, he’s in good shape. If you believe in statistics, though, it’s unlikely he is going to win three tournaments in a row. That’s the sort of thing Tiger Woods used to do.
Tiger made a big impression on Day when the Australian was younger and that’s now formed into a friendship. The fact that Tiger has probably passed his competitive best, he is a lot more open than he was 10 years ago and Jason is tapping in to that. Everyone has mentors and people they look up to. When Tiger came on tour, he spent time with Jack Nicklaus and studied him as he aimed to take on his records.
I wouldn’t expect Jordan Spieth to win back-to-back Masters. Only Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Woods have ever done that. His form hasn’t been great. He’s been finishing in the top 20s so I don’t think he’s way off like some think he is. But there will be a lot of pressure on him to defend his title. There are extra things the champion has to do at Augusta that will take up some of his energy.
His biggest challenge will be to get into contention. Should he do that with 18 or 27 holes to go, he’s a proven winner and when he gets the opportunity he seems to follow through. But he needs a good start.
So does Adam Scott. There will be question marks over him if he doesn’t perform well after taking Steve Williams back as his caddie for the Masters. He’s under pressure because people are wondering why he would break up a successful partnership with his regular new caddie this year. But he has been loyal to Williams. He promised him this at the start of the year and you have to admire that. He obviously has a plan, he’s won twice recently and he’s a Masters champion. No one would be surprised if he won.
Rory McIlroy seems to be trending in the right direction even though he is the only player in the world’s top six that hasn’t won this year. But that’s something we shouldn’t be concerned about. He had a period of time when he wasn’t putting so well – he seems to have rectified that. He had a time when he had a number of hooks in the bag – he seems to have rectified that. Then there was Doral where he had a two shot lead going into the final round and hit some loose shots and got overtaken by Scott. So things just haven’t come together yet for him. But you wouldn’t rule him out to win the green jacket and complete his grand slam of majors.
The thing about this game is if you find something that works, you go with it – even if it is a radical change like going left hand below right with your putting grip. This game is full of tips whether you are a professional or an amateur. You believe in it. We’re all looking for little edges.
Bubba Watson is another of the favourites. He’s playing well and having a good season. Left-handers seem to have a lot of success at Augusta. He’s already won there twice. He nearly won at Doral and did win in Los Angeles. You would look for him to have a strong showing. The same for Phil Mickelson. He is in form even though he hasn’t won yet this year but he has won the Masters three times. He always raises his game for the majors.
Another who is trending in the right direction but for whom it hasn’t all come together yet is Justin Rose. His stats have been very good so far this year, much better than last year heading to Augusta, where he finished second to Jordan Spieth. He has also added a significant yardage to his drives and has worked hard on perfecting a controlled draw, a shaped shot that is often required at Augusta. He has the game and the mentality to add to his major haul.
My first Masters was in 2002. I finished tied 18th when Tiger won for the third time. When you arrive at Augusta, you get a number that the caddie wears on his white overalls when you register. The defending champion gets No.1. So the first player to register gets No.2 and so on. I was so keen; I was the first player there. JP Fitzgerald, who caddies for Rory now, was my caddie and I didn’t even hit practice shots. We headed straight to the 10th tee to play the back nine. Having watched the tournament for so many years on TV, it was a thrill to play.
When I got down to Amen Corner for the first time it was quite an eye-opener. JP gave me the yardage on the 12th tee and it was 110 yards. I said to JP: ‘This can’t be the back tee.’ We went searching around by the bleachers to find another tee. But of course it was the correct tee. I found out a lot about Augusta on Thursday morning when the wind was swirling and the pin was back right hanging over the water and the stands were full. I thought: ‘OK, now I understand what this hole is all about.’ I remember making birdie in the last round.
I was paired with Colin Montgomerie in the third round and I remember getting up and down from the back of the 17th green. I nearly hit it on to the 18th tee box and managed to hit a bump and run shot with a 7-iron up the hill and then it rolled down to two feet. Monty was shaking his head!
Augusta is one of the few places that exceeds your expectations. You feel you know the course. It’s a special place. So many great players are in form. I can’t wait for the Masters to start and to see who will win the green jacket.
Paul McGinley is Captain of the Ballantine’s Golf Club. For more information visit www.ballantinesgolfclub.com
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