Nick Bonfield explains why he feels there are 22 players still in with a chance of Masters Glory at Augusta National come Sunday

22 Players Still In With A Chance Of Masters Glory

You wouldn’t describe the first two days of the 2018 US Masters as spectacularly exciting, but the fireworks looks set to follow. A host of huge names and previous Major Champions are nicely positioned to mount a strike over the weekend at Augusta National and apply pressure to two quality players who have yet to secure a Major Championship.

Related: US Masters leaderboard 2018

But who realistically has a chance to win the coveted Green Jacket this year? To answer the question, there are many variable to consider, such as history, the strength of the leaderboard and weather conditions.

Clearly golf is an innately unpredictable game, but I believe there are only 22 players who have a chance to write their names into the history books this year. Why 22? These are the golfers who sit at level par or better. And those on that mark will need to do something very special over the weekend to vault themselves into contention.

There are two key bits of history to consider before we look at the leaderboard. First, it’s worth noting the largest 36-hole Masters comeback was eight shots – Jack Burke in 1956. Second, the winner in 19 of the previous 20 Masters has been inside the top ten at the halfway stage.

Those stats paint a rather negative picture for those a way off the lead (level par is currently nine back), but the quality of the players in the chasing pack, coupled with the scheduled inclement weather, means many still have a chance. I’m simply not prepared to rule out the likes of Hideki Matsuyama (E) and Jon Rahm (-1) at this point.

Rain, thunderstorms and gusts of up to 20mph are expected on Saturday afternoon, meaning it’s going to be a battle. Patrick Reed and Marc Leishman are therefore more likely to come back to the pack than pull away from it.

With so much quality within nine shots off the lead – there are eight former Major Champions in the top 14 – you’d expect at least a couple to belie the conditions and shoot sub-par rounds. Clearly those who are further back will need to go lower (better conditions are expected earlier in the day, though), but I’m not expecting the lead to go beyond 10-under-par by the end of Saturday.

The history book also tells us that the biggest 54-hole comeback was eight shots.

Let’s also consider the two players at the top of the leaderboard. Patrick Reed (-9) and Marc Leishman (-7) are both fine players, but neither has a Major to their name. Reed hasn’t finished inside the top 22 in four previous Masters appearances and you have to wonder if he can maintain his sublime form on the greens for another two rounds, especially with the added pressure of leading a Major after 36 holes.

The chasing pack is also frightening. Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas – who have ten Majors between them – are all within six of the lead. And you only have to go a shot further back to find Bubba Watson – champion in 2012 and 2014 – Justin Rose, a man with an incredible record at Augusta, and Louis Oosthuizen, who could have a Green Jacket in his wardrobe had it not been for Bubba Watson’s miraculous shot from the trees during the play-off in 2012.

It promises to be a thrilling weekend on the hallowed turf at Augusta National. Of course, Reed could run away with it and render this entire piece both inaccurate and redundant, but I’d be very surprised to see that happen.