While ESPN lawyers work on my lucrative Matthew Berry-like Fantasy contract, I’ll make a deal with you. If I’m wrong on this I’ll never write another Fantasy Golf prediction piece: “One of These 18 Golfers Will Win the 2018 Masters.” That’s the thing with this year…this isn’t just a Jordan, Phil or Bubba year where if anyone else takes it from those three they’re “lucky.” This is a year where literally 19 different people can win the Masters—the 18 I list here and the one I don’t. This Masters has the runaway potential to be the greatest Masters ever.
I’ll confess; I don’t pay any attention to the oddsmakers in Las Vegas for the Masters. The last time the favorite won was over a decade ago. I’ll also confess that my picks may or may not have any legitimate foundation other than gut feelings, and your gut instincts are as good as mine. (Well, maybe.)
Picking the Masters winner is actually pretty easy when you use this formula:
- Pick a guy who is going to make the cut and will not have a round in the 80s. (Hint: Tony Romo won’t win it this year.)
- Pick a guy who will not have to play 7 rounds in four days like those ridiculous Match Play events require. (Otherwise anyone over 40 would be disqualified.)
- Pick a guy who didn’t win last year…sorry Sergio. (It would be pretty hard for him to present a Green Jacket to himself. Although any educated writer would acknowledge that Nick Faldo, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods HAVE done so.)
- Pick a guy who can keep his cool under pressure…sorry Rahm and List. (Throwing/slamming and/or breaking clubs does not qualify as keeping calm.)
- Pick a guy who can read greens. (Up until Bay Hill that would have excluded Rory.)
- And then pick a guy who has a legitimate shot at winning.
That’s it. That’s all you have to do.
So, all of that said – Here are the guys who CAN win this year:
(NOTE: I put “odds” numbers after each player, but they really don’t mean much. Essentially, if you convert them all into percentage points they add up to 100. I prefer you look at it this way: The players are listed in order of what I think their chances are.)
Justin Thomas: Just because he’s my personal favorite to win it this year, doesn’t mean you have to agree. I, in fact, believe that “JUSTIN THOMAS IS GOING TO WIN ALL FOUR MAJORS THIS YEAR.” (I’m currently filling out an application to be his agent.) I fully expect to be eternally ridiculed if I’m wrong, but I’ll also be the guy to retweet this article daily for seven or eight years if I’m right. Just saying. Short of falling down a flight of stairs I see no reason why this guy won’t continue to show all the doubters how ridiculous they are to question anything on his mental and golf games. This guy with his wisdom teeth now out, has NO weaknesses, and is as driven as a golfer gets. If someone gave me $1 Million and said I could divide it between five picks, I’d put all but $20 of it on J.T. (Odds: 1 in 4)
Phil Mickelson: There are sentimental favorites, and then there’s Phil Mickelson, taking sentimental favoritism to epic levels. (He’d get my other $20.) If it weren’t for Tiger’s incredibly unpredictable return, EVERYONE would be on Phil’s bandwagon this year. Can he win it without “Bones” on his bag? That’s probably my biggest question. But Phil is playing his best golf and loves Augusta more than maybe any place on earth. Additionally, this is a guy who doesn’t want to be overshadowed by Tiger Woods YET AGAIN. If he’s not in the final pairing on Sunday, he’ll probably be in the second-to-last group and he can definitely win from there. (Odds: 1 in 10)
Tiger Woods: If you’d have asked me a month ago if I thought Tiger would even be top 10 in the Masters, I’d have laughed at you. TIGER??? Seriously? I’ve been listening to all these guys who are now modifying their stories to say that “they never really doubted Tiger could do this.” Yeah. Right. Liar, liar, pants on flaming fire. Not even Tiger knew if his back could hold up. Not even Tiger knew if he could put four consecutive good rounds together. When was the last time he actually had done so? The man with 79 career wins has been three behind Sam Snead since the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2013! That’s nearly five years! A month ago if you’d have asked me who had a better chance of winning the Masters between Lexi Thompson and Tiger Woods I’d have picked Lexi (and not just because I’d LOVE to see her get an exemption to play). In a way I think Tiger would appreciate hearing that from me, because he’d know I’m not being fake. I had zero belief Tiger would ever win another major. And now I’m saying he’s got a darn good chance of winning at Augusta. (Odds: 1 in 10)
Dustin Johnson: I have a feeling this guy is going to be staying in a one-story villa somewhere this year—somewhere without stairs. The guy who probably would have won the Masters by 20 strokes last year still has a chance to win it this year…just not as good of one. He looked great at Kapalua, but Kapalua has made a LOT of people look really good. Augusta isn’t that way. It calls you out and challenges you in ways few courses other than TPC Sawgrass Stadium do. You’ve got to know your strengths AND use them correctly. DJ has plenty of strength(s). He’s in a great position to capitalize this year. (Odds: 1 in 10)
Jordan Spieth: Other than two bad shots on one hole at Augusta, this is a guy who seldom takes himself out of the running there. He can hit every shot he has to hit there on 17 holes, and tends to have that clutch factor that few other athletes have. Plenty of golfers ebb and flow here. Jordan stays cool, calm and collected. He might do a little too much talking to his golf ball, and has definitely lost his putting touch of late, but he seems to take his game to another level at Augusta and there’s no reason to believe he can’t do the same again this year. Plus, if J.T. is up there, Jordan’s going to want to be. Otherwise, pretty soon it will be Jordan who is the forgotten one of that duo. One final factor that I take into consideration on Jordan’s odds: He’s my son’s favorite golfer. (Odds: 1 in 12)
Bubba Watson: I’ve never seen Bubba play better golf than he is right now. He tends to only play great at Augusta. Suddenly he’s playing great everywhere. That would suggest that (ordinarily) this would be his best chance ever to win at Augusta. If it weren’t for the five guys I’ve listed ahead of him, of course. (Odds: 1 in 12)
Justin Rose: Watching Justin play this year has showed just how close he is to putting it all together, and he LOVES playing at Augusta. He’s always in the running on Sunday. Like Rory, Justin will have three really good rounds here and one bad round. The deciding factor will be how bad his one bad round will be. (Odds: 1 in 25)
Rory McIlroy: I’ve said a thousand times that I don’t believe Rory will ever win another major until he hires a caddie that he actually respects and trusts enough to give him reads on the green. Rory (until a couple weeks ago) has been proficient at being one of the worst green readers ever. This is a guy who would win 20 majors if he cared enough, but he’s got enough other things going on in his life and enough money to do whatever he wants forever. He sure hasn’t seemed like he’s all that motivated to win at golf anymore. That said, he doesn’t have a green jacket, and he knows a great deal of his career reputation hinges on him having/not having one. Maybe that’s enough motivation for him. The problem (other than his lack of green reading skills) has always been that he uses the driver when he doesn’t have to, and always hits the shot that he doesn’t have to when he shouldn’t be hitting it. Guaranteed, if I were caddying for Rory (and he actually listened to me) he’d win five of the next 10 majors. He can hit all the shots; he just can’t see the shots he’s supposed to hit sometimes. Three weeks ago I’d have given him a 1 percent chance to win The Masters. His odds have quadrupled in my book since then. (Odds: 1 in 25)
Patrick Reed: With a local education at Augusta State University and the University of Georgia, this is a guy who should’ve won the Masters by now. The problem has always been his “clutch factor.” He’s always gone the other way here—with the “choke factor.” I think even he might concede that. He’s been turning that around the past two years, but…is he there yet? I don’t know. I’ve heard people say that he’ll never win a Major—that he just doesn’t have what it takes. I don’t believe that. I don’t think he can win overseas, or the US Open in tough conditions…but I think he can definitely win at Augusta or a PGA Championship. The best thing that can happen to Patrick is to end up in a highly competitive grouping…in a setting where he feels like he’s in a match-play round. (Odds: 1 in 40)
Sergio Garcia: I don’t believe for a minute that we’ll have a repeat winner here this year. (Though I might give it a few seconds of thought.) Not only did Sergio have a baby recently (his wife actually had the baby), but if Tiger is in the hunt (which he probably will be), Sergio will probably not be in the hunt. That said, Sergio did name his daughter Azalea (in tribute to Augusta), and if you’re looking for a fill-in guy to get you a ton of fantasy points with an almost sure top-10 finish…Sergio will get you that. (Odds: 1 in 40)
The Other Eight:
Alex Noren: The way this guy has been playing lately, nothing he does would surprise me. He’s way too good and consistent to miss the cut anywhere and even if a year ago very few people knew where he was, this year everyone should be expecting him to be way up the Augusta National leaderboard. (Barring another arthritis flare up of course.) If he doesn’t win this year, I’d expect him to in the next couple years (barring injury) for sure. (Odds: 1 in 50)
Jason Day: If Jason ever gets his dominant form back he could go on quite a tear. He’s one of the few guys who should be a favorite at every Major. You can’t exclude him from a list like this…I just don’t know if his game is where it used to be. In fact, I don’t believe it is. I like him to finish top 10, but to win? (Odds: 1 in 50)
Paul Casey: Speaking of guys who have been playing well, you know that Paul Casey is going to contend if he doesn’t get hurt. The problem with Paul is that every time I “bet” on him he gets hurt. He’s been dominant of late, so I’m putting it on him to stay in that game state. (Odds: 1 in 50)
Henrik Stenson: Many believe Henrik at his best rivals anyone at their best. The question is more one of state of mind with him. When he’s mentally tuned in, he’s an epic competitor and unflappable. I don’t feel like Augusta plays to his strengths, but I always hold out hope for him to keep it all together. I’ve always felt like he was going to win a green jacket. Is this his year? Maybe. (Odds: 1 in 50)
Tommy Fleetwood: I pick this guy to contend in literally everything, and while he hasn’t put it all together yet, the guy has every physical and (more importantly) mental tool to get to the top and stay there at Augusta. (Odds: 1 in 50)
Kevin Kisner: How do you not put the stars from the University of Georgia on a contention list? Shouldn’t those guys be more comfortable here than almost everyone? Yes. They should. You’ll note I mention Kisner, Russell Henley, Patrick Reed AND Brian Harmon on this list. They all not only should make the cut, but should be dominating the first few leaderboard pages. Those guys know how to play on this grass and Kevin Kisner has a grit and determination to take on anyone and any challenge. I like this guy to win here…sometime. Maybe even this year. (Odds: 1 in 50)
Jon Rahm: Look, there’s no question this guy is uber-talented. He should be in contention everywhere he plays. He just has a few short fuses between his ears, and is one of those guys I now expect to crumble on Sundays. Can he win the Masters this year…I mean…sure. It would just take a lot of maturing in a very short time. I’m putting him on this list because he should be able to win. That said, there are 16 guys I’d pick ahead of him. (Odds: 1 in 50)
Dark Horse: Russell Henley: I went back and forth between Russell Henley and Brian Harman for this final pick, and because I picked Russell, y’all should probably pick Brian for your teams. They’re both local boys, both bound to break through at some point. I give Russell (Odds: 1.5 in 100) and Brian just a little bit less.