The golf year is well underway on both sides of the Atlantic, but for many golf fans, things don’t really get started until the action begins at Augusta National, the picturesque home of the Masters and the year’s first major.
Along with the Claret Jug awarded to the winner of the British Open, the Green Jacket donned by the winner of the Masters is one of the most famous prizes in sport, and this year’s fight for the title promises to be even more competitive than usual. The competition will be just as fierce in the sports betting markets, as millions of golf punters the world over take the chance to bet on the winner of golf’s first major prize of 2018. Here are five of the top contenders who can shine in Augusta in April.
The current world No. 1, Dustin Johnson’s awe-inspiring power from the tee makes him one of a handful of players who can consistently conquer the Augusta fairways, making him an ideal candidate to win there. He finished sixth at Augusta in 2015, fourth in 2016, and having missed last year’s tournament through injury, he should be hungry for the opportunity to win golf’s most coveted major, to add to his US Open from 2016.
Last season, Jordan Spieth added three more trophies to his collection, including the British Open, and he has now won three majors in five full seasons as a professional. Despite being out of form going into the Masters last year, he still finished inside the top 15. In addition to winning at Augusta in 2015, he finished second at both of his other two visits to the tournament and seems always to produce his best at this event.
2017 proved to be a huge disappointment for Rory McIlroy, who endured his first winless year since 2008. But having taken several weeks off at the end of the season, he announced a punishing schedule through the first three months of 2018 to set him up for the big one. The Masters is the only major missing from McIlroy’s collection, but he has made the top 10 in each of his last four attempts and it is surely only a question of when, not if, Rory gets his hands on the famous Green Jacket.
For most players, even the best, learning how to play Augusta takes time, and that has been the case with young US star Brooks Koepka. The 2017 US Open Champion has made three trips to the Masters, and despite not looking a natural initially, he has steadily improved with each tournament. Having finished in the top 35 in his first two visits, he made the top 15 last year, scoring rounds of 74, 73, 71 and 69, and further improvement can be expected if he comes back off injury in time to prepare properly.
Thomas Pieters is a young European golfer with a bright future. Although the Belgian hasn’t yet shown season-long consistency, he has prodigious talent and, equally important, he has shown a liking for Augusta. In his six major tournaments to date, Pieters put in easily his best performance at the Masters last year when he finished fourth, despite being hampered by a third-round 75. Having already shown that he can handle the Masters course and the unique Masters atmosphere, he is another young player who can make an impact this year.
He wasn’t at his best in 2017, but Bubba Watson is a dangerous player to write off, particularly when it comes to the year’s first major. Both of his major wins came at Augusta, in 2012 and 2014, and when he’s on song, few players can eat up the course like the big-hitting left-hander from Florida. A member of the exclusive multiple Masters-winning club, Watson could be a serious contender and it would be no surprise to see him shine in Augusta.
There are, of course, many more contenders for Masters glory. The injury-prone but brilliant Jason Day, who finished second at Augusta in 2011, has started the season well, and it surely won’t be long before Rickie Fowler wins his first major. The in-form runner-up from 2017, Justin Rose, will be popular with English fans, and defending champion Sergio García will be fighting hard to defend his crown, while Hideki Matsuyama and Jon Rahm are two young stars who could well break through in Augusta. There’s even the possibility of Tiger Woods heading to the Masters in reasonable form. It promises to be an epic four-day golf battle!