The first major of the year takes place at Augusta on 11-14 April and all the world’s finest golfers will vie for glory. Yet only one man can don the famous green jacket when all is said and done, and it promises to be another ferociously competitive battle. Here are five players that could challenge in Georgia.
The Ulsterman is the favourite to win The Masters after clinching five straight top-six finishes at the start of 2019. He won The Players Championship at Sawgrass earlier this month and that should give him huge confidence ahead of this tournament. It is the only major he has not won, so he has the opportunity to complete the Grand Slam at Augusta. Only four players have achieved that feat in the modern era, but it has never quite happened for McIlroy at the Masters.
The closest he came was a fourth-place finish in 2015. He was in contention last year, but he faded away on the final day and that has become a familiar trend in recent years. Yet McIlroy is now playing statistically the best golf of his career and his new Zen demeanour means he could now return to the summit of the sport. He is arguably the most gifted and exciting player of his generation and it will be thrilling to see if he can complete the Grand Slam at the most famous tournament in the world.
World No. 1 Johnson has also made a blistering start to 2019, with four top-nine finishes so far. He landed a strong victory at the WGC-Mexico Championship and he has the power, finesse and mental fortitude to go on and win The Masters. Despite being the best player in the world for the past few years, he only has one major to his name. He finished T4 at The Masters in 2016, but he has not been in contention on the final day since then. Ultimately Saturdays have let him down and he needs to find greater consistency across all four days at Augusta. Yet his swing is improving, his shot patterns are growing more consistent and his ability is clearly reflected in the sports spreads at Sporting Index.
He looked preordained to win this tournament in 2017 after picking up three big wins in the build-up to Tthe Masters. However, he went tumbling down the stairs at a rental home, missed the tournament with injury and has never been quite the same since.
“Back then that was probably the best form I’ve ever been in, and getting injured it’s taken a while to get back to that form,” he said. “Now is the closest I’ve been to that. It’s definitely the closest I’ve felt to that stage of my career.”
That is an ominous warning for his rivals ahead of this tournament.
The last four winners of The Masters had never won a major previously. Jordan Spieth popped the cork on his first major here in 2015 and then Danny Willett shocked the golfing world by closing out an unlikely triumph the following year. Sergio Garcia finally got that elusive major at Augusta in 2017 and then Patrick Reed powered to victory last year. There are several brilliant players out there that are yet to win a major, including Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Paul Casey, but DeChambeau could well be the best placed to step up and join the great pantheon of major winners. He is yet to turn it on at a major, having never finished in the top 20, but he has won five times in the past year and climbed up to sixth in the world ranking. He has the power and the second shot prowess to thrive at Augusta, while he is ranked fifth in birdie average, so if he can respond to the pressure of the big tournament and keep his short game largely free of errors he could well cause an upset here.
Rose has secured an impressive haul of six wins and 27 top-10 finishes over the past 18 months and that has seen him top the world rankings for several weeks. He is currently second, sandwiched between Johnson and Brooks Koepka, but he has underwhelmed at majors recently. He has just one to his name, the 2013 US Open, although he is also an Olympic champion and he finished runner-up at the Masters in 2015 and 2017. He has finished in the top 15 in seven of his last eight visits to Augusta, so he clearly has the tools to do well here. He is now pushing 40 and his opportunities of winning this tournament are dwindling, so he should be highly motivated.
There are a number of compelling long shots heading to the Masters, from Xander Shauffele to Matt Kuchar, but Finau looks like a really interesting choice. The 29-year-old hit the big time last year and he was remarkably consistent at the majors: He finished T10 at The Masters, fifth at the US Open and T9 at The Open Championship. He clearly relishes playing under pressure, as he was one of the US team’s best players at the Ryder Cup, finishing 2-1-0 and beating the in-form Fleetwood. He is now up to 14th in the world rankings and this could be the year he breaks into the golfing elite. Last year he was very much in contention at The Masters, despite nursing a bad ankle injury throughout the tournament, and he could be unstoppable if he is fully fit this time around.