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The Masters: Counting Down the Top-25

It’s November, which traditionally means the golf world has checked out until January. But it’s also 2020, a year where anything goes. That anything means The Masters in November (dang, that feels so weird to say…but so has a lot of things this year).

Getting down to business, there’s a lot on the line this week. Tiger Woods has the chance to tie Jack Nicklaus for a sixth green jacket. Rory McIlroy can join five other golfers in history to complete the career grand slam. Bryson DeChambeau has the chance to break Augusta apart like Tiger Woods did in 1997. Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele can get the monkey off their back and break through for their first major championship.

It’s a smaller field than normal, but it’s still littered with top-50 players in the world. Here are the top-25 picks for this year’s Masters Championship.

25. Abraham Ancer: Ranked No. 21 in the world, Ancer has had a solid season. He has four top-5 finishes in the last year and has been consistently in contention and on the leaderboard. As good a player as he is, he’s still looking to contend down the stretch in a major, something that will eventually come with time. Whether it’s this week, who knows. But it’s coming.

24. Jordan Spieth: Yes, it’s been a horrible year. Yes, he’s missing cut after cut. Yes, his confidence is completely broken right now. But this is The Masters, a place where no one has played better in since 2014. That includes a win in 2015, a runner-up in 2014 and 2016, and a T3 in 2018. If there’s a place he can find his old magic, this is it.

23. Francesco Molinari: Maybe the best long shot play of the week. He’s barely competed this past year, playing just six total tournaments in 2020. In those six events, he’s missed the cut four times. But Molinari did play Houston last week and showed some signs of the old Molinari coming back, posting a T15. Let’s not forget it was Molinari who was leading the way for most of The Masters a year ago before putting his tee shot in the water at 12, giving Tiger Woods the opening he needed to win The Masters. Molinari will be looking for revenge this week.

22. Tommy Fleetwood: It hasn’t been a great year for Fleetwood. Since contending at The Open Championship and finishing runner-up to Shane Lowry in 2019, he’s failed to find his game in the big tournaments. He has a win and some top-5s in Europe, but missed the cut at the U.S. Open and wasn’t in contention at the PGA.

21. Paul Casey: Casey has a great track record at the Masters. In 13 starts, he has five top-10s, including three straight top-6s between 2015 and 2017. It was just a few months back at The PGA Championship where Paul Casey was leading late on Sunday only to watch Collin Morikawa put on a back-9 display for the ages. I would be shocked if he isn’t on the front page of the leaderboard sometime during the week.

20. Matthew Fitzpatrick: Mr. Consistency. Fitzpatrick has cashed some good paychecks this year with nine top-10 finishes in the last year, but has yet to really contend down the stretch in a major. I don’t see it happening this week, but I do think he’ll post four good rounds again, something he’s done quite often in 2020.

19. Matthew Wolff: For Wolff, it will be all about his short game this week. He was able to display a superb one at the U.S. Open, but it cost him down the stretch at the PGA. He’s quickly gaining a reputation as a major championship threat and his confidence is growing with each big tournament he plays. Any regular person would say he didn’t lose that U.S. Open at Winged Foot, Bryson DeChambeau won it. He held his own on an extremely golf course, finishing runner-up. It’s unclear how his game will stack up at Augusta National; this is his first Masters.

18. Tyrell Hatton: Ranked No. 9 in the world, Hatton has endured a year of nothing but exceptional golf, winning twice, including at Bay Hill. He won just a few weeks back at the BMW PGA Championship, Europe’s signature event with a star-studded field. However, he hasn’t contended yet in a major, particularly The Masters. That said, he’s never played this well, so history could change.

17. Hideki Matsuyama: As always with Matsuyama, the question will be the putter. I do think he will be in contention going into the weekend. If this was a horse race, look for him to be the quick starter. Can the putter stay intact, though? I still have bad memories of that 2017 PGA Championship when he threw away the lead on the back-9. He comes in playing well, though, finishing runner-up at Houston a week ago.

16. Collin Morikawa: Since his win at The PGA Championship, Morikawa has not played his best. He has three missed cuts and has just one top-10 in his last seven tournaments. However, he is the kind of players who can win The Masters. He is a clutch putter and a consistent ball-striker, a quality you need to regularly contend here.

15. Tiger Woods: I really don’t know what to expect from Tiger this week. He’s playing poorly in all facets of his game, particularly his putter. He’s not driving it well, but you can get away with bad drives this week. That said, it is The Masters. It’s the one place where Tiger can be playing horribly coming in and yet contend. Just look at Fred Couples, who finds a way to still play well at Augusta every year despite not playing well anywhere else. That is what you should expect from Tiger in the future. While his game may fade away, he will always be a threat at The Masters, and that may include this year.

14. Webb Simpson: A guy who probably doesn’t get enough credit for just how consistent he’s been not just this year, but throughout his career. Ranked No. 7 in the world, Simpson has two wins, three runners-up, and too many top-10 finishes to count on two hands over the last year. He also finished T5 at Augusta National a year ago. He seems to have cooled down a bit over the last couple months from his torrid summer pace, but perhaps the motivation of a major championship can get his blood boiling again.

13. Louis Oosthuizen: Maybe the best shot in Masters history behind Tiger Woods’ incredible 16th hole chip-in from 2005 was the double-eagle from Oosthuizen in 2012. It would have been remembered more if Louis could have gone on to win that championship, but instead he finished runner-up to Bubba Watson in a playoff. Oosthuizen is always a threat in major championships. He won the Open in 2010 and has runners-up in all four majors. He finished 3rd at Winged Foot in September.

12. Patrick Cantlay: Perhaps the toughest player to handicap this week outside of Tiger Woods. Cantlay comes in winning the ZOZO Championship just two weeks ago, but it’s really his only highlight since February. He has just three top-10 finishes over the last year. However, the last time he played The Masters, he put on a back-9 charge that saw him overtake Tiger Woods for the lead with an eagle on the par-5 15th hole. The question is which Cantlay will show up this week? If it’s the good Cantlay, then his odds of winning are way better than this.

11. Jason Day: It’s the same question it always is with Day: can he stay healthy? If he can, I’d be rushing to Las Vegas to take a flier on those 33-1 odds right now. Day has battled back and neck injuries over the last couple years, even just recently withdrawing at the CJ Cup last month. He seemed to hold his health together last week, though, finishing with a top-10. He was also healthy at the PGA Championship in August where he held the lead going into the final few holes. He has a great track record at The Masters, finishing T5 a year ago to go along with a T2 and 3rd-place finish.

10. Justin Thomas: As good as JT has been this season, major championships have not been his strong suit. He has yet to post a top-10 finish at The Masters, and since his PGA Championship win in 2017, he’s never really been a threat in a major. He needs to find a way to change that. He’s exhibited too much talent in other tournaments not to be a constant threat in majors.

9. Patrick Reed: The 2018 Masters champion left Winged Foot with a bad taste in his mouth. Playing with Bryson DeChambeau on Saturday and holding a steady lead going into the back 9 that day, he suddenly collapsed and plummeted down the leaderboard. He’s bounced back since, posting a top-5 over in Europe at the BMW PGA. Perhaps good memories from two years ago will resonate through his mind when he tees it up this week.

8. Tony Finau: Here’s a trivia question for you: Besides Francesco Molinari, who also played alongside Tiger Woods in the final pairing on Sunday last year? That would Finau, who went into the final round in second place behind Molinari. Finau has thrust himself into contention in major championships over and over the last few years. In his last three times teeing it up in a major, he has a 3rd, a T4, and a T8. He showed a lot at the PGA Championship hanging in there with the leaders and would have had a chance to win if not for Collin Morikawa’s incredible finish. The question with Tony is the same as it always is: Can he stay there on Sunday?

7. Bubba Watson: The two-time Masters champion is always a threat here, no matter what his form is coming in. He comes in posting two straight top-10s and has the length to conquer the par-5s, which he has done well at in the past. He had a top-5 here in 2018 and got within a shot of Tiger Woods late on the back 9 Sunday last year before a struggling finish.

6. Jon Rahm: He comes in quiet and probably overlooked with most eyes on Tiger Woods, Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy, and Dustin Johnson. But Rahm is No. 2 in the world and is coming off a runner-up finish at the ZOZO Championship a few weeks ago. He has two wins in his last nine events and was in contention down the stretch a year ago at The Masters. He probably already hit the shot of the tournament on the par-3 16th on Tuesday, skipping an iron shot through the water, landing it on the green, and watching it journey downhill some 40-feet and into the cup–and on his birthday, nonetheless. The birthday present he wants most, though, is that green jacket on Sunday.

5. Brooks Koepka: I’m probably higher on Koepka than most this week. It’s true that it’s been a frustrating year filled with injuries, and he disappointed in the final round at The PGA Championship. We didn’t see him at the U.S. Open as he pulled out with a knee and hip injury. But Koepka is back, and if last week is any indication, he’s finding that form that won him four major championships. He was runner-up to Tiger Woods a year ago and finished T5 at The Houston Open in preparation for this week. I don’t need to remind you of his major championship resume over the last five years; it’s better than anyone in the field by a mile. When it comes to weeks like this, he’s ready to go.

4. Rory McIlroy: Rory is still searching for that green jacket that would put him in golfing history as the sixth player ever to complete the career grand slam. This may be his best chance to do it given the conditions. Rory has struggled with fast greens, particularly at The Masters, but has played his best at Augusta when the course was soft. It will be soft this week, playing to Rory’s strength of being able to play more target golf. His length is an added bonus to give him shorter irons into these hole locations. Rory has a great history at The Masters despite not winning. He’s finished in the top-10 five of the last six years and went into the back-9 on Sunday twice with a share of the lead (2011, 2018). He’s a bit off form right now, but Augusta does suit his game.

3. Dustin Johnson: What goes unrecognized is Dustin Johnson’s solid history at Augusta National. No, he doesn’t have a green jacket and he’s never gone into Sunday with the lead, but he’s thrust himself into contention many times and put up strong finishes. That includes a runner-up last year to Tiger Woods. While he struggled to figure out Augusta National early in his career, since 2015, Johnson has finished T6, T4, T10, and T2 at The Masters (he WD’d in 2017 due to injury). Couple that with the fact that he is coming in playing better than perhaps any player in the field and is ranked No. 1 in the world, and you’re hard-pressed to find a better pick this week than DJ. Going back to the PGA Championship, Johnson has finished T2, 1st, 2nd, 1st, T6, and T2. As always is the case with Johnson, it will come down to whether he can figure out the Augusta greens. It’s been his nemesis over the years that’s kept him from vaulting to the top.

2. Xander Schauffele: When it comes to major championship resumes, Schauffele’s resume is not far behind Koepka’s as one of the best in recent years. He finished 2nd at The Masters last year and is coming off a top-5 finish at the U.S. Open. In fact since 2018, Schaffele has posted a runner-up at the British Open, three top-5s at the U.S. Open, and a runner-up at the Masters. Oh yeah, and he also had a top-10 at this year’s PGA Championship. Some may argue Jon Rahm is the best player to never win a major championship, but Schauffele is right there with him. He’s also coming in with a lot of confidence. He’s posted three top-5 finishes in his last four starts, including a first-place at the TOUR Championship in terms of aggregate score (he didn’t technically win the tournament because they adjust your opening score based on where you are in the standings). If there is a safe bet this week at Augusta, it’s that Schauffele will be in contention come Sunday. Whether it’s good enough to overtake the man right below on this list, I’m not so sure. That’s a tall task.

1. Bryson DeChambeau: Since winning the U.S. Open Championship two months ago, DeChambeau went back to “his lab” and discovered ways to increase his distance even more. What resulted was a 400-yard carry and increased swing speed which he posted on Instagram two weeks ago. DeChambeau said in a press conference on Tuesday that he was hitting wedges and short-irons into the par-5s at Augusta, his longest iron being a 6-iron into the incredibly long par-5 8th hole which most players can’t reach in two. That length is going to be an incredible advantage this week given the softer greens and lack of rough. DeChambeau isn’t just all distance, though. He has an exemplary short game to go with solid ball-striking from the fairway. The question will be as it always is with Bryson: Can he make enough putts? The softer greens will help him. He’s as confident as any player coming in and the course is suited for his game. He’s the odds on favorite for a reason and he would be my betting pick this week if I were in Vegas.

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