It’s Masters Week, the greenest, floweriest days of the year. Can I get an Amen? And this year, the 82nd Masters rolls in with Tiger-fueled momentum, anticipation running higher than the pollen count in Augusta, Georgia. Here’s everything you need to know to prepare for the year’s first major.
Tiger Woods: What’s the story?
Woods, who is – at absolute worst – the second-best golfer in history, returns to Augusta for the first time since 2015, and the first time with anything resembling a decent game since 2013. Against all odds and predictions, Woods has returned from back surgery in solid, respectable, on-the-leaderboard form, and that’s enough to make him a betting favorite, if not necessarily a legitimate one. But Woods already has four green jackets, and he’s never missed a cut at Augusta as a pro. If his body doesn’t detonate between now and Sunday, he’s likely to be in the conversation.
But can Tiger win?
Probably not. The problem Woods faces is that as his game has faltered and stalled, the competition has sharpened. This is a Masters field that boasts a dozen players you could pick to win without sweating; the fact that there are so many top-quality players with only a handful of major wins to their credit is a testament to the strength of the field. Woods could, in theory, beat any of these players. But can he beat all of them? Doubtful … but don’t bet your house against him.
Who’s the best of the rest of the field?
The Masters begins early Thursday morning with a ceremonial tee shot from Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. After that, players roll off in groups of three. (See here for tee times.) Here, other than Tiger, are the players you need to know and ought to watch.
Jordan Spieth. The 2015 champion had a green jacket in his hands in 2016 and threw it into Rae’s Creek with a Sunday afternoon meltdown on the 12th hole. He’s struggled through much of the recent past, but a strong T3 finish last week at the Houston Open gives him a little push coming into the week.
Rory McIlroy. Like Spieth, he carries scars of past Masters, in McIlroy’s case a 10th-hole detonation in 2011 that cost him the lead and the win. But he, too, has shaken off some recent downswings, and his thorough, torch-the-earth victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month puts him right into the conversation for a green jacket – and for McIlroy, a career Grand Slam.
Phil Mickelson. He was all but forgotten, written off as a player whose best days were well behind him, then he went and won the WGC-Mexico championship for his first victory in five years. Mickelson’s right-to-left game always fits Augusta well, and he can still scheme his way out of the messes he gets himself into better than anyone with a club.
Dustin Johnson. He’s the World No. 1 and he’s barely even in the topline conversation, which shows just how deep this field is, both in golfers and in storylines. DJ missed last year’s tournament after slipping on a wood floor and wrenching his back the day before the tournament began. He’s not bringing as much heat this year as he was in 2017, but he’s still won twice since last year and he’s still, you know, the No. 1 golfer in the world.
Justin Thomas. Golf’s most spectacular recent ascent. JT won the PGA Championship last year, his first major, and every element of his game indicates he’s ready to grab many more. Plus, he’s developed a habit of tossing out rowdy patrons, which makes him a favorite of the green jackets at Augusta National.
Sergio Garcia. The defending champion has everything going right in his life right now – his long-awaited major championship, plus he and his wife recently welcomed a daughter named – of all things – Azalea. Does contentment breed continued excellence for Sergio? We’re about to find out.
Rickie Fowler. With Garcia off the rolls, Fowler takes over golf’s least-coveted title: Best Never To Win A Major. At least Rickie commands the most colorful fanbase in the game.
Bubba Watson. The two-time Masters winner (2012 and 2014) is rounding back into form with two recent wins and an equipment change to a better ball. Like Mickelson, he’s got a game perfectly fit for this course, and if head and swing are in sync, Bubba could join some select three-jacket company.
Everybody Else. Of the “rest of the field” crew, Justin Rose is probably your best bet; he took Garcia into overtime before losing last year, and had a chance to win on the 72nd hole. Temperamental lumberjack Jon Rahm could simply batter the course into submission. Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Hideki Matsuyama … all of them could pull a Danny Willett-in-2016 and have the Sunday round of their lives to snare a green jacket, and nobody would be too surprised.
Who’s the best pick?
Here are the picks of Yahoo Sports’ golf writers. Place your bets accordingly:
Eric Adelson: “I’m torn between picking Rory McIlroy, who was outstanding in Orlando, and Jordan Spieth, who always seems to putt well at Augusta. I think momentum matters at the Masters, so I’m going with Rory. He’s one of the few players who can afford to have one off-day and still win the tournament.”
Jay Busbee: “Got to go chalk with Dustin Johnson. Augusta’s a second-shot course, and DJ is strong enough off the tee to give himself whatever second shot he wants. He’s not even close to the biggest storyline, but that’ll change come Sunday.
Jay Hart: “Bubba Watson. He’s healthy, he’s playing well and when you put those two things together, there’s a good chance he’ll be in contention at Augusta. And when he’s actually in contention at Augusta, he wins.”
Kevin Kaduk: “Jon Rahm was only two when Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters. Twenty-one years later, Rahm has the game to prevent Woods from adding a bookend green jacket. Rahm and his temper still need to prove they can handle the weekend pressure it takes to win a major, but wouldn’t it be something to see fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia presenting him with a green jacket of his own on Sunday night?”
How to watch
Thursday-Friday: ESPN from 3:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET.
Saturday-Sunday: CBS, starting Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 ET.
Masters.com and the Masters app will show a range of coverage, including featured groups and significant holes, throughout the day, all days. No, you won’t be able to watch the entire tournament. That’s just the way it is.
How’s the weather?
It’s Georgia, so there’ll be heat, rain and humidity thick enough to knock a putt offline. Thursday looks ideal, with temperatures in the 70s. Friday gets a touch warmer. Showers are slated to roll in on Saturday – 60 percent chance, at this writing – but clear out for a cool and ideal Masters Sunday.
And finally …
Will you really get kicked out of Augusta National for yelling “Dilly Dilly”?
Of course. You’ll get kicked off the course for yelling anything. But if you try yelling this year’s version of an Austin Powers quote, your citizenship as well as your Masters badge should be revoked.
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