US Masters 2017: Five top tips from Rickie Fowler to Jon Rahm
After the death of Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods still out injured, the legendary green jacket needs a new hero
Golf's first major of the year, the US Masters, gets underway at the Augusta National on Thursday. But who will win the fabled green jacket?
The past seven majors have been won by different golfers and the past five by first-time major winners. Picking a victor is made even harder by the fact that the top-ranked golfer in the world has not won in Augusta for 15 years and the last Masters rookie to win a green jacket was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, but then, no one expected Danny Willetts to win in 2016.
However, someone must triumph as the golf world looks for a new hero - as the Daily Mail notes, "there will be an unfamiliar heavy feeling among those on the first tee at Augusta National" this year.
"This Masters will be the first since the passing of the great Arnold Palmer and his absence will leave a hole no-one can fill. Then there is Tiger Woods, whose chronic back problems mean he will not tee it up at Augusta National this week, and maybe not ever again."
Those two have eight green jackets between them, so whoever wins this year will have big sleeves to fill.
Here are five to keep an eye on over the weekend.
Jordan Speith (7-1 to win, 4-6 top ten)
Dustin Johnson is the bookies' favourite, but favourites have not always prospered at Augusta. Spieth, meanwhile, loves Augusta and has better odds.
"Spieth is simply relentless at Augusta," says the Daily Telegraph. "He tied for second in his debut at the tournament in 2014, then came back the following year to take home the top prize with an incredible score of 18 under in 2015. He should have won in 2016 too, but a catastrophic final round saw him eventually finish as runner-up once again."
Ben Coley of Sporting Life agrees, sort of. It "shouldn't surprise anyone" if Speith excels on "a course which is so obviously suited to him", he says.
"At a bigger price than Johnson and seemingly set to drift further, he's probably better value - but extending his Masters record to 2-1-2-1 would be a remarkable achievement and his preparation has been less than ideal."
Hideki Matsuyama (22-1 to win, 7-4 top ten))
"The Japanese wait for a male Major champion goes on but perhaps not for much longer," says Neil Squires of the Daily Express. "Matsuyama, the World number four, is the real deal with 11 pro victories including a World Golf Championship. Low amateur on his Masters debut, he has finished in the top ten in the last two editions. Anyone who can putt like Matsuyama can win at Augusta."
Already a hero in Japan, Matsuyama is used to the pressure the media spotlight brings, says website Golfshake, which predicts he will win a major this year and become as big as Tiger Woods.
Rickie Fowler (22-1 to win, 7-4 top ten)
The American "looks the best bet at the Masters", says Coley of Sporting Life. "Why? Because few players have been more impressive throughout this year."
Fowler has been performing close to or at his best for much of the year and will be a force to be reckoned with.
"But as he remains without a major, and with DJ, Spieth and [Rory] McIlroy forming such a strong trinity at the top of the market, we're still able to take upwards of 20-1 about a player who simply looks ready for the next step."
He also has the backing of Jason Sobel of ESPN. "Fowler is going to win the Masters," he declares. "He's not a kid anymore. He's 28, and a victory this week would be a culmination of Fowler's maturation."
Phil Mickelson (25-1 to win, 9-4 top ten)
"At 46 years of age there are plenty of reasons not to back Mickelson," says Chris Cutmore of the Mail. "Never, however, underestimate Mickelson's desire to write his own name into history."
Mickelson already has three Master's jackets and could be due another. "No-one knows how to work the ball around - and sometimes in between - the pines like him, bar Woods, Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Mickelson, whose game looks in top shape after the WGC Match Play, can move level with two of them with a win on Sunday."
Kyle Porter of CBS agrees that Mickelson cannot be written off. "I'm not sure at what point I'll stop thinking Mickelson can win this event. Maybe when they stick him in the group hitting the ceremonial tee shot. Still, even then I'll believe he can chase that first one and pull off a miracle 68 at 74."
Jon Rahm (25-1 to win, 5-2 top ten)
Aside from Fowler, Rahm seems to have the biggest bandwagon rolling, even though he is a Masters rookie. He is the "real deal", says Cutmore at the Mail, "and already looks a major champion in waiting at 22". His "gossamer" touch on the greens and impressive power game could disprove the notion that experience matters at the Masters.
"Few have more in the bag than the powerfully built Rahm, who combines prodigious clubhead speed with a deft touch around the glass-like greens," agrees John Huggan of the London Evening Standard.
And don't be fooled by the fear of first timers, says Porter of CBS. "Rahm is not the typical first-timer. He might actually be an all-timer, and none of us are aware of it yet."