It’s Masters week, and the top golfers in the world — including the four members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Men’s Golf Team — are in Augusta, Georgia.
Always unpredictable, last year’s tournament was more shocking than most as catastrophe struck defending champion Jordan Spieth on the back nine and he ended up finishing tied for second. Can he rebound this year with another victory? Will the green jacket go to a golfer still looking for his first major championship, such as Rickie Fowler? Or will a former victor, such as Bubba Watson or Phil Mickelson, rise again?
Here are some storylines to follow as play gets underway with round one on Thursday:
Can Jordan Spieth Put Last Year Behind Him?
With a five-stroke lead heading to the back nine on Sunday, Spieth was rolling toward his second consecutive Masters victory. It was his to lose, and then he did exactly that in epic fashion. By the time he got to the par-3 12th hole, his lead was down to just one stroke, and then a quadruple-bogey 7 left him behind three strokes. Instead of becoming just the fourth player ever to win back-to-back Masters championships, he stood in Butler Cabin and handed the green jacket over to England’s Danny Willett. The meltdown will forever be part of Masters lore, and the 23-year-old from Dallas has said in recent weeks that he’s looking forward to getting this year’s tournament over if only so can people will stop asking him about it. Of course, should Spieth win this year, which he well could, then the story becomes even more legendary and it’s doubtful he’ll ever stop being asked about it. Spieth has never finished lower than second in three Masters appearances, and despite missing the cut at the Houston Open last weekend he’s a favorite to be in the mix on Sunday.
Will Bubba Watson Factor?
Watson, a 2016 Olympian, was one of the favorites heading into last year’s Masters but finished tied for 37th and has struggled to crack the top 10 since (five of his last 23 starts). The two-time Masters champion (2012, 2014) has dropped from No. 4 to No. 18 in the world since March 2016, and the odds makers in Vegas listed his chances of winning this weekend at 30-1, but there never seem to be any shortage of surprises at Augusta. Last year, Jason Day was the favorite and Danny Willett’s chances were listed at 60-1. It’s tough to count out a former champion who’s won the green jacket twice.
Will Olympian Patrick Reed Crack the Top 10 In A Major For The First Time?
Reed’s best finish so far this season in a PGA event came in January at the Tournament of Champions, where he finished tied for sixth, and he’s still looking for his first top 10 at a major. This will be his fourth time at the Masters, having missed the cut in 2014, finished tied for 22nd in 2015 and tied for 49th last year. The native of San Antonio struggled in Rio last August over the first three rounds, but shot a 7-under 64 on Sunday to finish in 11th place.
Can Rio Bronze Medalist Matt Kuchar Find His Way Back To The Leaderboard?
Kuchar, who made the U.S. Olympic team after others dropped out, shot an impressive 8-under 63 in the final round to win an Olympic bronze medal last summer in Rio. Kuchar, 38, of Sea Island, Georgia, regularly finds himself in the top 10 in PGA events and although he’s not among the favorites to win, he has had some impressive performances at Augusta. In 1998, when he was a sophomore at Georgia Tech, Kuchar finished 21st and he still gets excited to play the course. He was tied for the lead in 2012 in the final round and finished in the top 10 three years in a row from 2012 to 2014.
Can Rickie Fowler Win His First Major Championship?
Fowler, a 2016 Olympian, is one of the top younger players in the game, and his best Masters finish so far was when he tied for fifth in 2014. The 28-year-old has won four PGA events in his career, including his most recent win at the Honda Classic in February, his first since September 2015. The Jupiter, Florida, resident is ranked ninth in the world and is still looking for his first major championship, but he’s certainly among those to keep an eye on this year.
Will The No. 1 End Up On Top?
Dustin Johnson is the world’s top-ranked golfer and he’s coming in on one heck of a hot streak. The 32-year-old Columbia, South Carolina, native has won his last three events and is a 5-1 favorite to wear the green jacket. The Masters isn’t always good to top-ranked golfers, however. The last time a No. 1 won was Tiger Woods in 2002, so a fourth consecutive PGA victory for Johnson would snap a long streak. Johnson’s best finish at Augusta was tied for fourth in 2016.
Can Phil Mickelson Win It One More Time?
He’s a three-time Masters champion who still believes he can win a fourth time. That would put him in the stratospheric company of only Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. At 46, he would also become the oldest Masters champion of all-time. Mickelson hasn’t won a tournament in almost four years and has missed the cut at Augusta twice in the past three years but in 2015 finished tied for second.
Will Justin Rose Add Green To Gold?
The Olympic gold medalist has three top-10 finishes in six starts this season and has found himself in Masters contention several times in recent years including 2015, when he was runner-up. The 36-year-old from England is currently ranked 13th in the world and won the U.S. Open in 2013, and has never missed the cut in 11 Masters appearances.