As 2019 enters its fourth month, America is exploding with green, meaning it is time again to award the sports world’s most famous sartorial symbol of athletic superiority: the green jacket.
Augusta National Golf Club, the picturesque host of the most acclaimed and exclusive golf tournament on the planet holds its 83rd edition this week, and this year promises to be one of the most thrilling yet.
The field of 87 is comprised of world-class talent, budding stars, and a venerable collection of ancient green jacket recipients who had their biggest moment announced by Vin Scully and Pat Summerall, and did their post-victory interviews on the Johnny Carson Show.
Ranking such a prodigious field of participants is a near-impossible task, but here goes nothing:
(Note: this will be the only mention of Zion Williamson)
15. Patrick Cantlay
I wish there was a way to quantify this, but like few players in the field, Cantlay just “feels like” a Masters Champion. The 27-year-old is mature, refined, and resilient, and with his elite length and phenomenal iron game, he possesses a game that fits Augusta perfectly.
The World No. 21 has not yet added a second career victory during the 2019 season, but he has stayed sharp, posting four top 10s in nine starts, and finishing outside the top 24 on just two occasions.
Cantlay has the Tour’s seventh-ranked scoring average, is 10th in strokes gained: tee-to-green, and since last season, has improved his strokes gained: putting standing from 153rd to 81st.
The former amateur superstar is ready for major championship contention, and do not be surprised to see him high on Sunday’s Masters leaderboard, despite the fact that he is making just his third career event start.
Book Rank: 27th
World Rank: 21st
Recent Masters: MC, 47
Recent Starts: 24, MC, 6, 15, MC, 9, 5
14. Bryson DeChambeau
Brooks Koepka might have been the 2018 PGA Tour Player of the Year, and there was very little debate, but 2018’s breakout star was undeniably Bryson DeChambeau. The unorthodox 25-year-old took The Memorial, one of the year’s best fields outside of the majors and WGCs, in June, and then triumphed at three events in a five-start stretch later in the year, with two of those coming at FedExCup Playoff Events (he took third in the final Cup standings).
Then for good measure, DeChambeau took the European Tour’s prestigious Omega Dubai Desert Classic in late January. In events that did not take place in Paris, DeChambeau emerged as of the Tours premiere players over the second half of 2018.
The next step for DeChambeau is to contend on the major championship stage. He has yet to post a top 10 in ten major starts, but that is really just a matter of time. He has played The Masters just twice, with his best finish being an impressive T21 as an amateur. While that limited experience at Augusta might make it improbable that he will leave Georgia on Sunday with a green jacket, nothing “The Mad Scientist” does at this point would be a surprise.
Book Rank: 15th
World Rank: 6th
Recent Masters: 38, 21
Recent Starts: 40, 20, 46, 56, 15, 6, 1
13. Justin Thomas
It seems odd that a man who has five top 10s in 10 season starts, and leads the PGA Tour in birdie average and scoring average, could be having an underwhelming season, but that has been somehow true for world No. 5 Justin Thomas.
The stats look fantastic, but after eight victories between 2017 and 2018, he has yet to land in the winner’s circle this year, and has surprisingly struggled to close several events where he was in contention. He is also in the midst of a three-start stretch where he has failed to place better than T24.
The 25-year-old is undeniably one of the best 3-5 players in the world, although he has yet to crack the code at Augusta, but has improved in each of his three starts (T39, T22, T17).
Nobody would be shocked if JT has a new green jacket and a second career major championship victory on Sunday, but he will need to quickly work out the kinks with his irons and putter that have circumscribed his results over the past month.
Book Rank: 5th
World Rank: 5th
Recent Masters: 17, 22, 39
Recent Starts: 24, 35, 30, 9, 2, 3, 16
12. Phil Mickelson
The 48-year-old three-time Masters Champion would become the oldest winner in tournament history if he is able to capture this year’s edition, a win which would also tie him with Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods for the second-most green jackets.
Despite his advanced age, Mickelson has been very sharp at time over the past two seasons, notching two victories in that span, after having not won an event in five years. The latter of those two victories was a phenomenal three-stroke win at February’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, something that should be especially encouraging to the man who is a U.S. Open short of the career grand slam, since this year’s U.S. Open is being held at Pebble.
However, since that Pebble Beach romp, Mickelson has struggled. He has two missed cuts in five starts since, with nothing better than a T37. He is still long, but his putter has been giving him trouble.
Still, Mickelson always seems to awaken for the majors, and The Masters has been his best, placing in the top 10 on 15 occasions. What will be especially interesting will be if Mickelson lets Jake Owen try on his green jacket if he wins.
Book Rank: 17th
World Rank: 22nd
Recent Masters: 36, 22, MC, 2, MC, 54, 3
Recent Starts: 40, MC, MC, 39, 37, 1, MC
11. Jon Rahm
The 24-year-old from Spain seems like a lock to someday win a major, and more likely will win many. Could this year’s Masters be major No. 1?
Perhaps; Rahm finished solo-fourth at Augusta last year, in what was just his second start, but while he has already made a career of being impressively precocious, the man who has won twice on the PGA Tour and three times in Europe has yet to really contend down the stretch in the biggest of big-scale PGA Tour events. That first nearly happened at THE PLAYERS Championship last month, where he held the 54-hole lead, but he then imploded on Sunday with a 4-over 76 that knocked him out of the top 10 entirely.
Overall, Rahm has continued to shine in 2019, however. He has six top 10s in just 10 starts this season, and as always, he is killing it with his driver, where he ranks second on Tour in strokes gained: off-the-tee. At third on Tour in first round scoring average, do not be surprised if Rahm gets off to a fast start at Augusta.
Book Rank: 5th
World Rank: 8th
Recent Masters: 4, 27
Recent Starts: 24, 6, 12, 45, 9, 10, 5
10. Matt Kuchar
Rickie Fowler has received the most scrutiny of anyone on Tour for not having yet won a major championship, but someone who should be feeling more pressure than Fowler is Matt Kuchar, who is 9.5 years older, and has also never landed in the winner’s circle of a major championship. His performances on the major stage have improved, as he has played inside the top 10 in four of them over the past two years, but he is another player who needs to take one of these to validate his career.
Fortunately for Kuchar, he is in the midst of a career renaissance. The current leader in the FedExCup standings had gone five years without a victory on Tour, but has two this season; one in Mexico and one in Hawaii. He has also played well outside those two victories, and especially as of late.
Two weeks ago he made it to the championship match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and then chased that runner-up with a T7 at last week’s Valero Texas Open. Kuchar has been fantastically accurate in 2019, leading the Tour in greens in regulation and ranking 6th in driving accuracy.
Kuchar will still have to jump some mental hurdles if he gets into contention late, but now that he knows how to win again, he seems like a much better bet to do that than he did a year ago. At the very least, he would like to get through this week without creating yet more controversy.
Book Rank: 17th
World Rank: 16th
Recent Masters: 28, 4, 24, 46, 5, 8, 3
Recent Starts: 24, 6, 12, 45, 9, 10, 5
9. Jordan Spieth
Well, there is no sugarcoating it: Masters prodigy Jordan Spieth has been really, really bad this season. His best finish in a stroke-play event was 30th and he ranks 170th in the current FedExCup Standings. His putting has actually been passable, which is a big improvement from a lot of last year, but his driving has been a wreck; he is 212th on Tour in driving accuracy, a big part of the reason that he ranks 203rd on Tour in strokes gained: off-the-tee.
Spieth is still carding a lot of birdies, but he is also posting a LOT of really bad numbers, which is illustrated by his 179th ranking in bogey avoidance. He has been especially bad on the weekends. His rounds have been madly inconsistent, and it might be unreasonable to expect him to suddenly put four rounds together at the biggest tournament of the year.
So… why is Spieth still ranked this high? Simply put, Jordan Spieth loves The Masters, and The Masters loves him. A course that has a reputation of needing considerable experience to conquer, in just five starts, Spieth has a win, two runner-ups, a solo-third, and a T11. He knows how to play this course, and while his recent results have been abysmal, there have been improvements and highlights as well.
At last week’s Valero Texas Open, he surged into contention by opening with back-to-back rounds of 68, and while a front-nine implosion on Saturday basically torpedoed his chances, he showed tremendous resiliency by carding birdies on five of his last seven holes to turn a late 6-over into a 1-over.
Also, in his last four starts, he bounced back from all three 75 or 76 rounds with an immediate sub-60 round. Spieth also has been strong this year at getting his tournaments off to good starts, which is essential at The Masters, as the last 13 champions have all been inside the top 8 after the first round.
Spieth will have to overcome some mental hurdles, but this is still HIS event, and we think he shows up strong for the sixth straight year.
Book Rank: 8th
World Rank: 33rd
Recent Masters: 3, 11, 2, 1, 2
Recent Starts: 30, 24, MC, 54, 51, 45, 35
8. Rickie Fowler
An extremely common selection as the world’s best player without a major victory, it is very possible that nobody in this field needs this win for his legacy more than the extraordinarily popular Fowler. His 20s came and went in December without a major on his resume, despite many close calls: he has finished in the top five of eight career majors without a victory, two in each of the four majors.
Fowler has finished in the top 12 in four of the past five editions of The Masters, with his best finish coming a year ago, when he shot a field low 12-under over the weekend to finish in solo-second place, one shot short of Patrick Reed.
If the world No. 9 is going to prevail in the first major start of his 30s, he will need to play better than he has over the past month, as his last three starts have resulted in finishes of T40, T47, and T17 respectively.
Over the scope of the 2019 season, however, Rickie has played well, posting three finishes inside the top 4, including a victory at February’s Waste Management Phoenix Open. The strongest part of Fowler’s game has been his putting; he currently ranks 8th on Tour in strokes gained on the greens.
Book Rank: 5th
World Rank: 9th
Recent Masters: 2, 11, MC, 12, 5, 38, 27
Recent Starts: 17, 47, 40, 2, 36, 1, 66
7. Brooks Koepka
The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year has been thoroughly unimpressive in 2019, and downright awful in the past month, but it’s a major this week, and Koepka knows how to do majors, something strikingly evident by the fact that he has won three of his past six major starts, including last year’s U.S. Open and PGA Championship.
The world No. 4 has eight career top 10s in just 20 career major starts, but while none of those have come at The Masters, he has improved his standing in all three of his Augusta starts, finishing T33, T21, T11 respectively. Had he not been forced to miss last year’s Masters with an untimely injury, he very well could have shown four consecutive years of Masters improvement.
Koepka’s confidence seems to have been hurt some by a mild drop in distance, something he imputes to deliberate weight loss when trying to look more cut for last year’s ESPN “The Body Issue”, although his biggest drop-off statistically has been with his putter.
His current season has not been ALL bad; he won the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges back in October, and took co runner-up position at early March’s Honda Classic, but he is currently mired in a three-start slump where he has a missed cut and two finishes of T56. There may be some reason for concern, but still… it’s a major, and it’s Brooks Koepka.
Book Rank: 10th
World Rank: 4th
Recent Masters: 11, 21, 33
Recent Starts: 56, 56, MC, 2, 27, 57, 9
6. Xander Schauffele
Xander Schauffele is a big-game hunter: when the stakes are highest, he is at his best. The 25-year-old has already placed inside the top 6 three times in eight career major starts, and made the final Sunday pairing of last year’s Open Championship.
Schauffele also took the Tour Championship as a rookie, the highlight of a career that has shown that no moment is too big for him. He has been at his best in 2019, his third full time season on Tour, as he has already posted two wins; the first coming at a WGC event and the second coming at the stacked-field Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Schauffele’s unflappable demeanor and phenomenal tee-to-green game make him among the favorites to be the next first time green jacket winner. Experience might be his only limiting factor here.
Book Rank: 17th
World Rank: 10th
Recent Masters: 50
Recent Starts: 24, MC, 14, 15, 10, 25, 1
5. Dustin Johnson
DJ got the “best to never win a major” monkey off his back when he survived the controversial 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, but the 34-year-old Coastal Carolina product is again facing pressure on the major stage, as having just one career major victory feels well short of a what a man of his caliber, a man who has 20 career PGA Tour victories, should have accomplished.
Fair or not, he is still likely to play Augusta with a sense of urgency. He has yet to win a green jacket, but he has finished in the top 10 of his last three attempts, including a T10 at last year’s event.
2019 as been yet another tremendous season for the ultra-talented bomber: he won the WGC-Mexico Championship in February, three weeks before prevailing at a European Tour event in Saudi Arabia, and he has finished in the top ten of five of his past seven PGA Tour starts.
A year after it seemed like he led the PGA Tour in everything, Johnson has again been a statistical monster, ranking second on Tour in scoring average and strokes gained: total.
Book Rank: 2nd
World Rank: 2nd
Recent Masters: 10, 4, 6, MC, 13, 38, 38
Recent Starts: 40, 6, 5, 1, 9, 45, 1
4. Justin Rose
The 38-year-old Brit comes into the week as the World’s No. 1 ranked player, holding that honor by a smidge over Dustin Johnson (he actually overtook DJ for No. 1 last week, even though neither Rose nor Johnson played). And like Johnson, it could be argued that Rose has been way too good in his career, a career that features 12 European Tour wins and 10 PGA Tour victories, to only have only taken one major championship (2013 U.S. Open).
The man who has been a sometimes-unstoppable top-10 machine over the past year and a half has played Augusta extremely well in recent years, having finished in the top 14 in seven of the past eight editions. Two of those high finishes were runner-ups, including a playoff loss to Sergio Garcia just two years ago.
Rose has yet to conquer this event, but he certainly appears to have the game for the course. He should be reasonably well-rested as he has made just six starts in the 2019 season, with four of those resulting in top 10s including a victory at January’s Farmers Insurance Open.
In his most recent start, Rose finished T9 two weeks ago at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, advancing from the group stage before being upset by Kevin Na in the round of 16. He currently ranks 3rd on Tour in birdie average and 10th in scoring average.
Book Rank: 3rd
World Rank: 1st
Recent Masters: 12, 2, 10, 2, 14, 25, 8
Recent Starts: 9, 8, 63, MC, 1, 34, 17
3. Francesco Molinari
The 36-year-old from Italy has had very little success at Augusta, but his course history is possibly irrelevant as he has been arguably the world’s best golfer over the past 11 months.
Among the highlights over that time include an unbelievable bogey-free weekend at last July’s Open Championship, where he captured his first major championship victory, an historically great 5-0 week for the winning European Ryder Cup team, and a final-round 64 that led to a two-shot victory at last month’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Molinari has shown an ability to get hot and stay hot, and the last time we saw him, he was definitely “hot” as he was absolutely dominating his competition at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play before getting nipped by Match Play savant Kevin Kisner in the semi-final round. He went on to win the third-place match.
A very encouraging development in Molinari’s 2019 game has been his putting. Historically the worst part of his game by far, he has jumped from 182nd on Tour in strokes gained: putting to 23rd in the past year, especially scary when combined with his tee-to-green game that ranked second on Tour to Dustin Johnson last season.
Book Rank: 8th
World Rank: 7th
Recent Masters: 20, 33, 50, MC, 19, MC, 30
Recent Starts: 3, 56, 1, 17, 27, 26, 43
2. Tiger Woods
The four-time green jacket winner has been extremely motivated to snap his notorious decade-long majorless streak, as he has contended at the last two: a T6 at The Open Championship and a runner-up to major championship wizard Brooks Koepka at the PGA Championship.
After a very strong finish to last season, which included a milestone victory at the Tour Championship, Tiger has been “just ok” in 2019 (apologies to all of you who are sick of that phrase after several billion AT&T commercials during March Madness featuring a basketball announcer who was anything but “just ok”, but whatever), but his last start was very encouraging.
At the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play two weeks ago, he advanced out of group play and then took down a red-hot Rory McIlroy in the round of 16. He very nearly cracked the top four, but lost his elite 8 match when he missed a four-foot putt on the final hole that he normally sinks in his sleep.
The 43-year-old version of Tiger might not be the version that won the 1997 Masters in a 12-stroke romp, but he is still one of the biggest threats in the field. Expect Tiger to post his 14th career Masters top 10 in this, his 22nd career Masters start.
Book Rank: 4th
World Rank: 12th
Recent Masters: 32, 17, 4, 40, 4, 4, 6
Recent Starts: 5, 30, 10, 15, 20, 17, 1
1. Rory McIlroy
Everyone knows the story on Rory by now: the four-time major winner needs just a green jacket to become the sixth player in PGA Tour history to complete the career grand slam. In fact, this will be Rory’s fifth consecutive Masters start where he has a shot at that arduous feat.
McIlroy is undeniably well-positioned to become a Masters champion: five of his 18 career top-10s have come at Augusta, including each of his past five starts here. In addition, his recent form has been phenomenal, as he has placed inside the top 10 in all seven of his PGA Tour starts since the calendar flipped to 2019. The peak of that stretch was a decisive victory at THE PLAYERS Championship, an event often referred to as “the fifth major”.
His victory at THE PLAYERS was especially notable because, despite all his recent high finishes, he had shown considerable difficulty closing tournaments with the lead, something that was well on-display at Augusta last year, where he made the final Sunday pairing, but proceeded to post an extremely uninspiring 74 that dropped him into a share of fifth place. His performance at TPC Sawgrass may have flipped the script on that narrative.
The world No. 3 should love his chances this week, seeing as he leads the Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green and strokes gained: total.
Book Rank: 1st
World Rank: 3rd
Recent Masters: 5, 7, 10, 4, 8, 25, 40
Recent Starts: 9, 1, 6, 2, 4, 5, 4
Next 5: Louis Oosthuizen, Tommy Fleetwood, Marc Leishman, Paul Casey, Jason Day