The long wait is over. Masters week is here. The dreadful nine-month wait between this week and the PGA Championship has come to an end. It’s time to for the world’s best to head to Augusta, Georgia and drive down Magnolia Lane. The pimento cheese sandwiches and lemonade patiently wait. To start the week, let’s talk about 18 things to know heading into the 2018 Masters Tournament.
18 things about the 2018 Masters Tournament
1. There is exactly one player in the field looking to complete the career grand slam at the Masters. His name is Rory McIlroy and he is playing some really good golf as of late. His late birdie run to distance himself at the Arnold Palmer Invitational was vintage Rory. He has talked all year about everything he is doing to prepare for this tournament. The pieces are falling into place and a hot putter would put McIlroy in contention on Sunday.
2. Justin Rose has come in second in two of the last three Masters. In 2015, he was the victim of the Augusta destruction in the form of Jordan Spieth. Last year, the Englishman lost in a playoff to fellow Ryder Cup teammate, Sergio Garcia. Rose is a beautiful ball striker with one of the most consistent swings in the game. He has played good golf over the last 6 months having won twice late last year. Rose has the game to slip on the green jacket, maybe this year the cookie crumbles in his favor.
3. Phil Mickelson won for the first time since the 2013 Open Championship at the WGC Mexico Championship. He was close several times early in the season finishing in the top five on multiple occasions. Now Mickelson returns to a major that he has won three times playing some of the best golf he’s played in the last five years. His recent success is even more interesting because of this next guy…
4. …the Big Cat, Tiger Woods, is returning to Augusta and the oddsmakers say he has a good chance of winning this thing. Woods has four green jackets, the most recent coming in 2005 when he had his famous chip-in at 16. Not only is Lefty back, but Tiger is too, you can’t help but let your mind wander to a scenario where two of the all-time greats are fighting for yet another green jacket.
5. Augusta is tough. Proof? Only five players have made the cut at the last five masters. That list includes Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Adam Scott, and Matt Kuchar.
6. Six amateurs were awarded exemptions to the 2018 Masters. It is a tradition for the winners of the major amateur champions from around the world to earn an exemption to play in the first major of the year. Leading this group of young talent is the U.S. Amateur Champion, Doc Redman. Also participating is Joaquin Niemann, the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world.
7. Courtesy of Golf Channel’s Justin Ray, each of the last six Masters’ winners was top seven on the PGA Tour in strokes-gained tee to green. The players that fit that bill this season are Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Adam Scott.
8. Eight of the last nine major winners were first-time winners. The only repeat major champion since the 2015 PGA Championship is Jordan Spieth who won the 2017 Open Championship. Times are good for players looking for their first major championships. Notables on that list this week include Jon Rahm, Paul Casey, and Rickie Fowler. Rickie Fowler is an especially interesting case having come up just short on multiple occasions, including four top-5s in 2014.
9. Fowler has nine top-11 finishes in majors. He finished top-5 at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship last season. He has only finished outside of the top 12 once at Augusta since 2014. Being one of those “best players without a major” Fowler has come close at the Masters. Fowler has played some good golf this year but hasn’t put four great rounds together for a win. He is currently 12th on the PGA Tour in birdies per round.
10. Rory McIlroy has four straight top-10 finishes at Augusta. This gets lost at times because he was not really in contention any of these years, but late charges on Sunday have gotten him there. Most notably, in 2015 McIlroy stood on the 10th tee on Friday at 3-over and played his next 45 holes in 15-under par to finish alone in fourth place. He is capable of tearing up the golf course, he just has not put four rounds together yet.
11. Who is going to come out on top? Old or new? This is the first Masters where Tiger and Phil are both playing well alongside the young guns of today’s PGA Tour. Who represents their group better? Who presents a betters storyline? Personally, I’d be thrilled with a four-man race on Sunday Between JT, Spieth, Tiger, and Phil. The world doesn’t work that perfectly, so it probably won’t happen. But can you imagine?
12. Which Bubba Watson is going to show up at the Masters? In the calendar year of 2018, Watson has two wins at the Genesis Open and the Dell Match Play. However, in four of the seven events he has played he has finished outside of the top 35. His most recent stroke play event was the Arnold Palmer Invitational where he finished in a tie for 66th. With that being said, there is not a course that is better suited for a player than Augusta National is for Bubba. If he plays well, he is a tough man to beat. He only has two top 15 finishes in the Masters, but he won both times.
13. Including wins, Tiger Woods has 13 TOP TENS at Augusta. Many PGA Tour players won’t even play in 13 Masters. His most recent top five came back in 2013. Woods was in the top 5 in scoring average that year. He sits in the same position here in 2018 with a scoring average of less than half a stroke more.
14. Justin Thomas has backed up his historic 2017 campaign with another solid 2018 appearance. He lost in a playoff to Mickelson in Mexico and won the Honda Classic in Florida. He is still on the verge of becoming the No. 1 ranked player in the world. However, his track record at Augusta is not stellar. His best finish came last year when he tied for 22nd.
15. It took 14 tries for Sergio Garcia to win a green jacket. What are the chances he defends his jacket? Garcia has three straight top 10 finishes on the PGA Tour heading into Augusta and is first in scoring average at 68.714. All the hype around this year’s Masters has put Garcia in the back seat, but he might quietly put a good week together and have a chance to do something only three other golfers have done in Masters history.
16. There are 16 first-time participants at this year’s Masters. The group is headlined by Xander Schauffle who won the 2017 Tour Championship at East Lake. Other notables include Tony Finau, Patton Kizzire, and Wesley Bryan. There have only been three golfers to win the Masters on their first try, the last one coming courtesy of Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
17. An incredible 17 of the top 28 players in the Official World Golf Rankings have never won a major. Headlining that bunch is Jon Rahm and Paul Casey who have both won on the PGA Tour in 2018.
18. Every year some of the game’s all-time greats return to Augusta as Masters champions. There are the young ones like Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson. And there are older ones like Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer. This year, 19 past champions return to walk those hallowed fairways around Augusta National Golf Club.