The aura of The Masters is undeniable for golf fans across the world year to year. The select group invited to Augusta National, including this year’s elite 87 contenders, brings out the top competition from across the world. Masters moments include iconic memories such as skipping balls across the 16th hole, Wednesday’s par-3 contest, the honorary opening tee shots and a pimento sandwich or two.
Despite every treasured moment of The Masters few things live up to the electricity that engulfs Augusta on Sunday. We’ve seen challengers come back and leaders unravel from the opening Tea Olive to the closing Holly. The possibilities for great match-ups across the final 18 holes are seemingly endless but a select few can truly keep both the die hard and the casual golf fans glued to their screens.
Any combination of favorites including Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson and many more would undeniably peak fans interests down the stretch Sunday. Last Word on Golf has compiled a list of some of the final pairings at the 2019 Masters that could result in highlights throughout Augusta National.
The Sophomore Showdown
Two under 30 rising stars over the past few seasons are without a doubt the systematic Xander Schauffele and last year’s Masters standout Tony Finau. Each will be entering their second Augusta outing this year and both have continued to increase their stock since last April. For Schauffele, 2019’s first major championship is a symbol of redemption for the 25-year old.
Last year Schauffele struggled, finishing tied for 50th at 8-over par. Since then the California native has posted ten top-10 finishes including two wins already in 2019. Despite his shortcomings at Augusta he holds three top-6 finishes in seven total major appearances.
While Schauffele’s inaugural Masters outing was nothing too remember, Finau’s first foray at the most prestigious tournament in golf was something fans aren’t soon to forget. Everyone can still recall what they felt when they saw Finau hit a hole in one at Wednesday’s par-3 contest, run down the grass in celebration only to turn around and have his ankle literally pop out from underneath him. Visually out of place, Finau quickly popped his ankle back into the correct position before having to adapt his entire swing just hours before his Masters debut.
With a heavily taped foot and a brand new swing, the 29-year old part Tongan, part Samoan finished tied for 10th to the disbelief of many. As both continue to grow their games on and off the course, each has their sights laser focused on their second trip to Augusta National; not to mention Finau needs some redemption after Schauffele bested him in a playoff to win the 2018 WGC-HSBC Champions. A fully healthy Finau and a surging Schauffele could spell danger to the field and would certainly bring a number of fireworks with them in a final pairing come Sunday.
A Moli-Wood Match-Up
Some of the most entertaining rivalries across sports come at the expense of an impromptu break-up. The golf’s equivalent of a power couple this past year, due to their unmatched play at the 2018 Ryder Cup, was the “Moli-Wood” tandem of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood. The two tore up the United States team at Le Golf National but for most American fans it’d be much more fun to see them tear each other up Sunday at Augusta.
A seven-time winner professionally, England’s Tommy Fleetwood had a career year in 2018. While he has yet to win on the PGA Tour, Fleetwood had the top finishes of his career at each of last year’s majors including a runner-up at the U.S. Open. He also picked up his fourth European Tour victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship finishing 22-under par and two strokes clear of Ross Fisher.
Fleetwood carried that momentum into the Ryder Cup when paired with Molinari where they went a perfect 4-0 over the first two days of play. While Fleetwood may have lost his Sunday singles, Molinari remained undefeated with a solo win that propelled Europe to victory and “Moli-Wood” into the record books. The Italian enters his 15th year as a professional and at 36 is playing some of the best golf of his career.
Along with the Ryder Cup, in the past year Molinari has won the BMW PGA Championship, Quicken Loans National, The Open Championship and most recently the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational. Molinari’s seemingly inhuman focus and precision over the past year have catapulted him into the top of golf’s elite. Few could argue either of these two being a favorite at this year’s Masters but a showdown between two of golf’s heaviest hitters throughout past year would be an international delight for golf fans everywhere.
Just-in Time for a Green Jacket
Heading into the 2019 Masters the PGA Tour scoring average sits at just over 71 strokes per round. Justin Rose currently sits at 10th in Tour average at 69.878 while Justin Thomas leads the entire PGA at 69.432. Two of the lowest scorers on tour at golf’s most iconic course with just 18 holes left to play would assuredly be a shot for shot showdown for the ages.
In his first three appearances at the famed Masters the nine-time PGA Tour winner Justin Thomas has only improved at Augusta finishing T39, T22 and T17. A national champion at the University of Alabama, as well as the 2012 Haskins Award winner, Thomas knows what it’s like to win a major. In 2017, entering the final round of the PGA Championship two strokes down he shot a 4-under final round to win his first career major by two strokes over the field.
This week Thomas will make his way down Magnolia Lane in search of his first green jacket fitting come Sunday. Another world champion seeking his first taste of green at Augusta is fellow major winner Justin Rose. In 24 professional victories Rose has proven himself around the world winning across six different pro tours.
As if that weren’t enough, while representing Great Britain at the 2016 Olympics he became a Gold Medalist in golf’s return to the Olympic games. In 13 Masters appearances Rose has never finished worse than a tie for 39th. Additionally, he holds five top-5 finishes with two runner-ups including narrowly losing to Sergio Garcia in 2017 on the first hole of a playoff.
Each of these perennial contenders has more than shown that they have what it takes to win at golf’s historic championship. Neither is the flashiest or longest but their poise and accuracy from tee to green make them a favorite year in and year out. Rounding Amen Corner with a battle of the Justins late on Sunday could make for a memorable Masters moment in the making.
The Fight for the First
Another dangerous duo each looking for their first green jacket in 2019 are fan favorites, and Ryder Cup teammates, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson. Typically known for their driving, each currently 11 yards longer than the tour average of 292 yards, each has made measurable improvements on the greens in 2019. Entering Augusta, Fowler and Johnson each sit inside the top-15 in strokes gained putting (.706 and .776 respectively).
Thus far on the PGA Tour this year Fowler has yet to miss a cut or finish a tournament over par. The Oklahoma State University alumni took home the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open for his fifth PGA Tour victory. Despite his successes, Fowler has top-3 finishes in each of golf’s four majors but has yet to break into the winners circle in any major championship.
It may be only one more than Fowler, but it’s still one more major won for Johnson at the 2016 U.S. Open. Much like Fowler, DJ has finished top-5 or better in every other major including his Masters best T4 also in 2016. The bombing South Carolina son has amassed 20 PGA Tour wins with his most recent coming at this year’s World Golf Championships’ Mexico Championship.
If either man can keep his control on the tee and finish his putts on the nerve-racking Augusta greens either one could find themselves in contention come Sunday. If the golf gods align we may be treated to a head to head firefight down the stretch with a green jacket on the horizon for these superstars of golf.
The True Match
Lets be honest, last year’s “The Match” didn’t leave fans with an overwhelmingly positive taste in their mouths (or wallets). That was until this year’s WGC Dell Technologies Match Play entered the sweet sixteen. With Phil Mickelson out of the picture Tiger Woods welcomed a new challenger in Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy.
The two battled back and forth to kick off their match before Woods took control with a birdie at the par-4 5th. Rounding the turn Woods amassed a 3-up lead before McIlroy turned up the heat with back to back birdies at 12 and 13. Woods would go onto win the match with a par at the 17th but fans were left wanting more golf between these two greats of the game.
Woods’ dominance at Augusta National is rivaled by few in the world of golf. In 21 Masters appearances the four-time winner as made the cut all but one year and has finished top-5 on 11 different occasions. In his first Masters back in action last year, Woods narrowly made the cute but flashed his famed resiliency Sunday with his lowest round of the week with a 3-under 69 that brought the familiar Tiger roars throughout the galleries early Sunday morning.
While Woods has cemented his excellence at Augusta, Rory McIlroy is still fighting for that green jacket to add to his already decorated collection. Widely regarded as one of the game’s best players currently teeing it up, and odds on Masters favorite this year, McIlroy has won every major except The Masters. The two-time PGA Player of the Year has come close, notably finishing top-10 the past five straight years including his best solo fourth performance in 2015.
Just under a month ago McIlroy won golf’s unofficial fifth major at The PLAYERS and will now look to carry that momentum into completing golf’s official Grand Slam. Coincidently enough Woods’ return to victory at the 2018 Tour Championship saw he and McIlroy battle it out in the final pairing Sunday. Another battle between two of the most respected players in the history of the game, McIlroy looking to win his first green jacket and Tiger seeking his fifth Masters and first major since 2008, would be a perfect end to quite possibly golf’s perfect tournament.