Stern-faced Mexican who is named after the Heights of Abraham in Matlock, Derbyshire, despite being quite short. Contended here on his debut prior to a disappointing final round from the final group, which is easily excused, and he's edging towards that first recognised win. I say 'recognised', because in certain golfing circles a.k.a. the PGA Tour's content department in Ponte Vedra, winning the Australian Open doesn't count. It does, of course, and it's notable that Ancer has played some of his best golf on some of the best courses in the sport. Perhaps when he does break through in the US, it'll be in a big one, but he will have to cut out the kind of mistakes which cost him an excellent start close to his Texas home on his final appearance before the Masters.
A one-man case against that magic word momentum, having in theory had his halted by a pandemic yet returned to win the comeback event three months later. Since added another, doubling his PGA Tour tally in just over six months, and looks poised for a Ryder Cup debut later this year in which his Koepka-lite cockiness will go down a treat with the locals. Game is rounded but particularly well suited to what you might call a shorter, technical test, although he has made all three cuts here. Worries over rib injury which forced withdrawal from hometown Honda Classic allayed to some degree by Match Play appearance and given that he seldom underperforms these days, is one who has to be on the radar.
Just a lovely player who now boasts three European Tour titles after a double in his native South Africa late last year. All this has been achieved against the odds having nearly been killed by rat poison as a child, an incident which left him with a speech impediment he does fabulously well to overcome now he's so often in front of the media. Sense he's still getting comfortable on the biggest stage of all, and still getting better. Although he's an accuracy-over-power golfer, his approach play can be exceptional and given that it's so often the big pointer here, and that his short-game is among the best around, it's no surprise he played well on debut. More to come.
Took a punch to the stomach in the Match Play, where he was eliminated by a player he'd beaten, and had previously complained of stomach and dehydration issues which saw him skip the WGC Workday Championship. Between those two episodes he was a bit disappointing at Sawgrass but having been one of the in-form players in the world coming into this six months ago, perhaps he'll benefit from a slightly softer preparation. Had started the year in blistering form and had a good chance to win this in 2019. Sometimes looks hopeless on the greens but stats say his game is complete, and he's ready for the next step up the ladder at a course where he hit the front late on Sunday two years ago. Very few flaws and while price might look short, you're getting a lot of places built into that deal.
Ex-human rights activist who has pivoted to a 'come one, come all' approach lately. On the course, form has been very solid and includes a good European Tour win in Dubai, plus a couple of contending performances in the US such as at Sawgrass where he appeared to be nursing an injured wrist. How that's affecting him is hard to say but it's a slight question mark against the name of an experienced and effective Augusta campaigner, who led after round one in November (first time he's ended any round here in first place). Some will say the way he played thereafter says it all but don't forget Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott have won this recently. Casey would be no less deserving and did very little wrong in the PGA Championship won by Collin Morikawa, except perhaps for producing a broad grin when the youngster hit the tournament-winning shot. Get beat in a major at the age of 43 and pull a daft face. Typical.
Two-time PGA Tour winner who rivals Bryson DeChambeau for power, thanks to an athletic swing and hips that twist more than Line Of Duty. Massive eye-catcher on his debut here in November, especially in a final round which included eight birdies only to play the par-threes to an average of five strokes — that's 0.25 more than he played the par-fives that day. Since then it's been a frustrating start to 2021 and while that's almost all down to the putter, the fact that he currently ranks as one of the very worst on the PGA Tour is a big issue. If he fixes it, the sky is the limit, but for now a first cut made of the year in Texas isn't enough.
The original golf tweeter who last played here in 2019 thanks to a top-five finish in the previous year's US PGA. Won for the first time since the 2009 Open Championship at the Safeway Open to start the season and held that form for a few more weeks, but not so good in 2021 and it's 13 years since he was last a factor in this. Doubtless he'll be delighted to have another chance to play Augusta having spent much of his life in Georgia.
Elegant swinger of a golf club whose ball-striking stats are wonderfully consistent. Looks like he's still improving and there was a lot to like about the way in which he fought back after an opening 74 to finished 10th on his third visit here. How much of that was down to November's unique conditions and the absence of fans we do not know but suspect any firming of the greens will work against him and his fragile putting, despite some good signs in this year's stats. Not a factor in the Match Play but prior to that had come with a late burst at Sawgrass and would expect him to light it up in patches.
I know what you're thinking: 'oh, Fred Couples? He loves it here. Yeah, Couples! I'll have a go on him for the first-round lead. Doesn't he always start well here? Yeah! And he's WHAT PRICE for his three-ball? No! Surely not!' No, surely not. He last won his first-round three-ball in 2014, because Webb Simpson played badly, and last broke 70 here a year before that. There was a day when Couples could give us an early run for our money, but it is not this day.
Threatening a renaissance since parting company with coach and ex-caddie Col Swatton last year, producing a month of quality golf immediately after and starting this year in promising fashion. Has become prone to missing short putts, particularly jarring for a player who reached the top of the world in large part thanks to his short-game, but crucially reckons he's as fit as he's been in years. Work with new swing coach Chris Como is clearly showing signs of promise for all he does miss a lot of greens from the fairway. Always looked a potential Masters winner, ever since a blistering 64 in round two of his debut a decade ago, and if he's brought back to life by these greens he could yet become the second Aussie to don a green jacket.
Won the Arnold Palmer Invitational with what he called his 'C game' (editor's note: it was statistically his best ever driving performance and one of his top 10 overall) and says par around Augusta for him is 67 (editor's note: he's therefore carded 15 over-par rounds in 16 and averages 5.13 strokes over-par) which begs the question: should the others bother showing up? Editor's note: <Insert scene in Broken Arrow where John Travolta wallops the businessman and says 'hush, hush!'> That aside, he's made all four cuts so far in his Masters career and will, in time, figure it all out. Key to doing so will be greens which have so far foxed him and his attempt to outmuscle the course last November almost ended in a first missed cut. Needs to do more but arrives in form, his strokes-gained approach numbers up, and at least he isn't a ludicrous favourite this time. Obvious chance.
Most improved player on the circuit, or at least one of them, last year and into the start of this, deservedly winning in Hawaii. Had he maintained that level of play he'd have arrived here with major claims but while there was promise following a post-win slump at Bay Hill, he then withdrew from the PLAYERS with an unspecified injury. Seemed better at the Match Play but preparation has been less than ideal and suddenly looks a most unlikely contender.
If this carries on, if his lucklessness and his occasional recalcitrance continue to combine for silver rather than gold, the mask is going to slip, isn't it. Think Michael Douglas in Falling Down, only this time breaking point is Amen Corner, and things start to get really ugly when they've run out of pimento cheese sandwiches at the concessions stand. Either that, or he'll be just fine, perhaps even winning at Augusta, where he averages 70.42 and has made a bright start on all three visits, ankle or no ankle. Success will depend on him continuing to dominate the par-fives — he's 33-under through 48 holes so far — and proving that a somewhat ugly putting set-up can function here. Prop bettors note he's made birdie or better at the eighth hole 10 times in 12 attempts.
Won the season-ending DP World Tour Championship to end a frustrating sequence of seconds, and has kicked on in 2021. Since missing the cut on his first start of the year, has played well in all six starts and looks to have prepared perfectly for an event in which his professional record reads five appearances, five cuts made, four rounds in the sixties and one top 10. Iron play will have to be spot on but if it is, this deadly putter is among those most likely to defy a relative power handicap, especially with the course playing firmer than it did in November. Probably not a coincidence that was his worst finish (46th) since narrowly missing the cut as an amateur and better should be expected.
Driver has helped him to build a strong record here and that's not a surprise, being a reliable club he loves to hit right-to-left. On his last three Masters appearances he's shot par or better in all 12 Thursday-Saturday rounds, with closing 74s seeing him slide down the leaderboard. That tells you how close he's been to hitting the frame here despite a best result of 17th and his form might be turning in time, after a better performance in the Match Play. Disappointing finish there is less a worry than the fact he's not been at his best off the tee this year and much hinges on whether he can remedy that temporary glitch in time.
One-time PGA Tour winner who deserves plenty of credit, having hacked it around the Challenge Tour a few years ago to the point where some of his playing partners privately commented that he wouldn't last long in professional golf. Now look at him: so successful that when a cameraman accidentally makes a sound, he's able to spit venom like a proper sportsman. You can only admire that, and an excellent top-five finish on his second Masters try where his added distance (ranked second to Bryson DeChambeau) was on display. One or two better signs after a slow start to 2021 and adds some complexity to the top South African market, as well as ensuring on-the-ground production teams are on their toes.
Get this: after spending nearly 20 years trying to win a major, from that spring-heeled second in 1999 to an emotional, dramatic and unlikely breakthrough here in 2017, Garcia has completely forgotten how to do golf in majors. It is utterly bizarre. Nine of his 28 missed cuts have come in his last 11 appearances. Since winning the Masters, his form reads 21-37-MC-MC-MC-MC-MC-MC-MC-52-67-MC-MC. He has become, in majors, a ceremonial golfer, content it seems to don his jacket and wave goodbye on Friday evening. In November, thanks to the bloody coronavirus, he didn't even get to do that, missing a major championship for the first time this century. What a golfer. What an enigma. And you know what? He's playing so well right now, I can see him turning all of this around and contending. That or he'll be awful again.
Turns 50 this year but it doesn't stop him dressing like he's off to watch the Pet Shop Boys down Blackpool Tower, and it didn't stop him winning the Bermuda Championship, either. That shock victory expanded his oeuvre without altering its make-up: he likes short courses, often by the coast, for he gives Bryson about a hundred yards off the tee. That just won't do here and he'll likely be fighting to make the cut on what's an unexpected Augusta return.
One of the most improved players around since the start of the 2019/20 season, a period during which he won the Houston Open. Always nice to get confirmation that you don't have to have won before you can legally drink to be a player capable of making it pay and even contending for majors, and his blend of strong driving and putting makes for a nice platform. Should've learned enough from a debut missed cut (74-73) to advance to the weekend.
Late qualifier thanks to excellent third in The PLAYERS supplemented by quarter-final run in the Match Play. Suspect those Pete Dye courses are more suitable than Augusta, which is longer than he'd like, though did shoot 69 on his final round here in 2018 and left-handed players have a famously excellent record at the course. Speaking of which, he does complicate matters in what's now a highly-competitive top lefty market.
Impressive winner at Wentworth in October to make it two for 2020, before adding another in Abu Dhabi. All this earned him the tag of England's best player as well as making him a Ryder Cup certainty, and he's generally continued to impress with his laser-straight ball-flight, which makes him deadly when his up-and-down-but-mainly-up short-game behaves. The problem is this: he's missed four cuts since the beginning of last year, and they've been in the US PGA, US Open, Masters, and PLAYERS. I wouldn't say it's alarming, because he does have five top-10 finishes in majors, but as his own expectations have risen his performances at the very highest level have dropped off. Perhaps it's a coincidence, and he just so happened not to take to Winged Foot and Harding Park, but he does now have something to prove. That's especially the case at Augusta where he's played 12 rounds, is yet to break 70, and averages two-over per spin.
'A man is known by the company he keeps' is all well and good, but it wouldn't leave us much to work with in this sport, would it. So, let's not dwell on whose money financed Herman's career (clue: first president to be impeached twice) and instead admire the man for winning three PGA Tour titles, most recently at the Wyndham Championship to earn this Masters return. Missed the cut on his first and only try and not expected to be a factor. Nothing more to say except this is the last time you'll hear from Aesop, because The Boy Who Cried Wolff does appear to be genuinely injured. Shame.
Latest to condemn Tony Finau to second place having won a play-off at Riviera two months back, but is one of the handful of players on the circuit who can get away with such behaviour owing to his popularity. That comes from being genuinely funny and self-deprecating, being an excellent podcaster, and engaging with golf nuts more than most, not to mention a career path which includes near-extinction and now boasts two PGA Tour wins. Had to wait for his Masters debut and when it came, it coincided with poor form. Now in far better shape, he can avenge that missed cut (on the number) and if his approach work is as good as it can be, could even be a live one at a price, Riviera having been a decent form guide in the past.
Chatty winner of the WGC Match Play who offered the following list of career goals after that notable victory: win all four majors, win The PLAYERS, take part in Ryder Cup, captain Ryder Cup. Making the case that he would be of worth to the US team in September (which he would, tbf), he offered up evidence from both the Zurich Classic and the QBE Shootout, two events you haven't heard of for very good reason. Has: impressive CV, including FedEx Cup and World Golf Championship wins, four cuts made in six appearances here, one major top-10 elsewhere. Needs: chill pill.
One of the hottest players on the planet at the start of the year, building on December's Mayakoba Classic victory with a string of top-six finishes. That came to an abrupt halt in the Arnold Palmer, where he shot 77-78 over the weekend before missing the cut at The PLAYERS and losing in the group stage at the Match Play. As timing goes, his looks really bad and is yet to seriously threaten in a major, though did shoot a very solid 72-71-71-71 to finish 32nd here as an amateur two years ago. May just need another look round but the hope is he gets a peek at the top end of the leaderboard here and is ready to go and contend for the PGA Championship next month. No doubt it's a matter of time before he is a factor at the weekend.
Returned to form just before the shutdown with an excellent second at the Honda, and built on that with a string of good performances after the PGA Tour came out of hibernation. Probably nobody on the circuit more likely to hole back-to-back 60-foot putts and it's his short-game which is behind this Masters return, earned by sneaking into the TOUR Championship. Shot 79-80 on his sole previous Augusta start but is a far better player now.
Just turned 23 and one of the most exciting golfers on the planet. Fact he plays so often, rarely bombing out, might in a strange way deaden us to his impressive list of achievements which includes a magnificent Presidents Cup debut, a PGA Tour win at the age of 21 when living out of a caravan, and a share of second place on his Masters debut. Yet to miss a cut in 2021, only once finishing worse than 32nd in a stroke play event, and has been ultra-reliable off the tee and with putter. The key to winning at Augusta is so often approach play, and his has been oddly poor, but there really is only one missing piece of the jigsaw. Whether it happens for him here or not, another title is probably close.
Dominant winner here late last year when firmly at the top of the sport, and a ball-striking masterclass in Saudi Arabia suggested he was ready to continue in that vein through 2021. Instead, he's gone backwards with 54th in the WGC Workday, 48th in The PLAYERS and a group-stage exit at the Match Play all concerning results, especially given that his driver has gone really quiet. Withdrew from the Texas Open having been a late entrant which further underlines that he's not totally comfortable, though a return here could take care of that: he's on a run of five Masters top-10s in a row, and has lost to a total of one player (Tiger Woods) over the last two editions. Curse of the defending champion is a slight worry (only Nick Faldo has defended at the first time of asking) but that's another hurdle his mental strength can help to overcome and he probably remains entitled to favouritism. That said, he was plainly at the top of his game when sent off the same price in November and that just isn't the case this time.
Former Masters champion who added a Claret Jug in 2015, at St Andrews no less. Shane Lowry reckons he didn't quite make the most of his year with the vessel, however, saying: "I'm sure the places I've brought it are quite different than the places someone like Zach has brought it." Amen, Shane. Johnson's Open win was a bit odd, in that it happened on a Monday and he received a few gifts. So was his win here some 14 years ago, in a rain-soaked renewal, when he chose to lay-up on every par-five... and it worked. Lucky? You don't need luck when you've got 71% of a higher power behind you.
Blink-and-you'll-miss-him type, rare in this sport, who produced an assured, largely front-running display to win at PGA National. Must like this time of year having previously won the Houston Open to qualify for the Masters, where he wasn't a factor. This time his game is probably in better shape and from tee to green, that effort in the Honda is as good as you'll see from the 40-year-old. Recent winners always respected but no top-20 finishes in 16 majors so far.
A law unto himself (or his old man) who became the youngest ever winner of The PLAYERS Championship in 2017. Earlier this year, finally won for the first time since, taking his PGA Tour tally to three in total. Easy to overlook the fact he's more than a year younger than Jon Rahm and not much older than Collin Morikawa, and he has the ability to compete with players of this calibre if remaining fit. Improved since joining the Claude Harmon stable and has made his last three Masters cuts, always finishing near the middle of the pack. No surprise if he takes another step forward for all he has a penchant for something utterly destructive. Don't we all, Si Woo. Don't we all.
Bit of a golfing paradox, as a recognised match play specialist who has shown serious bottle in defeat and yet has lost all five play-offs on the PGA Tour, most recently at the RSM Classic. That type of short, coastal test is far more suitable than this and he knows it. Did well to make his first four Masters weekends and may do so again as a man for the big occasion who will be desperate to make the Ryder Cup side, but it's difficult to envisage a serious title challenge even if he does like to sling his draw. It just doesn't go far enough, even under the firmer conditions we expect.
Back to his brilliant best early this year, winning in Phoenix and contending for a World Golf Championship soon after. Then came another setback in a career of them, surgery on his knee placing his participation in doubt. One rumour, started by Brad Faxon, suggested he'd be out for six months or more. Another said he played Riviera last week and was looking good. Whatever the truth, it's become hard to see him contending having looked a definite factor before his latest injury issue. Still respected because he's Brooks Koepka.
Solid stick who has been transformed on the greens lately, which allied to some secret course knowledge saw him win for the first time on the PGA Tour last October. Bit of a disappointment on his debut here a couple of weeks later given that his long driving should get him onto the front foot, and now a question of how much he can improve on rounds of 71 and 77.
Consistent and classy ('classy') operator who would've won the 2017 Open Championship but for the fact it was Jordan Spieth and not any other player across the tee-box from him. Loads of good form in this, too, but is seemingly on the downgrade now and missed all three major cuts in 2020 — his first such run since 2009. That's also when he last failed to qualify for a major (missed 2014 US PGA through injury) although a timely run at the Match Play means he'll be involved in a few more yet before the sequence ends. It had looked set to, though, and that says much about his wider form. Made a dozen cuts from 14 tries here which earns him respect and is the sort of player you should neither side with nor oppose. Just let him get on with finishing 38th.
Confirmed his affinity for desert golf when taking the Shriners for the second time in his career. That dramatic, big-priced win earned him a fourth go at the Masters but first in eight years, and it's unlikely he'll be competitive come Sunday. That said watch out for him in a low-key three-ball as he has broken 70 twice in 10 rounds at Augusta — Henrik Stenson for instance has done so twice in 50, and Laird's particularly high ball-flight is a good underlying reason for his relative comfort here.
The year is 2051 and it's the final round of the Masters, where Charlie Woods leads by one in pursuit of his 19th consecutive green jacket. Nobody calls them patrons anymore, they're merely people. And they're even allowed to run, should they need the loo or something. Capitalism has broken the gates of Augusta National, where a can of Tiger-branded Amen Monster costs $20, although some traditions remain on the outside: the new president has only recently been inaugurated, and he is 82. Not as old as the man alongside Charlie in the final group, though. No, there goes 93-year-old Bernhard Langer, dropping anchor on the leaderboard. I must remember to thank him.
Keen gardener who plays a bit of golf and often very well, collecting some high-profile wins and regularly contending in majors at his peak. Best efforts include fourth place here in 2013, when roaring Adam Scott to victory to confirm he is firmly in the Good Egg category, and top-15 finishes on two of his last three visits. November's effort was notable for the fact he arrived in fairly rotten form and his knowledge of the course, and belief that he can score here, could help him to outperform what will for many be fairly low expectations.
Beat a good friend to win the Amateur Championship at Royal Birkdale. Only tour-level experience came subsequently in South Africa, where he missed both cuts, and would be defying the odds were he to make the weekend.
Hasn't put everything together since winning the Open, with just two top-level top-10 finishes since then and nothing better than sixth. That's a poor return and he knows it, though the fact his best efforts came in WGC and PLAYERS Championship company tells you he's a big-time golfer who just doesn't quit. Expect a determined run at making the Ryder Cup side and where better to start than Augusta, where he says he learned a lot from playing three rounds with Tiger Woods in November. That tie for 25th was his best performance at the course (MC-39-MC-MC before) and in theory he might find further improvement under firmer conditions. Not the silliest outsider and an option if you do want to oppose Rory in the top player from the island of Ireland market.
Found it a bit of a slog under soft conditions last time and hasn't made a cut here since 2014. Came close in 2018 and 2019 but main role might be to take Robert MacIntyre under his wing during practice.
Scotland's Great White Hope who won the Cyprus Showdown last year and has climbed inside the world's top 50 to earn his Masters debut. Says he plans to play with the man above plus Patrick Reed, so he should know every trick in the book by tee-off. Inexperience is a major barrier here but takes things in his stride and arrives buoyed by his Match Play performance, again his first appearance in the event. Needs to dial in the long-game for what's another big week in his burgeoning career.
Eye-catcher at the Match Play despite early exit and built on that with a strong start to the Texas Open, albeit failing to kick on during the second round where driving was particularly poor. Preparation somewhat similar to November, when he found his game just in time, and a run of six cuts made here demonstrates how well suited he is to Augusta. The problem is he's four years without a win and looks like a man who carries the weight of a nation, unable to stop things spiralling when his swing gets a little off. Otherwise, he has stacks in his favour, and on pure ability he's still a big price. Hard to omit from calculations having been 13th here last time and inside the top 20 on five of his last six Masters starts.
Sometimes, people ask me why all the fuss about Rory McIlroy. The very same people getting worked up into something close to fury because this golfer is on TV a lot or talked about on twitter a lot, they watch him on TV and talk about him on twitter. Someone told me the BBC coverage of him was imbalanced on a day when there were more stories on their website about Lee Westwood. That's what divisive characters do: blind people, on both sides. Heck, having tipped him four times this year, I've been blind to his struggles. But I want to answer the question: why all the fuss about McIlroy? Well, it's this simple: he's the best European golfer of his generation and, for now, it isn't particularly close. Four majors, to Jon Rahm's zero. Perhaps that gap will narrow, but if you had to back one in a career match bet, it should be McIlroy. Four majors are not won easily. Dustin Johnson — DUSTIN ACTUAL JOHNSON, 36 — has two. That shouldn't have been necessary, but it was, and it spares me from discussing his chances. What can I say? He'll need to play better. At some stage, he will. And if he does it here, and wins the career grand slam, at a course where he was fifth despite an opening 75 in November, and fifth after a closing 74 in 2018, well... Pete Cowen must be a alien or sutin.
Won this three times in a seven-year span and had some chances since, particularly in 2012 when an untimely triple in the final round proved costly, and again when second to Jordan Spieth in 2015. Some good stuff since, and that's also true of his recent play including 35th at Sawgrass and 25th at the Honda. And then he made a 10 (ten) on the final hole in round one of the Texas Open. From the middle of the fairway. Will probably be top senior if he avoids such catastrophies.
Augusta native who shot his lowest Masters score in more than a decade when opening with a two-under 70 last time, dusting his young playing partners by six and eight shots. Wouldn't really let that put you off looking to take him on again because, and I cannot stress this enough, the man is 62 years old.
Fascinating career as a long-time nearly-man who found an extra 20 yards and with it a winning mentality to sweep the board in 2018. Arrived at Augusta the following spring as a big player and took a two-shot lead into the final round, which he caressed through the first 11 holes before disaster struck at the 12th, where he made double-bogey to lose his advantage in a discombobulating 10 minutes. More surprising, perhaps, was that he failed to recover, making another double at 15 and ultimately missing out by two. Career nosedived after that and took much of 2020 off to move his family to California. Now ready to go again, he has three top-10 finishes in six appearances this year and hit it well despite a missed cut at Sawgrass. Still expect he's a little short of where he'll need to be to go and lay some ghosts to rest.
Already put together an astonishing career less than two years into it and only recently having turned 24, with a major championship and WGC in the trophy cabinet. Expected more on his Masters debut but was in that post-PGA slump at the time, perhaps struggling more than he let on to deal with his lofty status, and may be more at ease on his return. Certainly, his ability to hit an approach shot pretty much exactly where he wants to marks him down as a potential Masters winner and a change in putting grip helped him to that World Golf Championship win at the end of February. As should now be clear, if he puts (putts?) it all together on any given week, he'll basically win or look like winning.
From the Lanto Griffin School of Improvement Sponsored by Mackenzie Hughes, impressing quietly since winning the Sanderson Farms in 2019. Very good debut top-20 plus some quality iron play throughout an otherwise quiet start to this year raises hope that he could be one of those players who finds comfort here, and will appeal to some in side markets, including top South American if they bother (wait, isn't that just... verus Niemann?), first-round leader if you like that sort of thing, and three-balls pending a decent draw.
Accurate and sharp-short-gamed Korean-American who has become a bit of a winning machine lately, four in four years set against one in the previous 10. Don't want to labour the point but how many examples do people need before realising they actually don't know all there is to know about some golfer (named, say, Tony), and instead accept that this person (surname... Finau?) can actually evolve, can learn, can grow. Rhetorical question, the sort Na would ask of his pupils in some SoCal school where he's desperate to be everyone's mate but will, at a second's notice, haul you back into class to explain that you were very, very, very close to getting a b******ing, but this time he's going to let you off. See you at the party Saturday night.
Really unfortunate to miss out due to Covid-19 in November, for what would've been a dream way to toast his 22nd birthday. Perhaps used that to fuel a run of quality golf in the interim, including back-to-back seconds in Hawaii and contending before a poor weekend at Riviera. Does have Augusta experience from 2018, when missing the cut as an amateur, and a bit like Hovland might just need another look. That said his long-game is outstanding and he simply has no weaknesses bar perhaps experience.
Unfortunately not fit enough to compete regularly these days and no surprise he shot 78-80 when last here.
Yet to win in the United States and while he'll retire an Open champion, that box surely needs ticking before he does. Being the man he is, don't be surprised if it's taken care of at the very highest level and perhaps at Augusta, where he hasn't missed a cut since 2013 and has been inside the top 30 on all bar one occasion since. Again, Louis being Louis, his chance to win here came when his course form read MC-MC-MC, and for all his consistency hasn't really had a sniff since losing that play-off to Bubba Watson. Was the halfway leader in 2019, however, and providing he's healthy should be expected to feature at some stage and in some capacity. Ignore the commentators when they tell you his putting is the problem, because it is not.
Broke his PGA Tour duck in the Houston Open on the eve of the November Masters, but with the field locked had to wait for his first visit. Beat Dustin Johnson there to confirm he's got some steel about him and for a while continued his ascent, before a dip in form more recently. Bad timing perhaps but might ride his putter through to Sunday and a respectable debut.
Runner-up at the 2020 US Amateur, surprising a few, and hasn't been doing much lately to suggest he'll extend his first look at Augusta beyond Friday. Apparently goes by the name Ollie, but I'm not going to call him Ollie. Charles is a good name.
Back for his sixth go six years after his last and deserves it, having produced some of the best golf of his career in this twilight stage. Top-10 finish in 2010 and reliable draw off the tee mark him down as one who can make the most of the opportunity, though he's never been one to rely upon come the crunch and that's remained the case lately such as when gifting Jon Rahm a win at the Match Play. Definitely one to weigh up in side markets and particularly for the first-round lead. He's been sixth and eighth after round one here, and although it's been a while since he led he has close to 40 each-way returns in this market on the PGA Tour. Hopefully he remembers his way around.
One-time classy amateur whose progress in the professional game has been stop-start, not surprising given he's not a very modern golfer: fairways and finesse are his thing. Shock contender here in November, when seemingly everything was against him, and fact he returned to form at the Honda on his final start will encourage some to chance him at a big price. No doubt, there have been some course specialists here who don't make obvious sense and he could become one of them if he picks up where he left off. More likely is that performance stands out.
One-time sex god from Séméac who is now the darling of Dundee, where he moved before winning the Dunhill Links and beginning his rapid (in as much as golf does rapid) climb up the world rankings. JP Fitzgerald by his side, the caddie with whom Rory McIlroy won his four majors, Perez shows no sign of stopping and he fared well enough on his debut here to respect his chance. Should he play well enough to bag one of those locker-room interviews, listen out for a voice so smooth he could narrate a Groove Armada song. I bet he is fond of sand dunes and salty air, too. Am I awake? Are you??
Sneaked into the big events thanks to his world ranking late last year and he's been desperately fighting to preserve it since. Plenty of promise from the Middle East to the United States and topped his Match Play group before bumping into a brilliant Scottie Scheffler performance. Will need to build on that and while it would be pretty hilarious were he to be striding these fairways as a peroxided pensioner having won his green jacket, it's clearly unlikely. That's despite 14 cuts made in 15 attempts which say a lot about his grit.
(Written before wife gave birth at the weekend)
Spaniard with satisfying form figures and, in the eyes of many, a surefire Masters winner of the future. Wouldn't say it's quite that simple — Ernie Els and others would agree — but point is he's really taken to this place and why wouldn't he, as one of the most reliable drivers who has a pretty short-game and has improved with his approaches. All this got him to number one and makes him a big player as he gradually gets back to his best following an off-season manufacturer change. The concern is that his wife is heavily pregnant and Rahm says he'll be out of here as soon as the phone rings. Perhaps the more pertinent question is this: at what point deep into the tournament does Mrs Rahm simply choose not to dial? Beyond that, would like to have seen him have a genuine Sunday chance in a major, which so far he hasn't, but plainly a matter of time and loves it here despite topping one when in the mix on his last visit.
Oh, I don't know, I don't know, oh, where to begin, with the '18 champion. Won that despite being the local player who the locals, generally speaking, didn't want to win, and it's that back-against-the-wall position from which he's most dangerous. Is that why he keeps defying all other logic and bending/breaking the rules? Quite possibly. Perhaps the Karain family, a golfing dynasty to rival WWE's McMahons, have convinced their underling that the more enemies he has, the more powerful he becomes. Mark him down for the 'slam, then. Hopes here pinned on a return to early-season form but was 10th in November and wins more often than his odds tell you he should. Begrudgingly admired, but we shouldn't let that stop us having fun now, should we.
Former world number one who parted company with Sean Foley last summer but is back with his old coach, and probably for the better. Some signs of encouragement, not least 23rd here, over the last nine months and was a good second to DJ in Saudi Arabia. Only played twice since and that's because he injured himself at Bay Hill, where he had been right in the mix before withdrawing on Sunday. Going to be hard to compete here in the circumstances despite having been a regular feature on Augusta leaderboards, most agonisingly when beaten by Sergio Garcia in that 2017 play-off. Strong chance he prefers those plinky-plonky advert covers to the originals and puts Shawshank among his top five films although you'll have to check that with his sponsors.
Always hard to separate him from Patrick Cantlay, these two serious, all-round competitors filling that gap between the very elite and the rest. Both were fancied for the previous Masters on the strength of sustained runs of quality golf, and both this time arrive on what could be considered quieter and therefore beneficial preparations. As far as Schauffele goes he's really taken to Augusta, where he's a prolific birdie-maker, and there's not a great deal to overlook if you want to put a positive spin on things. Frustration is he's not got his hands on silverware in over two years now and it would be rare to end such a run in an event like this, while he would appear to be a little further away from his best than Cantlay. If I'm the only one who can't talk about one without talking about the other, sorry about that.
Looks like he might be Scottie Scheffler's dad but is actually Scottie Scheffler, a talented youngster who reached the final of the WGC Match Play recently. Went from seven rounds there to play in the Texas Open and I'm not sure that's the best way to prepare for this, but a debut 19th combined with his quality long-game and prolific birdie-making puts him on the radar. Do players win this for their top-level breakthrough? No, but the rules do appear to be changing and the 10 top-10 finishes he's racked up since earning his card reflect how regularly he'll earn you an each-way return.
Capitalised on Rory McIlroy's meltdown to win this in 2011, with birdies at holes 15, 16, 17 and 18 enough to triumph by two. That looked like it might be the launchpad for a seriously impressive career but his only serious win since came in 2016 and I'm beginning to wonder whether he and Louis Oosthuizen have some kind of sick bet going. Better at the Honda a couple of starts back, and has popped up with some bizarrely good performances which include when 25th here in November, but can't really be considered with any degree of seriousness, not least because he wears a silly hat and plays with a silly ball.
Appalling dress sense, and it's a good job: anything passable as fashion and he'd have every man on earth feeling inadequate, even if he does still rank below the actor Adam Scott in SEO performance. Something to work on, and so is his driving, which has been atypically poor after a shaft change this year. Putter has made up for it on occasion — honest, guv — and he hasn't missed a cut here since 2009, so we should expect him to get by regardless. Plus, that driver did begin to fire in the Honda Classic, along with his approach play, and I've warmed to his chances as a result. Can he make a four-footer when he needs to, though?
Admirable major champion who many thought would disappear for good when the anchoring ban came into effect. Instead, he's found a way to make that putter of his a strength and with that have come further victories, including from the front at Sawgrass, plus two more titles in 2020. On the right course, where his iron play and putting are able to combat the fact he hits it short and sometimes waywardly, he's one of the best players in the world. On this one, my theory is if he plays as well as he can possibly play he might have a squeak, but there's really no room for manoeuvre. Course form of 20-5-10 over last three years is undeniably strong but hasn't looked like he might win the thing.
Notoriously hard worker but didn't much fancy coming back on Saturday to complete a delayed second round last time, with his fate sealed, so withdrew citing illness. Made the cut as recently as 2018 and his form this year isn't bad, so may yet have a say among the old boys for all that Phil Mickelson and Bernhard Langer look the two to focus on.
Laidback Australian (would be a tautology but for various tennis nutcases and Madge Bishop) who has played all 16 rounds here and boasts two top-five finishes, the second of them seeing him make history to become the first player ever to break 70 in all four rounds. Given that he neither hits it high, nor far, nor with a draw, and that he isn't necessarily a brilliant iron player, he's a surprising course specialist in some ways although his wedge play and short-game in general can both be of the highest standard. Whether they let him on the grounds with his hair as it is, we shall find out, but if they do another contending effort wouldn't surprise.
Without doubt the biggest conundrum for punters, particularly if he goes and wins in Texas and therefore starts just about favourite for this. Why? Because as recently as February, he was 125/1 for a Phoenix Open as he looked set to drop outside the world's top 100. Since then, everything has clicked and it's been especially encouraging to see that brilliant iron play which underpinned his awesome results in 2015 return to a similar level. Plainly more comfortable than he's been in a long time off the tee, and as comfortable on these greens as anyone, the 2015 Masters winner, who was runner-up either side of that and also had a chance in 2018, looks a massive factor. But do you want to take 12/1? Hopefully you find that question easier to answer than I do and are therefore able to get some sleep between now and Monday evening.
The Iceman is on the verge of extinction if his current woes continue and, as is always the case with players of a certain vintage, we have to at least consider the possibility that he is now finished in terms of contending for and winning majors. Equally important is to keep an open mind as to one last hurrah but if it does come, it'll likely be elsewhere: Stenson has one top-10 finish in 15 Masters appearances and it's not a course which suits him, really. Can't stress enough how dreadful he's been lately, and while there were some encouraging signs in Texas, he missed the cut after an eight at the last. He should be taken on with confidence, even in the top Swedish market despite the absence of any other Swedish players.
Decorated amateur whose grandfather was ninth in the 1937 US Open. Yet to make an impression at this sort of level, shooting rounds of 75, 76, 78, 72, 77, 75 and 78 across four PGA Tour or major appearances, and more likely to break that sequence with something in the eighties than the sixties. Set to turn pro later this year but only after playing in the Walker Cup, something his grandad wasn't able to do.
Shock winner of the RSM Classic late last year, despite being a former champion, as he got the better of the fancied Kevin Kisner in a play-off. That ballsy display aside he's not done much to suggest he's up to featuring on major leaderboards and it's telling that both previous Masters starts ended early. His scoring average through four rounds so far is an eye-watering 78 and he's yet to break 80 on Thursday. Eeshk.
Like Streb, earned his Masters return via a low-key victory towards the end of 2020 and it's significant that his sole meaningful form since came at the Sony Open, played at a course he loves. Went to college in Georgia so will cherish this return even more than most but there's some trepidation, too, after a missed cut in 2017 (77-76).
Brilliant winner of The PLAYERS Championship to put behind him a bad start to the year, some of which was his own doing. Record at Sawgrass prior to winning wasn't so very different to the one he's constructed here, with form figures of 39-22-17-12-4 particularly pleasing on the eye. Said himself that he should've won it in 2019 — that's despite finishing 12th — and was similarly frustrated not to kick on in November, when ideally positioned before a costly back-nine in round three. That took the wind out of his sails ahead of the final round and having made 14 birdies over the first 36 holes, he made eight thereafter. Despite lifeless Match Play exit, looks to be a major player once again with his deadly iron play a huge advantage, and if he does hole his share could be the one they all have to beat as one of the few truly elite players who has won recently and has proven themselves here.
Solid player who hits fairways and holes putts and might've enjoyed a more successful career about 30 years ago. Two wins have come in the Honda Classic and 3M Open, both times demonstrating real grit and performing miracles around the greens. Has gone close in a major but it was at a course where he'd enjoyed success as an amateur; a short, narrow, rough-laded place which is diametrically opposed to Augusta.
Branden Grace, Brandon Wu. Brendan Steele. Brandon Stone, Brandon Matthews, Brandon Pieters, Brendon Todd. Got it? Good. An excellent putter who looks a bit like he's permanently trying to hear the waiter describe the specials in a busy restaurant where, to be frank, social distancing has gone out of the window. Yet to figure out what it takes here although MC-MC isn't as bad a record as it looks, with his last three rounds 71, 73 and 73. Missed by one in November and can scrape through to the weekend this time. Although I could of course be Brendon de Wronge about that.
Won the US PGA in 2016 and this is his final Masters invite based on that achievement, a melancholy thought for a player whose career has been derailed by Lyme disease. It's now approaching three years since his last top-10 finish on the PGA Tour and it's to his enormous credit that he kept up a flawless Augusta return in November, making it seven cuts made in seven visits. Hopefully he says what's likely a final farewell with four more rounds, although breaking 70 for the first time (amazing he's never missed a cut with this in mind) appears unlikely.
Big year for the Englishman who hasn't tasted victory since 2018, continues to hover around 50th in the world, and will be desperate to make the Ryder Cup side having been unfortunate to miss out last time. Been a slow start but has quality caddie Gareth Lord alongside him and showed more in Texas, where he was tied for second at halfway. Do quite like his peak game for this, as he can really pepper flags when he gets going, so having broken 70 in round one last time he was here wouldn't rule out a decent week.
Moody former Masters champ who is much more dangerous at some courses than others. This is plainly one he loves and while disappointing when well-backed in November, did play well across the middle rounds. Likely he's finished winning at the highest level although did at least take a forward step in the Match Play and is one who might appeal to course form fans who think Phil is beyond saving when it comes to the top left-hander market.
2003 winner who is now on the Champions Tour, where a breakthrough win appears to be just around the corner. Perhaps it was the confidence drawn from being competitive again which helped him snap a run of missed cuts here last time, perhaps it was easier conditions, but that would appear to be at the very highest end of expectations either way.
Ageless veteran who is extremely popular with the lads. Runner-up twice on the PGA Tour this year having taken the Race to Dubai in dramatic fashion in 2020, and there's good evidence that his short-game is especially reliable now and means he doesn't have to hit 16 greens every day. All of that is more than enough to dream, and he's a two-time Augusta runner-up who hasn't failed to make the weekend here since 2006. Returned following a three-year absence to finish 38th in November and could well better that, but feel his chance came and went in 2016.
Returned from injury to win three times in a breakthrough 2019 but hasn't quite kicked on, and does have the look of a golfer who sits permanently on the periphery of Ryder Cup golf, never quite doing enough. Will certainly need to up his game from here but has made all five cuts at Augusta, which speaks to a comfort level few of his calibre can demonstrate, and is a player I like. Contended for the 2014 US PGA and has that sort of performance in him when everything falls right and that putter of his behaves. Like Jimmy Walker, flawless record here is despite no sub-70 rounds.
Big-time golfer who has won the BMW PGA Championship and DP World Tour Championship since winning here in 2016, the beneficiary of Jordan Spieth's infamous collapse but still impressive in the way he took advantage. Unfortunate to miss The PLAYERS through Covid-19 after a quietly encouraging start to the year, but did bag a top-10 finish in the Dominican Republic to sharpen up before heading to Texas to complete his preparations (MC). Would be an unlikely two-time winner but do expect big things in Europe this summer.
I had a great bit written for this (see Herman, Jim) but Wolff went and won two of his three matches in Austin two weeks ago, where I needed him to withdraw after hitting precisely one shot. Look, it was always unlikely. Back to business and last year's US Open contender has stood still since losing a play-off for the Shriners soon after that, and remains stuck on that explosive 2019 win at the 3M Open. Best finish in a stroke play tournament since he missed the cut on his debut here in November was 36th in Phoenix and his driving has been a major problem. Can get away with waywardness here but very rare to arrive in such rotten form and compete, and I don't expect him to.
Plagued by injuries since winning the US Open at Pebble Beach and with some new coaching input has looked a little lost for some time now. Still managed to produce flashes of ball-striking brilliance and is in a better place now than November, however eight Augusta starts show just three weekend appearances and nothing better than a debut 24th. At the time, it was eye-catching, but for now hold your bets.
More retirements than your average former welterweight champion but has every right to decide what exactly he does thanks to a quite brilliant career. Run of missed cuts here stands at 11, four of his last 14 rounds have been 80-plus, and his last under-par round came in 2008, which is a bit of a detail-heavy way of telling you something that, presumably, you already know.
Go to a little town in Georgia, turn up in Augusta with Will Zalatoris, and go, 'Oi, everybody! Little surprise for you. Will Zalatoris'. They’re gonna go, 'what are you doing here?' And not in an ageist way. They’re happy to see him. He’s welcome ’cause he’s qualified via the Official World Golf Rankings despite having been outside the world's top 500 and without a PGA Tour card at the start of last year. Well done. (Massive runner in the top debutant market and that, my friends, is your reward for making it this far)