2019 Masters Preview: McIlroy, Woods among favorites

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By: Patrick Donnelly

Here we stand, just a few days away from the first round of the 2019 Masters, the most glorious time of year for any golfer or golf fan. Of course, there’s everything else leading up to the actual tournament, though, like the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the Drive, Chip, and Putt National Finals, practice rounds, and the always-electric Par-3 Contest.

This year’s tournament is shaping up to be one of the best of late as it is seemingly anyone’s tournament this year. All the big names have a chance–from Dustin Johnson to Brooks Koepka to Jordan Spieth to Rory McIlroy to Tiger Woods . . .  the list goes on for the talent that will be on display at Augusta National. Without further ado, let’s preview this year’s tournament:

The Course:

Augusta National needs no introduction, seemingly the most easily identifiable golf course on the planet, this classic will be in pristine condition. However, while the pine straw, azaleas, and Amen Corner remain as constants at this storied setting, changes to the par-72 course will also play a factor this year.

In an effort to compete with today’s longer hitters on tour, some holes have been lengthened at Augusta, most notably the par-4 fifth hole, which played at a heft 455 yards last year. Ian Poulter recently took to Instagram to shed light on the situation, showing that the tees on the fifth hole had been moved back about 40 yards, while fairway bunkers have been brought back closer to the tee by the same distance, and the green now features another flat surface for a possible pin location.

The hole, which has historically played as one of the tougher holes on the golf course, now features about a 313-yard uphill carry over the bunkers, essentially meaning “good luck flying the trouble.”

Additionally, other obvious spots on the course to keep an eye on are Amen Corner and the 16th hole. Fireworks can often occur from the 11th to 13th holes in Augusta’s infamous Amen Corner, which has become an agent of chaos. Meanwhile, all eyes in search of holes-in-one turn to the 16th hole where the Sunday pin position often makes for some exciting shots.

Who to Watch: (odds via VegasInsider.com)

Rory McIlroy (8/1)

Fresh off a win at the Players Championship, McIlroy has had a strong start to 2019. Inconsistency with the putter once again and Sunday struggles over the last year still make up the question marks surrounding his game. However, the four-time major-winner has played well of late as he leads the FedEx Cup points race and has not finished worse than ninth in any of his starts this year. McIlroy looks primed to exercise his demons at Augusta to finally complete the career Grand Slam.

Dustin Johnson (10/1)

The No. 1-ranked golfer in the world right now, DJ is as hot of a commodity as there is in golf. Despite a quiet finish to last season, Johnson was almost able to win on-demand for portions of the year. DJ has had a strong start to this season as well, with wins at the WGC-Mexico Championship and the Saudi International (European Tour).  In six PGA TOUR starts this season, Johnson has five top-nines. The 34-year-old and former U.S. Open champ has sniffed victory on a few occasions at Augusta, most notably with a T-4 finish in 2016.

Tiger Woods (12/1)

After a very lax start to his schedule this season – perhaps a bit of Ryder Cup and comeback hangover – Tiger has picked up steam over the last month, headlined by an incredibly strong showing at last week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Tiger even played well at the Players before a quadruple bogey on 17 derailed his tournament. The 43-year-old dealt with a bit of a neck strain a few weeks ago, but seems ready to go. The No. 12 golfer in the world, Tiger was in serious contention in the last two majors, too. Big Cat told Barstool Sports back in November that he feels most comfortable at Augusta as far as major championship venues go, so he will certainly be on the prowl for his fifth green jacket.

Brooks Koepka (14/1)

Koepka has had a meteoric rise to stardom in golf. After winning the 2017 U.S. Open and repeating in 2018, he became the seventh player to ever repeat and the first since 1969. Koepka continued his strong 2018 by winning the PGA Championship, and by capping it off with a win at the CJ Cup, which moved him to No. 1 in the world for a period of time. With three majors in the last two years and perhaps one of the most consistent games out of any player on the planet right now, the 28-year-old bomber seems poised to make headlines at Augusta.

Bryson DeChambeau (16/1)

After some struggles early in his career, the “Mad Scientist” has had a calendar year for the ages, winning four times in 2018, headlined by wins at the Memorial, the Northern Trust, and the Dell Technologies Championship. Bryson had a hot start to 2019 as well, winning the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour. Although his best finish at the Masters is T-21 back in 2016 before he fully turned pro, the 25-year-old will look to ride this high in search of his first major.

Justin Rose (16/1)

The No. 2 golfer in the world had himself quite the season in 2018, including a win at the Forth Worth Invitational and the Turkish Open, second place finishes at the Open, the BMW Championship, and the Dell Technologies Championship, as well as a strong showing at the Ryder Cup. The former U.S. Open champion started 2019 with a win at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, and has come close at Augusta before, finishing second in 2017 after losing a playoff to Sergio Garcia.

Justin Thomas (16/1)

JT had been other-worldly for the better part of a year or so, but he’s just been okay to start 2019, including a very disappointing second-place finish after leading the Genesis Open. The 2017 PGA Championship winner has won seven times since the beginning of 2017, and has had a myriad of close calls. After a great showing in his Ryder Cup debut last year, the 25-year-old will look to what is already a very impressive resume this early in his career.

Jordan Spieth (20/1)

Spieth has had an incredibly rocky two years. After taking control of the game of golf in his first few years on tour, Spieth struggled mightily in 2018, and his struggles have leaked into 2019, too. However, there’s no reason to believe the 25-year-old phenom won’t be able to turn it around. Spieth plays well at Augusta as well as the three-time major champion won the Masters in 2015, almost won in 2016 before a collapse, and was in the mix last year as well.

Rickie Fowler (20/1)

It seems like we’ve been waiting forever for Rickie to finally claim his first major championship victory. However, the 30-year-old has been strong the last few years, with wins at the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open, the 2017 Hero World Challenge, and close runner-up finishes at the 2018 Waste Management and the 2017 OHL Classic at Mayakoba. The No. 8 player in the world has played well at Augusta, overall, with finishes of T-12, T-11, and solo second (last year) in eight starts in the Masters.

Jason Day (30/1)

Day has been among the biggest names in golf over the last few years after winning his first major (the PGA Championship) in 2015. Last year, the 14th-ranked player in the world had two victories  and several top-five finishes, but had relatively disappointing results in last year’s majors. However, overall, Day has performed well in his major championship appearances, including results of T-2. solo third, T-10, and two more top-20s at Augusta.

At a glance:

The Masters is always a point of excitement each and every year as it often coincides with the beginning of the golf season around the country. There’s always a special buzz that surrounds arguably the most-recognizable tournament in all of golf. While the players named above certainly have high expectations of themselves and a strong chance at a green jacket, it truly always is anyone’s game once the players tee it up for Round One, and this year should be no different.

Author: Patrick Donnelly

Patrick is a freshman studying journalism at Boston University’s College of Communication. A graduate of Malden Catholic High School (’18). Patrick is a huge Boston sports fan and avid golfer, his favorite teams and athletes include, the Boston Bruins, the New England Patriots, Rory McIlroy, and Tiger Woods. Co-host of the podcast, Beantown Banter, at WTBU Sports. Covers the PGA, NHL, and Boston Bruins in columns and is a Women's Hockey beat writer for WTBU Sports. Formerly co-hosted podcasts and wrote for the blogs, 617 Sportsnet, Beantown Sportshub, and Game Time Sports Network. He aims to one day be a sports-talk radio host in Boston. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @PatDonn12.

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