Golf

Ten hottest golfers entering 2017 Masters

One of the sternest tests in the world, Augusta National can only be conquered by golfers who get hot at the right time. So who are those golfers entering the 2017 Masters?

Among them, we find that there are just two who have already won a major championship. This falls in line with a recent trend in which majors have been won by first-time victors more often than not.

These 10 golfers may not win, but based on their play heading into the 2017 Masters they could be well on their way to claiming the green jacket.

10. Russell Henley

We have to start with the man who just won this past weekend. Henley claimed his third PGA victory by shooting 20-under par at the Shell Houston Open, beating the field by three strokes.

Even better, he got hot at the right time, going bananas on Sunday when the pressure was on.

When the dust had settled at the end of the final round at the Golf Club of Houston, Henley had logged 10 birdies total. His bogey at No. 18 couldn’t diminish his brilliant Sunday performance.

In total this season, Henley has three top-10 finishes. His previous performance before winning the Shell Houston Open wasn’t stellar — a tie for 45th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. However, he did place ninth at the Valspar Championship in the middle of March and is on a roll heading into Augusta.

In three previous appearances at the Masters, Henley’s best finish came in 2015 when he placed 21st overall.

9. Sergio Garcia

Garcia hasn’t been playing in many tournaments these days, but when he plays he’s generally been very competitive.

A win at the Dubai Desert Classic over a loaded field is his crowning achievement of the 2017 calendar year. He went three strokes lower than the field that weekend, beating out Henrik Stenson for the victory.

Garcia also finished in a tie for 14th at The Honda Classic and tie for 12th at The World Golf Championships in Mexico.

Throw in his extensive experience at Augusta and the fact he has one top-five finish and three top-10 finishes at the Masters and it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see the Spaniard competing for a big paycheck on the back nine Sunday this weekend.

8. Jordan Spieth

It’s not been particularly smooth sailing for the world’s No. 6 golfer the past month and a half. But overall this year Spieth isn’t playing poorly. Not at all.

Though it’s a far cry from his monumental 2015 campaign, he’s won a tournament (at Pebble Beach, no less), has two third-place finishes and placed in the top 10 four times.

The thing that makes us wonder if he’ll flourish at Augusta or bomb is that he missed the cut at the Shell Houston Open, which was supposed to be his tune up for the Masters. The weekend before that saw him post an uninspiring tie for 30th at the match-play tournament in Austin.

Given the fact that Spieth has either won or finished in a tie for second the past three years at Augusta, we’re confident he’ll be in the mix again this weekend. Unless, of course, his meltdown last year at Amen Corner comes back to haunt him in a major way.

7. Henrik Stenson

One of the most skilled golfers in the world, Stenson doesn’t have a history of glowing play at Augusta — a fact he’s all to aware of.

“I know why I have not done well there yet, but I don’t want to go into too much detail as I don’t want to bore you or your readers,” he said, per The Telegraph. “The biggest factor has been that I’ve never really arrived here with my A game and simply have not been playing well enough to win.”

Unfortunately, he’s not been overly hot in the past month. But overall, Stenson is one of the hottest golfers in the world this season. Taking a look at his work on the European Tour and PGA Tour combined, he has three second-place finishes to his credit along with four top-10 finishes.

A long hitter who can reach the par-5s at Augusta in two solid strokes, he’ll have a chance to get the monkey off his back this weekend.

6. Hideki Matsuyama

No golfer started the 2016-17 PGA season hotter than Matsuyama. He blazed a trail of top-five finishes that included two wins and two second-place finishes in his first five tournaments of the season.

Since then, the Japanese superstar has cooled off a bit, but he got hot again in February, winning the Phoenix Waste Management Open. All told, his season includes three wins (including the unofficial Hero Open), two second-place finishes, four top 10’s and 10 made cuts in 11 events.

Making him even more dangerous is the simple fact that Matsuyama has been zeroing in on a win at Augusta the past two seasons, posting a fifth-place finish in 2015 and a tie for seventh last year.

One of the best all-around players in the world, Matsuyama combines big-hitting ability with precise iron strikes and a solid short game. His one weakness is a below-average putter, which could be his undoing at Augusta.

5. Justin Thomas

It’s been feast or famine for this talented American golfer this season.

Thomas has won three tournaments during the 2016-17 PGA season and finished in the top 10 five times in 11 events played. He’s also missed the cut three times and finished outside the top 20 three other times.

Thomas’ last win came in January when he claimed victory at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He then placed in a tie for fifth last month at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship, which featured a loaded field that included the likes of Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Jordan Spieth and others.

His claim to fame at Augusta is that he and Rickie Fowler (more on him shortly) shot back-to-back hole-in-ones during the Par-3 contest before last year’s major championship. Interestingly, it was a hole-in-one last month in Mexico that helped propel him to his fifth-place finish.

Can he produce more magic this weekend? We can’t wait to find out.

4. Jon Rahm

Since the start of the 2017 calendar year, this Spaniard has been one dangerous hombre on the PGA Tour.

He claimed his first PGA win in January, capping off a magnificent four-round performance to beat a star-studded field with a magnificent eagle on the 72nd hole Sunday afternoon.

Since that win, Rahm has three top-five finishes, a top-10 finish last weekend at the Shell Houston Open and another top-20 finish to his credit.

He’s been red hot of late, which will serve him well this weekend at Augusta. It’s worth pointing out he’s never before competed in a Masters before, so it’s going to be interesting to see how far his hot play will carry him at this unique and challenging venue.

3. Rickie Fowler

Always mentioned among the best players in the world to never win a major, Fowler is once again in a great spot to get this monkey off his back.

He enters the Masters as one of the world’s hottest golfers. Since missing the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open at the end of January, Fowler’s game has been on point.

Not surprisingly, Fowler is itching for more success and is also in a great place mentally.

“…especially with where I’m at right now, and where I feel like the game is going and where it can go. Getting the win at Honda, and the work we’ve been able to put in … yeah, I’m ready for a fun ride coming in,” he said, per Harry West of Sporting News.

Fowler has struggled to master Augusta in the past but has had some success as well. He missed the cut last year after a fifth-place finish in 2015 and a tie for 12th in 2015.

2. Adam Hadwin

Those golf fans who find themselves too busy on normal weekends to watch yet always tune in for the major championships might be wondering, “Who is Adam Hadwin?”

This Canadian golfer pretty much took the PGA Tour by storm the past six months. He started his 2016-17 season by missing the cut at the Safeway Open last October. Since then, he has competed over the weekend in all 11 events he’s entered. Consistency is key in golf, and Hadwin has that down pat right now.

Along the way, he has registered one win (his first on the PGA Tour), one second-place finish, four top-10 finishes and six in the top 25. The monumental first win for Hadwin came just last month when he won the Valspar Championship.

Capping off his breakout campaign, Hadwin got married this year. Big things are afoot!

 

1. Dustin Johnson

This was an easy call. As hot as some of these other golfers have been leading up to the 2017 Masters, nobody comes close to this tall drink of water.

Johnson is now the No. 1 golfer in the world, which he recently discussed and provided a very quotable quote on the subject (more on that here).

The lanky American has won his last three events and finished in third place four events ago. More than that even, in seven total this season he’s been a top-10 finisher five times. That’s scorching-earth hot.

On top of that, Johnson has been a force in major championships recently, finishing in the top 10 six times in the last eight majors (including two top-six finishes in the past two Masters) and finally winning his first last year at the U.S. Open.

On top of all that, Johnson’s extreme length off the tee and his ability to spin the ball with his irons makes him an easy favorite to win this year’s Masters.

About the author

Jesse Reed

Jesse Reed

Managing Editor here at Sportsnaut. Featured on Yardbarker, Foxsports.com and MSN.com, and formerly was a breaking news writer/NFL analyst for Bleacher Report.