The month of April marks a new beginning in the world of professional golf. The Masters at Augusta is the first of four major championships that shape the season, and it has the power to shape the careers of those who emerge victorious.
Among those in the field for this year’s tournament, we will see an aging superstar with multiple green jackets, a red-hot young star still trying to break through for his first and. We are also going to see more than a few top golfers look to use the major as a springboard for a turnaround after rough starts to the 2016 campaign.
In preparation for the big tournament, we’re ranking the top golfers who should contend for the green jacket this year.
1. Jason Day
Simply put, it’s time for Day to finally break through with a Masters victory.
A guy who has two top-three finishes at Augusta under his belt, Day has a knack for being a huge factor in majors and is coming off his first ever major win at last year’s PGA Championship.
Oh, and he just won the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play event and the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Day is red hot right now and has the momentum to take home his first green jacket this year.
2. Jordan Spieth
The 2016 season hasn’t been a desirable follow-up to this young man’s record-breaking 2015 campaign.
Spieth hasn’t finished in the top 10 since January and actually missed the cut at the Northern Trust Open just a handful of weeks ago.
That said, Spieth hasn’t exactly disappeared from the face of the earth as it comes to staying competitive, even in a down season. He won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and has managed to finish in the top 20 the past two tourneys before his early exit in the match play event.
Despite his recent struggles, Spieth has shown throughout his young career that he’s quite capable of righting the ship for big tournaments. He’ll almost certainly be in the mix after last year’s showing at Augusta, and nobody should be surprised if he ends up repeating this weekend.
3. Adam Scott
Remember when Scott was supposed to be in big trouble because of the ban on belly putters?
All that talk is well behind us now that the Aussie has emerged as one of the top golfers on tour once again, despite having to resort once again to the flat stick that used to give him such trouble.
Scott has won twice already this year and has been one of the most consistent major championship performers in the past five years, finishing in the top 10 three times at Augusta since 2011 and winning the tournament in 2013.
An added perk for Scott this weekend is the fact that caddie Steve Williams will be back on the bag, and the two of them have an outstanding track record working together.
4. Rickie Fowler
A big win over Rory McIlroy at Abu Dhabi earlier this year, along with six other top-10 finishes, indicates that Fowler — a player many have expected for a long time to emerge — is finally ready to take that next step.
Last year’s performances in majors was a step back from his outstanding 2014 campaign, but Fowler should get his mojo back this weekend. Outstanding ball-striking this year is a prime reason for this. He’s hitting his irons into greens better in 2016 than at any point in his career.
Rickie Fowler GIR rank:
2011 – 120th
2012 – 98th
2013 – 134th
2014 – 100th
2015 – 106th
2016 – 2nd
— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) April 4, 2016
Coming off a tie for 10th place at the Shell Houston Open, Fowler is in great shape to carry that momentum to a title at Augusta.
5. Rory McIlroy
The career grand slam has eluded McIlroy, but perhaps he could surprise the field this weekend after a rather uneventful 2016 season thus far.
One of the world’s premier golfers, McIlroy has been in a slump since midway through last season. But all it takes is one tournament for a player of his quality to spur the Northern Irish superstar back into the stratosphere on the PGA Tour.
Augusta has proven a difficult course for McIlroy to handle over the years, but perhaps the kinks have been worked out. He does have top-10 finishes the past two years and has the talent to dominate when his game is on point.
Ball striking is the greatest strength McIlroy possesses, and it’s the one that matters most at Augusta. If he can keep his balls underneath the hole and out of trouble, this is a tournament he can win.
6. Bubba Watson
As usual, we’ve seen the spectacular and the ugly from Watson this year. When he’s on, nobody is better or more entertaining than the enigmatic lefty.
With two wins (one in an unofficial event) and a second-place finish under his belt already this year, it’s clear Watson is on his game right now.
A back injury forced him to ditch the match play event at the end of March. But with an extra week to rest up for the Masters, we should expect the golfer who placed first and second his last two tournaments, rather than the guy who barely made the cut at Pebble Beach.
Then there’s the whole thing where Watson has already claimed two green gackets for himself since 2012.
7. Phil Mickelson
A three-time winner at Augusta, Lefty (45) desperately wants to add to his collection of green jackets before his career winds to a close.
His 2016 season includes three top-five finishes and is highlighted by his second-place effort at Pebble Beach. He’s coming off a mistake-filled Shell Houston Open but attributed his poor shots to preparing for the upcoming Masters.
Though his best days are behind him, Mickelson still has plenty he can teach the young generation.
If he can keep his driver from having a mind of its own and keeps his tee shots safely in the fairways, then Mickelson will challenge for a top-five finish, if not better.
8. Dustin Johnson
From a pure talent standpoint, there aren’t many golfers in the world who can compare to Johnson.
A guy who can bomb it 350-plus yards down the pipe just as easily as he can drop a 100-yard wedge shot into a two-yard circle around the hole, Johnson’s biggest challenge is staying healthy — both in mind and body.
Coming off a sixth-place finish last year at the Masters, it will be interesting to see if Johnson can maintain his focus on Sunday this year if he finds himself in contention once again.
He’s coming off a third-place finish last weekend at the Shell Houston Open and is in great physical shape for the upcoming challenge.
9. Justin Rose
Rose came close to claiming a green jacket last year when he fell four shots short of an unstoppable Spieth to tie Mickelson for second place. It was the third top-five finish of his career and he’s almost always a tough competitor in major championships.
He clearly loves Augusta, as you can tell from the way he describes his favorite holes below:
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 3, 2016
One of the best players in the world from tee to green, Rose is averaging 69.94 strokes per 18 holes this year, making him the No. 4 golfer on tour in this regard. With three top-10 finishes this season, it would be foolish to look at his recent struggles and discount him from winning over the weekend.
10. Brandt Snedeker
Don’t let last year’s missed cut at Augusta fool you into thinking Snedeker can’t shock the field this year.
One of the top golfers this season on the PGA Tour, he has already finished in the top six twice and has a top-three finish to his credit at Augusta back in 2008.
The highlight of his season was a big win at the Farmers Insurance Open when he improved every round and was at his best on Sunday while most of the field struggled to make par.
A dark horse to win this year’s Masters, Snedeker is in the right place to finally break through and win his first major title this weekend.