The calendar says The Masters is still one month away, but two weeks into the PGA Tour’s Florida swing it feels closer.
As Adam Scott has won both the Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship, the subplot has centered on Augusta and whose game is trending the right way. It happens every year about the time pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training and Tour players start slipping into Augusta for pre-tournament prep work.
So before the Valspar Championship gets going and while we wait for the azaleas to pop, let’s consider the five players who right now look like the best bets to win The Masters.
5. Jordan Spieth: If it’s a major championship, Spieth’s name has to be included doesn’t it? He’s the defending champion at Augusta and though he hasn’t had a top-15 finish in three starts since winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, it’s not like he’s gone off the grid. He’ll be a factor at Augusta National out of sheer will if nothing else.
4. Phil Mickelson: He’s close. He’s hitting it better than he has in a couple of years but the challenge is holing enough putts. At Augusta, it’s critical to be confident on the greens. For Mickelson, there’s a comfort level and excitement at Augusta that practically transforms him. Can he win the Masters at age 45? Of course he can.
3. Rory McIlroy: Like Mickelson, he’s close. That can be a catch-all phrase for players who aren’t quite getting it done but McIlroy has shown enough good signs to believe in him. He probably should have won at Doral but his ballstriking let him down on Sunday. The move to left-hand-low putting seems to have energized him on the greens and it’s no secret how much he wants one of those green jackets.
2. Adam Scott: In his past three Tour starts, Scott has finished tied for second, first and first, so of course he’s near the top of the pre-Masters list. He won there three years ago so he knows how to get it done and he sounds like a man in a very good place both on and off the course. Scott could become the first player to win the Masters with both the long putter and a conventional-length putter.
1. Bubba Watson: After winning his second tournament in a row, Scott didn’t take the bait when asked if he was the Masters favorite. “It should be Bubba,” Scott said. And he’s right.
With Watson’s power, he has a distinct advantage at Augusta National. He’s also been on form this year as his win in the Northern Trust Open and runner-up at Doral showed. It’s a mind game with Watson and he likes where his mind is at the moment.