AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – With the Par-3 Contest cancelled due to inclement weather Wednesday afternoon, it’s time to turn our full attention to the opening day of competition at the 81st Masters.
The wind promises to blow at more than 20 mph for both Thursday and Friday as 94 competitors battle the elements to hopefully reach the weekend, when forecasters expect sunshine and warm temperatures.
In descending order, here are the top five groups to watch in the opening two rounds of the Masters:
- Russell Knox – Rickie Fowler – Hideki Matsuyama
Featuring three twentysomethings searching for a first major title, this group has potential. Knox has five top-25 finishes this season on the PGA Tour but has struggled in his last five starts. Matsuyama is in a similar boat having played brilliant golf at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 before uninspiring results following his win in Phoenix. However, Matsuyama loves Augusta (top-10s in his last two starts) and is very much a threat to be Japan’s first male major winner. On the other side of the equation, Fowler has been strong this season with a win at the Honda Classic and a top-5 finish at the Shell Houston Open. He has two top-15 finishes at Augusta in the last three years.
- Brandt Snedeker – Justin Rose – Jason Day
This trio loves The Masters, as evidenced by strong play in recent years. Sneds has four top-20 finishes in his last six trips, Rose has never finished outside of the top 40 in his Masters career and Day has been in the top 30 in his last four starts here. Bank on at least one of these guys getting into contention.
- Jordan Spieth – Martin Kaymer – Matthew Fitzpatrick
If there is one shot on Thursday everyone is waiting for, it’s Spieth’s tee shot on the par-3 12th. Can he move on or will his collapse there in the final round last year haunt him? His record in this event – a win and two second-place finishes – is well-documented, but this year’s event will require some additional fortitude. He is joined by Kaymer, a two-time major champ who has struggled mightily at Augusta, and Fitzpatrick, an up-and-comer with four top-20s on the PGA Tour this season.
- Bubba Watson – Dustin Johnson – Jimmy Walker
The reigning U.S. Open and PGA Champion will be joined by a two-time Masters winner in this impressive group. All eyes will be on the No. 1 player in the world as Johnson attempts to win his fourth consecutive event. Watson and Walker have played fairly respectable golf in recent weeks.
- Rory McIlroy – Hideto Tanihara – Jon Rahm
There is serious intrigue in this group with McIlroy trying to complete the career grand slam and Rahm coming in with guns blazing with a win at Torrey Pines and a couple of other close calls since. Rory has nearly 100 holes of practice at Augusta National leading up to this year’s tournament and seemed at ease during his press conference earlier this week. For Rahm, he must face the fact that no first-timer has won at Augusta since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. They are joined by Tanihara, the surprise player at Austin Country Club during the recent WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. He defeated Spieth and made the semifinals, earning his way inside the top 50 of the world and punching his ticket down Magnolia Lane.
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