A Masters tradition like no other: Rating the field

It was 30 years ago that the late AJC golf writer Tom McCollister, in a piece designed to assess the 1986 tournament field, created a small bit of Masters legend.

Wrote McCollister long ago: “’Who’s going to win,’” is as much a part of Masters tradition as the stately oak that sits off the clubhouse deck.”  And then he launched into his own thoughts on who might win and who should just stay back at the clubhouse sipping Arnold Palmers.

When he eventually got around to Jack Nicklaus, TMac, as we called him around the Quonset hut that served as the media center then, dismissed the Golden Bear out of hand. Said he was shot. As you might imagine, that simple paragraph was quite the topic of conversation when Nicklaus went on to post his sixth Masters victory at the age of 46.

That just underscores what I’ve always said when someone asks me, “Who’s going to win (fill in game, series, race, whatever)?” Hey, if I knew I’d be in Vegas. I certainly wouldn’t be here stooped over a laptop working for beer money.

With that in mind, we give you the first Tom McCollister Memorial Masters Breakdown (2016 Edition).

Like TMac, we’ll divide the field into bite-sized segments.

Past Winners

It is an even-numbered year, thus Bubba Watson (2012 and 2014 champion) must be considered to have a high mathematical chance of victory. You'd think like much else in his life, he'd favor the odd. But, there you go.

There seems to be some concern about defending champion Jordan Spieth, based on the strange view that one can play too much golf. Please. He's just 22. There's no too much anything at that age. This much we know: He has been a bit too indiscriminate off the tee lately to be considered a comfortable bet to repeat.

Adam Scott (2013) finished 1-1-12 in his Florida swing. Another primal "C'mon Aussie" scream on Sunday could be in waiting.

Phil Mickelson (2004, '06, '10) loves this place unconditionally. But it will go unrequited as fickle Augusta National looks for someone younger.


Henrik Stenson is the enigma of this field. He has every tool needed to disassemble Augusta National, and yet has finished no better than 14th in 10 previous appearances. The Bergman film that is his Masters experience will continue.

I saw Ian Poulter shopping in the clubhouse store Monday, picking out stuff like Rodney Dangerfield's character in "Caddyshack." I fear he will finish 10th and still end up owing money to the company store.

Sergio Garcia, it seems, would go to any lengths not to win here. He's got no shot, barring an attitude transplant.

Young and Old

There are 33 players in the field 29 years old and younger.

The youngest is 16-year-old Costa Rican amateur Paul Chaplet. Not sure how he’s going to make the transition from little plastic clubs to the real things this week.

Fifty years his senior is two-time Masters champion Tom Watson, making his last competitive tour of the place this week. Sentiment, alas, has only a two-round shelf life.

Davis Love III returns at 51 to resume his quixotic quest for a championship. The place has beaten him pretty good and he once more may have to enter the PGA Tour's concussion protocol after this one.

Those who you’d think would have won by now

Rory McIlroy needs this one to complete his career Grand Slam. It's a storyline that would play very well this year, and the Masters is nothing if not golf's greatest story-teller.

Jason Day is between a 6-to-1 to 7-to-1 favorite to win according to various men with crooked noses, dressed in sharkskin suits. Given that he has won his last two events and is the world's top-ranked player, Day is as safe a bet here as the egg salad sandwiches on white bread.

Matt Kuchar is the azalea that never blooms here. Too late to force it now.

A runner-up a year ago, having never missed a cut in 10 Masters appearances, Justin Rose is one of the big tournament teases. Don't fall for it.

Dark-horse pick

Brandt Snedeker. It's more of a feeling, really. Like acid reflux.