I’m sure some people embrace the Masters in all its self-important silliness. They can’t help being taken in by the genteel sheen the Augusta National Golf Club manages for one week every year. They are moved by Jim Nantz’s schmaltz about the place even as they recognize it as such.
For those people, there is always something to like about the Masters. I get it. Professional golf is, like all individual sports at the elite levels, a fine showcase for human failures and triumph. It’s enhanced by the mystique of Augusta and the stakes of a major championship.
But I’m more of a bottom-line guy. I’m most interested in who will tug on the green jacket, not the heart strings. If you want sentimentality, I’m not your guy.
Now, if you want to know who will win then . . . well, I’m probably still not your guy. It’s difficult to predict the winner of a pro golf tournament. Still, I’m more useful for wagering a guess than waxing poetic.
This week Rory McIlroy is favored to win at 8-to-1 odds. The betting markets are likely moving to McIlroy because of his recent results. He won the Players Championship last month and has four other top-five finishes in stroke play. McIlroy also finished among the top 10 in five consecutive starts at the Masters, the only major he hasn’t won.
He’s a worthy favorite but I’m always wary of recency bias. That’s why I perked up when I heard Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Masters champion, point out that his results had been lackluster before he finished second here in 2014 and 2016. He said there are more important things than recent results, such as play around the greens, putting, and controlling distance and speed.
Spieth has an incentive to think that way because of his recent poor results, including missing the cut at the Players Championship last month. But I’m inclined to believe him. You have to consider picking Spieth or Brooks Koepka, another top contender with recent scorecard struggles.
It’s always been assumed that experience matters a lot at Augusta. Woods put a dent in that theory when he crushed the course as a 21-year old. Then succeeding generations of young golfers inspired by Woods started winning majors, including Spieth.
Yet despite the youth movement, the average age of the 52 Masters winners still is 31.3 years old. Seven of the past 10 champions were 28 or older. Data Golf crunched the numbers and concluded that “course history” at Augusta really does matter, with the sweet spot at six to eight years playing the Masters.
Wrote Data Golf: “While this will mostly be due to the simple fact that these golfers are better on any golf course, not just Augusta National, it will also be partly due to the fact that experience does appear to help around the storied Augusta National layout.”
Some young golfers among the contenders may be too green at Augusta to win just yet. Those guys are Tommy Fleetwood (six Masters rounds played), Jon Rahm (eight) and Koepka (12 rounds played). There’s always a chance one of them breaks through here, like Spieth did four years ago, but lack of experience is a good reason not to pick them.
The experience factor is good for other serious challengers who have never won at Augusta. They have good knowledge of the course and their performance hasn’t yet been diminished by age. Included on that list: Paul Casey (42 Masters rounds played), McIlroy (38), Rickie Fowler (30), Dustin Johnson (30), Jason Day (29), Hideki Matsuyama (26) and Francesco Molinari (24).
The weather is a possible confounding factor for this Masters. As of Wednesday afternoon the forecast predicted a 60 percent chance of rain on Friday, 80 percent on Saturday and 90 percent on Sunday.
Under normal circumstances, I’d back Bubba Watson to win a third green jacket. He’s a longshot because he’s 40-years old and has missed 10 cuts in his past 17 majors. Augusta is a place where he can rekindle the magic, but I can’t pick him because Watson famously does not like playing in the rain.
Included among the top contenders who I haven’t thrown out for other reasons are guys who tend to play well when conditions get wet. Several also check the experience box. Dual qualifiers include McIlroy, Casey, Day, Fowler, Matsuyama and Molinari. Spieth is relatively short on experience but that’s irrelevant because he’s won here before.
From among those seven golfers, I’m taking Fowler. He’s been on the come in majors after a two-year slump. Fowler finished second to Patrick Reed in last year’s Masters after a back-nine charge on Sunday. He says he’s more ready than ever to win his first major, and I’m thinking it happens this week.
I want Woods to win here for the fifth time because it would be so much fun. A Woods victory might stir some feelings even for a cynic like me. Heck, if it happens I might even welcome some Nantz mawkishness.
I can’t pick Woods to win, though. I’m a bottom-line guy, and it says Fowler wins the 2019 Masters.
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