The Masters is usually the best place for a first-time major championship winner, but will a rookie win the green jacket, or will a veteran come through this year. The oddsmakers believe it will be someone who has captured a major, before, though not a Masters.
Rory McIlroy is the favorite at 7/1, and though he has come close at Augusta National, hasn’t been able to win there. He has, however, won the other three majors, and would like to join Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan as a career grand slam winner.
The last four winners of the Masters were first-time major winners. Also consider that the fields for two of those were the smallest in 20 years. This year 87 players will be teeing it up, only the third time 90 or less players have been competing since 1997.
Augusta native Charles Howell III is returning to the Masters for the first time since 2012. The 39-year-old, who spent his youth going to the major as a spectator, was very excited about the prospect of returning after five years. He became eligible when he won the RSM Classic in November.
“I appreciate the invitation a lot more than I did before,” Howell said. “It’s just wonderful to be here. It’s the greatest sporting event in the world and we’re lucky it’s in Augusta.”
He will be able to have his two children at the event, who are 7 and 8. They will be caddying in the annual Par-3 contest.
“Having them here is special,” Howell said. “I want them to understand what the Masters is — to understand where I grew up. This is the tournament that I walked around as a kid all the time. It’s what I did. Wednesday was always a fun experience, but this will be a lot more meaningful.”
No. 5 Redesign Critiqued
The fifth hole at Augusta National was lengthened and the tee box repositioned, and so far the reviews from golfers have been mostly positive.
“Beforehand, if you were going to hit driver you had to hug the bunkers pretty close and if you pushed it a little right you would go through the fairway,” Rickie Fowler said. “Now it’s a little bit more straight‑on where you have a little bit more room, if you hang it out to the right a little bit, you won’t run through quite as quickly.”
World No. 1 player Justin Rose said it is part of a brutal opening stretch, that might be even more difficult.
“I think No. 5 is probably going to play the toughest hole now,” Rose said. “For me I always felt like if you can get it through six holes even par, it’s a great start. Even 1‑over par through six, it’s a great start. That’s going to be even more so this year, given the fifth hole changing.”
Spieth Hopes to Contend
It has been a rough year for Jordan Spieth. The three-time major winner has been in a terrible slump this season and enters the Masters as a 16/1 longshot. To say that his confidence is not real high this week, might be an understatement.
“I guess average,” Spieth said when asked about his chances this week. “I mean, pretty average. I wouldn’t say down or up, I would say I feel good about my chances just like I do anytime going into a major championship, especially the Masters. I’ve had a lot of success there no matter what my form’s been coming into it. I feel like I’m playing better than my results are showing and that starts to kind of turn around over time as long as I’m patient with it.”