Entering the California swing on the tour, there are a few guys who are starting to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. As expected, the young guns are playing great, and Patton Kizzire of Auburn leads the FedEx cup standings following two wins. I’ve narrowed my predictions by three categories: the favorite, the contender, and the dark horse, along with a few honorable mentions.
My favorite at the moment is Rory Mcilroy, who’s getting back into the game after a strong start at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, losing on the 72nd hole to Li Haotong. In addition to putting the ball better, which has always been his downside, the biggest things at Augusta are his iron game and workability with the driver. Favoring a right to left ball flight, the doglegs should pose no threat to Mcilroy off the tee. He has the distance to turn the par 5’s into a joke, and he hits the ball into orbit with the irons, which is very important on the firm greens. Rory’s history at Augusta, along with his amazing driver and his nonchalant attitude, are what make him my favorite come April.
My contender as of now is 2015 PGA Champion Jason Day, who is coming off a win at Torrey Pines. Day, who has been working on swing changes over the past year or two, is now swinging with more control, so has all of the shots required to win at Augusta. With plenty of length to spare, he likes to see the ball go from right to left. Though his putting game is streaky, Day’s wedge game is a strength, giving him a lot of short looks at birdie. But when Day’s putting is on, it’s obvious he can win. Day has a few good starts at Augusta, including a top 10. His ability to avoid big numbers and the height and spin he generates on his irons and wedges are what make him my contender.
My dark horse is the 25-year-old from UCLA, Patrick Cantlay. Patrick hits it straight, and though he is a conservative, almost boring player, he comes with a great story. Cantlay had back surgery after a stress fracture in his L5 vertebrae, an injury that comes with a great deal of weight. Just ask Tiger: you’re never guaranteed to return from a back injury. Cantlay was forced to take almost a year off, and he dropped from number 1 on the WEB.com tour money list. In his first tournament back, while warming up, he felt a sharp pain in his back, an injury that would keep him out of golf for another 10 months. A month after this injury, Cantlay’s caddie and best friend, Chris Roth, was killed in front of his eyes, and at the age of 24, Chris Roth was pronounced dead. Afterward, Cantlay stepped away from the game for a while, marking a low point for the world’s #1-ranked amateur and former Haskins and Jack Nicklaus winner. But Cantlay has returned better than ever. In 2018 he started to realize his potential, getting a win at the Shriners and two top 20s at the HSBC and Sentry TOC. The strength in Cantlay’s game is his putting, which is arguably the best on the tour right now. Cantlay also has tons of experience despite the young age due to an illustrious amateur career. I think that Cantlay’s consistency is something that will serve him well―plus, Augusta has a history of favoring the men with stories, like when Bubba Watson won the Masters a week after the adoption of his first son.
My honorable mentions include Tommy Fleetwood, Tony Finau, and Patrick Reed. Fleetwood is probably the best ball striker in the world right now, and he picked up an early win in Abu Dhabi this year. Finau always tops the rankings for driving accuracy and distance. Patrick Reed, whose nickname is “Draw King,” obviously has the shotshape built for Augusta. Also, Reed played part of his college career at Augusta University, so he’s played the National a couple more times than most in the field. All of these guys are very talented and have bright futures ahead of them, but I don’t think this will be the year any of them slip on the green jacket.
Regardless of the winner, a great four days of golf is guaranteed. With the new faces in the game, it is easy to say golf is headed in the right direction and the young guns are here to stay.