Tuesday 23 January 2018

Rory McIlroy, a Spanish young gun and three other contenders for the 2017 Masters

Rory McIlroy and (inset) Spanish youngster Jon Rahm
Rory McIlroy and (inset) Spanish youngster Jon Rahm

Phil Casey

The first golf major of the year gets under way next week. Here is a look at five contenders for the Masters at Augusta National.


Where else to start than with the world number one and hottest player on the planet? Johnson won the Genesis Open to move to the top of the rankings for the first time and promptly won the WGC-Mexico Championship and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play for good measure, before withdrawing from the Houston Open to rest ahead of the Masters. The 32-year-old has finished sixth and fourth at Augusta in the last two years and is a worthy 5/1 favourite to claim his second major title.


Spieth's form figures at Augusta are a remarkable 2-1-2, although his record-breaking victory in 2015 will get far less attention than his dramatic collapse in the final round 12 months ago, when he squandered a five-shot lead on the back nine and eventually finished three shots behind champion Danny Willett. However, Spieth has been in good form in 2017 - he won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February - and his brilliant putting remains a massive asset at Augusta.


McIlroy's plans for a thorough build-up to the Masters were disrupted by a six-week injury lay-off, but that could work out in the Northern Irishman's favour with the focus shifting to Johnson and away from McIlroy's bid to complete the career grand slam. The four-time major winner has finished second, seventh and fourth in his three stroke play events in 2017 and an early exit from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play allowed him to get some early practice at Augusta, where he has finished inside the top 10 on his last three starts.


Casey has recorded eight top-10 finishes in major championships, with four of them coming in the Masters. The former Ryder Cup player was sixth on his debut in 2004 and 10th in 2007, as well as finishing sixth in 2015 and fourth last year courtesy of a closing 67. The 39-year-old has yet to recapture the sort of form which saw him come second in back-to-back FedEx Cup play-off events and fourth in the Tour Championship last season, but did reach the last 16 of the WGC-Match Play.


Fuzzy Zoeller was the last debutant to win the Masters back in 1979, but Rahm has the potential to write his name in the history books in his first full season as a professional. The 22-year-old only joined the paid ranks after last year's US Open, but has already claimed his first PGA Tour title and finished third and second in WGC events in 2017. The world number 14 almost pulled off a brilliant comeback from five down after eight holes to Johnson in the Match Play final and has the power to thrive at Augusta.

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