The Masters always delivers an experience emblazoned into our memory banks.
And then there's what's shaping up this week. With so many of the game's best charging hard into Augusta National Golf Club, the 82nd edition of the season's first major promises a tournament that could stand up as an all-time classic.
Because of that anticipation, we've decided to include all 87 golfers in the field in the Power Rankings. The first 20 are listed customarily. The remainder fills in according to what those golfers project and in the construct of the constants of Augusta National. Loyal readers of the Fantasy Insider column will see familiar categories usually found only in that space.
Beneath the last section is a bit about how Augusta National challenges the smallest gathering since Tiger Woods' dominant breakthrough performance in the 86-man field of 1997.
POWER RANKINGS: MASTERS TOURNAMENT
20 Zach Johnson 19 Kevin Chappell 18 Hideki Matsuyama 17 Ian Poulter 16 Rickie Fowler 15 Jon Rahm 14 Henrik Stenson 13 Matt Kuchar 12 Sergio Garcia 11 Alex Noren 10 Paul Casey 9 Bubba Watson 8 Dustin Johnson 7 Jason Day 6 Rory McIlroy 5 Tiger Woods 4 Jordan Spieth 3 Justin Rose 2 Phil Mickelson 1 Justin Thomas
With two wins in the last two months and T5s in the last two World Golf Championships, he's poised to contribute to the noise at Augusta National. However, it's been a while since his last top 20 in a stroke-play event on U.S. soil. It just so happened to have occurred in his debut at the Masters in 2016.
With a limited field consisting primarily of PGA TOUR winners, contenders in the last four majors and the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking (both at the conclusion of the previous calendar year and two editions prior to the tournament), the stage is set for roars. Each of the 13 household names below are familiar with Augusta National, so it wouldn't surprise anyone if any command the spotlight come Sunday.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (years of Masters victories, where applicable)
Adam Scott (2013)
Rafa Cabrera Bello
Charl Schwartzel (2011)
The term takes on a unique value this week. Typically I omit recent winners, recent major champions, members of the more recent team competition (e.g. Presidents Cup in 2017) and all inside the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking, but the Masters' one-of-a-kind set of variables cater to approaching every golfer in the context of this week only. The grouping below consists of those early in their ascent of promising careers, those who rekindled magic within the last 18 months or so, and even one major champion (Walker) who occupies a category of his own on the recovery from Lyme disease for which there is no timeline. All also have experience at Augusta National, if not some success.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence
This quintet possesses qualities to contend but are lacking in multiple components to project success despite prior experience. This includes the absence of a notable finish at Augusta National, which could be connected directly to how the course fits their eyes. Also baked in are deficiencies in skill sets and recent form that punish their obvious positives. Yet there's nothing outrageously uninspiring to warrant lowered expectations. Suffice it to say that the jury is still out on all.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (best finish, year)
Branden Grace (T18, 2013)
Gary Woodland (T24, 2011)
Bernd Wiesberger (T22, 2015)
Adam Hadwin (T36, 2017)
Tyrrell Hatton (MC, 2017)
Every tournament consists of golfers who haven't played well in it before or recently, don't have enough experience to lift expectations, arrive dealing with a physical injury or simply in poor form. The following 19 check at least one of those boxes and don't suggest to be categorized elsewhere. (Former winners listed don't yet qualify for LEGACY below.)
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (years of Masters victories, where applicable)
Si Woo Kim
Ted Potter, Jr.
Vijay Singh (2000)
Fred Couples (1992)
Bernhard Langer (1985, 1993)
Danny Willett (2016)
Ángel Cabrera (2009)
Mike Weir (2003)
Trevor Immelman (2008)
Once a golfer matriculates to the Masters, the next goal should be limited to learning. Debutants absolutely must let Augusta National come to them, particularly as it pertains to undulations on greens for which Stimpmeter readings are not publicized. The headline is that since Horton Smith and Gene Sarazen prevailed in their debuts in what were the first two editions of the tournament in 1934 and 1935, respectively, only Fuzzy Zoeller (in 1979) didn't need at least one visit to break through as champion.
However, victory usually requires a handful of trips in advance. So, when Jordan Spieth (2015) and Danny Willett (2016) slipped on green jackets in just their second appearances — granted, Willett got an all-time assist from Spieth on his Sunday — they were exceptions to what rules — experience. In 2017, the best finish by a first-timer was recorded by Thomas Pieters, who tied for fourth. William McGirt's T22 was second-best among 19 in the tournament for the first time. Ten of this year's 16 debutants are professionals.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (Official World Golf Ranking)
Tony Finau (34)
Xander Schauffele (26)
Patton Kizzire (52)
Dylan Frittelli (50)
Austin Cook (111)
Shubhankar Sharma (72)
Wesley Bryan (92)
Hao Tong Li (42)
Satoshi Kodaira (48)
Yusaku Miyazato (59)
In the spirit of recognizing and supporting amateur competition, Augusta National Golf Club invites as many as six amateurs from five tournaments worldwide. The low amateur who survives the 36-hole cut is awarded the Silver Cup. As challenging as it is for a professional to make his debut at the Masters, imagine the emotional complexity to be an amateur making his first appearance. Therefore, expectations are subdued for all amateurs. In the last five years, only six made the cut. Bryson DeChambeau's T21 in 2016 easily was the best finish among them. The Silver Cup went unclaimed in 2015.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (World Amateur Golf Ranking)
Joaquin Niemann (1)
Doug Ghim (4)
Doc Redman (34)
Harry Ellis (31)
Matt Parziale (224)
Lin Yuxin (152)
One of the countless perks of winning the Masters is lifetime eligibility to compete in it. In recent years, Craig Stadler (2014), Ben Crenshaw (2015) and Tom Watson (2016) made their final appearances as past champions. All five winners below are at least 50 years of age and no longer active on major tours around the world.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (years of Masters victories)
José Maria Olazábal (1994, 1999)
Larry Mize (1987)
Mark O'Meara (1998)
Sandy Lyle (1988)
Ian Woosnam (1991)
NOTE: The only qualifier omitted above is Brooks Koepka. He remains sidelined recovering from a partially torn tendon in his left wrist.
When the weather cooperates, double digits under par on the stock pat 72 is a reasonable target, but Mother Nature hasn't allowed for that reality since Jordan Speith's 18-under 270 in 2015. This week's winner may also struggle achieving that objective as moderate winds are forecast through Friday, and then a fair threat of rain and boomers commands the narrative into the weekend. Daytime highs will hover on both sides of 70 degrees, so only the earliest starters may feel a chill.
Because Augusta National (7,435 yards) is not penal off the tee, the primary task is to be precise into targets that average just under 6,500 square feet. The timeless test of tackling the speedy and meandering bentgrass putting surfaces will follow, but would-be contenders will want to capitalize on the four par 5s to take some of the pressure off scoring elsewhere.
En route to his long-awaited breakthrough last year, Sergio Garcia was vintage. He ranked second in fairways hit, but that's not nearly as impressive at Augusta National as his position at T2 in greens in regulation. He limited the damage to one three-putt for the week and led the field in par-4 scoring.
After 36 holes are complete, the low 50 and ties as well as all golfers within 10 strokes of the lead will survive the cut. All who do are guaranteed two more rounds.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton covers numerous angles in between tournaments. Look for his following contributions this week.
MONDAY: Rookie Ranking, Qualifiers, Reshuffle, Medical Extensions, Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Facebook Live, Fantasy Insider
WEDNESDAY: One & Done
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf presented by SERVPRO, which also publishes on Tuesdays.