If you've never played Augusta National Golf Club, take a moment to daydream that you will. Now imagine that you're competing in the Masters.
How would you approach the experience? Did you determine why the par-4 first hole is so hard? Were you in a position to understand the optical illusion of the massive fairway bunker on the par-4 10th? Did you figure out the nuance of positioning in the fairway on the par-5 13th? And then there's all of the intel gleaned from putting some of the slickest and most undulating surfaces on the planet.
If there's a secret at the home of the only major that doesn't migrate, it's personal experience, and there's only one way to acquire it. Since the most accomplished in the sport compete here annually, experience has proven to be the most valuable component among winners and contenders.
This Power Rankings slots all 87 in the field, equal to the smallest gathering of the last 22 editions. Scroll past the groupings for what the field already knows about Augusta National, what's new and more.
RANK PLAYER COMMENT 20 Henrik Stenson 19 Jason Day 18 Patrick Reed 17 Jordan Spieth 16 Marc Leishman 15 Sergio Garcia 14 Brooks Koepka 13 Matt Kuchar 12 Louis Oosthuizen 11 Francesco Molinari 10 Hideki Matsuyama 9 Paul Casey 8 Justin Thomas 7 Bubba Watson 6 Jon Rahm 5 Rickie Fowler 4 Dustin Johnson 3 Tiger Woods 2 Justin Rose 1 Rory McIlroy
Phil Mickelson … Who else? With no top 35s in his last five starts upon arrival and without a top 20 at Augusta National since a T2 in 2015, expectations must remain tempered. The counterargument is that he's wanted to target courses that allow him the best chance to succeed, which means competing where there's little rough. That's easier said than done as he's needed to stay warm, but the absence of something positive as one of the nearest objects in the rearview mirror is reason for mild concern.
There's never enough room for everyone to popular a Power Rankings, but none of these guys did anything that's warranted abandoning elevated expectations. Think of this group as the Draws that would normally appear in my Fantasy Insider column.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (years of Masters victories, where applicable; # - second appearance)
Adam Scott (winner: 2013)
Charl Schwartzel (winner: 2011)
This usually gets stand-alone space on Tuesdays, and it goes only five deep. It's expanded by just one with a small field. Each presents a certain level of cachet and intrigue. No two are alike.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (# - second appearance)
#Hao Tong Li
None of these guys can be mistaken as a Sleeper for various reasons, but each packs potential despite little support that normally would lift him higher on the page.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (best finish, year)
Keegan Bradley (T22, 2015)
Kevin Kisner (T28, 2018)
Billy Horschel (T17, 2016)
Rafa Cabrera Bello (T17, 2016)
Gary Woodland (T24, 2011)
Fred Couples (Win, 1992)
J.B. Holmes (T4, 2016)
Si Woo Kim (T24, 2018)
Zach Johnson (Win, 2007)
Emiliano Grillo (T17, 2016)
Tyrrell Hatton (T44, 2018)
With due respect to all of the guys listed here, each appears with doubt on his résumé. Whether it's current form, age or the absence of an inspiring track record, there's reason not to get too excited about the possibilities.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (years of Masters victories, where applicable; # - second appearance; * - debutant)
Charles Howell III
Danny Willett (winner: 2016)
Bernhard Langer (winner: 1985, 1993)
Vijay Singh (winner: 2000)
Trevor Immelman (winner: 2008)
Ángel Cabrera (winner: 2009)
Mike Weir (winner: 2003)
DEBUTANTS (not ranked above)
It's the kind of fact that you've likely seen in a trivia contest. Only three of the 82 winners prevailed in a first appearance at Augusta National: Horton Smith (1934; inaugural edition), Gene Sarazen (1935) and Fuzzy Zoeller (1979).
There are 17 first-timers in this year's field, 11 of whom are professionals. Last year's crop of professional debutants went 4-for-10 with one top 25 (Tony Finau, T10).
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (Official World Golf Ranking)
Kevin Tway (98)
Lucas Bjerregaard (43)
Andrew Landry (128)
Shugo Imahira (77)
Adam Long (108)
Michael Kim (330)
Six amateurs automatically qualify for the Masters. Each much retain his amateur status to compete in the tournament. Given the mountain of challenges, it's not so much about chasing victory as it is the probable once-in-a-lifetime experience that qualification makes possible. Yet, the Silver Cup, which is awarded to the low amateur who survives the 36-hole cut, is claimed almost every year. In 2018, Doug Ghim earn the hardware with a T50.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (World Amateur Golf Ranking)
Viktor Hovland (3)
Álvaro Ortiz (69)
Takumi Kanaya (7)
Kevin O'Connell (47)
Jovan Rebula (39)
Devon Bling (115)
Win the Masters and you're exempt for life, and you never take the place of another competitor because there are no alternates. It's a great place to be for any professional golfer of a certain age. With Craig Stadler (2014), Ben Crenshaw (2015), Tom Watson (2016) and Mark O'Meara (2018) concluding their careers in the tournament, only four previous winners at least 50 years of age and no longer active on any world tour are committed this week.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (years of Masters victories)
Larry Mize (winner: 1987)
Sandy Lyle (winner: 1988)
José Maria Olazábal (winner: 1994, 1999)
Ian Woosnam (1991)
Augusta National's challenges are as consistent and reliable as its beauty and splendor. While precision into defined landing areas off the tee is preferred, golfers who can move it are benefited as fairways are as generous as the second (read: longer) cut of grass. Last year's field averaged over nine (of 14) fairways hit on the stock par 72. That's comfortably within the top-half easiest of any course measured on the PGA TOUR.
The inverse relationship between freedom and inflexibility begins on approach into large targets guarded by sizable bunkers and unyielding run-offs. This combination of the tee-to-green dichotomy is why Augusta National is a second-shot test.
Hitting GIR is all but a prerequisite for success. Consider that last year's field average a little over 11 per round – 12th-lowest of all courses last season – before recording the fifth-lowest scrambling rate and fifth-highest putts per GIR. (ShotLink technology isn't used at the Masters.)
The par 3s and the par 4s are just plain hard. The par-4 fifth hole, which typically ranks among the top-half hardest holes on the course, will displace a handful of even harder holes this year. Since Patrick Reed slipped on the green jacket last year, a new tee was constructed that's extended the hole by 40 yards to 495 yards. The course now lists at 7,475 yards, longest of its 83 editions.
The four par 5s aren't easy, but they're gettable and must be exploited. Reed proved this by leading his field in par-5 scoring average last year at 4.19. He played them in bogey-free 13-under with two eagles.
While experience at Augusta National is a priority, it's meaningless without talent. And almost as much the club can use its SubAir system to dial in green speeds, which are not publicized, the course has served as a factory for breakthroughs in majors. Seven of the last eight winners, including each of the last four, were first-time major champions.
It doesn't hurt that the tiny field on the tony track is subject to a favorable cut. At the conclusion of 36 holes, the low 50 plus ties and all within 10 strokes of the lead will play another 36 holes.
After a line of thunderstorms passed through on Monday afternoon, the SubAir system likely will be called into duty. Rain might fall again in between the first two rounds, if not early on Friday as well. The threat will return overnight on Saturday and extend into Sunday. Winds will freshen with each episode. Daytime highs will eclipse 80 degrees. In short, a textbook spring forecast in the Southeast.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton recaps and previews every tournament from numerous angles. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.
TUESDAY*: Fantasy Insider
WEDNESDAY: One & Done
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, which also publishes on Tuesdays.