With only five days left until the 2014 Masters gets under way, our staff of senior writers and editors are taking a closer look at key players, the course and the history to preview the tournament.
Today, we offer up our thoughts on some surprise performances that could be in store at Augusta National, a course that has yielded drama even if it isn’t kind to most first-timers.
Here’s today’s roundtable:
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1. Which first-time Masters participant is the most dangerous?
JIM McCABE: Give me Harris English and I’d take my chances. Hits it long, hits it high, plays with the composure of a 35-year-old. Plus, he is surrounded by Sea Island veterans who help keep the young man grounded and well informed.
ALEX MICELI: Patrick Reed. Three wins in 2014 and at 23 years old has game that should play well at Augusta National.
BETH ANN NICHOLS: Jordan Spieth. He went to Augusta early to get rid of the “awe factor” but said he no longer goes into big events feeling like a rookie. That kind of confidence and attitude goes a long way. Special young player, special course. See no reason to think Spieth’s charmed life will go any other way.
JEFF RUDE: Jordan Spieth. Because he’s fearless, talented, loves the big stage and has pushed the envelope in golf with achievements – such as winning multiple U.S. Juniors like Tiger Woods and becoming the first teenager in more than eight decades to win on Tour.
ADAM SCHUPAK: I’m bullish on Harris English. A baseball scout would call him a five-tool player. He’s cooled off a bit lately, but I think his length, accuracy and putting touch could make him a contender come Sunday.
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2. Who in the field who has experience at Augusta could break through to win his first green jacket?
MCCABE: Not exactly revealing a state secret here, but what about Jason Day isn’t to like? T-2 in 2011, he was third a year ago, and in those eight rounds he’s 19-under with five sub-par efforts and seven scores of par or better. His thumb injury is a concern, yes, but clearly if he’s healthy he’s someone to watch.
MICELI: Rory McIlroy is clearly in the driver’s seat in the first-green-jacket category. It’s been a while since the Ulsterman has challenged in a major, but his game seems to be ready for prime time.
NICHOLS: Matt Kuchar. Isn’t it time for another feel-good moment from Kooch at Augusta? He opened in Houston with a 66 and, by the looks of it, will be hot going into the year’s first major. The Georgia resident finished T-3 and T-8 in the last two Masters.
RUDE: Matt Kuchar. He’s been in the top 10 the last two years and clearly is in form. He tied for fourth at Valero Texas Open, second midway at Houston and loves Augusta.
SCHUPAK: Matt Kuchar has seemed destined to win a green jacket since he was low amateur in 1998. He finished T-3 in 2012, his best result in any of the four majors. He comes in with a hot hand after nearly picking off a win at the Valero Texas Open. Kuchar has a Players title, a WGC Match Play, and Ryder/Presidents Cup success under his belt. His game is ready to win a major.
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3. Which player’s Augusta record surprises you?
MCCABE: Dustin Johnson. Simply put, he’s already squandered five prime chances in a tournament he seems made for. Don’t let the T-13 last year fool you. He opened with 67, one off the lead, then shot 76-74 for yet another bitter taste. In his first three starts he did no better than T-30 and in 16 rounds Johnson has broke par just five times, only two of them in the 60s. Big disappointment.
MICELI: Dustin Johnson has played in four Masters and never recorded a top 10. His weekend scoring average is over 73; out of eight rounds, he has only recorded one round under par and never has broken 70.
NICHOLS: Zach Johnson. The 2007 Masters champion isn’t exactly automatic at Augusta. In fact, outside of that impressive victory, he hasn’t finished better than a tie for 20th in 2008. Johnson has missed the cut three times in nine starts and has a 73.27 scoring average.
RUDE: Dustin Johnson. It surprises me the talented long hitter hasn’t contended there, never finishing better than 13th (his only top 25). I liked his chances this year but he withdrew in Houston with a bad back after an opening 80.
SCHUPAK: Each April, Angel Cabrera seems to roll down Magnolia Lane and magically find his game for the Masters. He has a win in 2009, a playoff loss last year, and six top-10 finishes overall. He loves the place and told me, “Everything is so perfect that you don’t even want to take a divot. You don’t want to spoil it.” On the flip side, Dustin Johnson on paper should have the game to win multiple green jackets but his best result so far is a T-13 last year. Maybe he’s begun to figure out Augusta’s tricky greens.