2017 Masters preview: 10 players to watch at Augusta

Jordan Spieth 2017 Masters preview Getty Images

2017 Masters preview: 10 players to watch at Augusta

PGA Tour

2017 Masters preview: 10 players to watch at Augusta

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(Note: A version of this story appeared in the March 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

No. 1 Jordan Spieth

OWGR: 6
Best Masters finish: 1 (2015)
Last three Masters: T-2, 1, 2
This year: Picture of consistency, with a win and four top-10s on the West Coast swing.
Why he could win: Has tightened up his ballstriking, which is bad news for peers. Plus he has the same putter that led to two major titles in 2015.
Holding him back: Bad luck with the draw? Looming thoughts about his disastrous play at No. 12 last year? Both seem unlikely.

dustin johnson 2017 masters preview

(Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports)

No. 2 Dustin Johnson

OWGR: 1
Best Masters finish: T-4 (2016)
Last three Masters: T-4, T-6, MC
This year: Took over top spot in world and has won three times. Might be peaking at the right time.
Why he could win: Led the Masters in putting last year with a sizzling 26.5 putts per round. Ability to overpower the course gives him a chance to lap the field someday.
Holding him back: Steady decline in greens in regulation stats at Augusta National.

Hideki Matsuyama 2017 Masters preview

(Getty Images)

No. 3 Hideki Matsuyama

OWGR: 4
Best Masters finish: 5 (2015)
Last three Masters: T-7, 5, MC
This year: Three wins and two seconds on the PGA Tour since October.
Why he could win: Possesses all the tools to win at ANGC, where he played twice as an amateur. Closed with a 66 Sunday last year and has putted well there in all but his 2014 missed cut. Doesn’t seem fazed by the pressure that comes with being Japan’s great hope. Improvement in driving distance this year bodes well, as does his ability to consistently contend and rack up titles.
Holding him back: Finished T-7 last year despite so-so driving accuracy and distance compared to his normal game.

Rory McIlroy 2017 Masters preview

(Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)

No. 4 Rory McIlroy

OWGR: 2
Best Masters finish: 4 (2015)
Last three Masters: T-10, 4, T-8
This year: A rib injury curtailed plans for an ambitious pre-Masters schedule, potentially adding pressure to finally break through at Augusta National.
Why he could win: Power, confidence, maturity and desire to join the career Grand Slam club. When the course is rain-softened, few other players can still overpower the lengthened ANGC like McIlroy.
Holding him back: His bad days are bad. In ’14 and ’16 Masters, posted 77s to fall out of the hunt. Putting also needs improvement: After ranking fifth
in his debut, never has ranked better than 27th.

Rickie Fowler 2017 Masters preview

(Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

No. 5 Rickie Fowler

OWGR: 9
Best Masters finish: T-5 (2014)
Last three Masters: MC, T-12, T-5
This year: Big win at Honda Classic along with top-6s his first five starts. The win vaulted him up the list of favorites despite some loose final-round shots at PGA National.
Why he could win: Past performance suggests he will continue strong putting at Augusta, where he has twice led the field in putting – he holds an edge over everyone in field but Spieth.
Holding him back: Shocking MC last year when coming in as hot as he is this season. Needs to improve fairly mediocre driving at Augusta.

Justin Rose 2017 Masters preview

(Getty Images)

No. 6 Justin Rose

OWGR: 13
Best Masters finish: T-2 (2015)
Last three Masters: T-10, T-2, T-14
This year: Knocking on the door with several strong showings. The 2016 Olympic Gold medalist has paced himself nicely and shown no signs of diminished ballstriking.
Why he could win: Veteran has plenty of solid Augusta memories, appears to be trending in the right direction and has local knowledge to finally don the green jacket.
Holding him back: The putter. While early season driving hasn’t been his best, Rose’s success here will come down to how he deals with the greens and avoids a big number such as last year’s second-round 77.

Henrik Stenson 2017 Masters preview

(Chris Condon/PGA Tour)

No. 7 Henrik Stenson

OWGR: 5
Best Masters finish: T-14 (2014)
Last three Masters: T-24, T-19, T-14
This year: Consistent 2016 has continued into early 2017 European Tour play, highlighted by a second in Dubai. He finished seventh at the Valspar before missing the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Why he could win: The British Open Champion (in spectacular fashion) has always driven well at Augusta and has improved his approach play over the past five years. Appears to be getting better and steadier
with age.
Holding him back: Has posted some shockingly high numbers at ANGC, including three rounds in the 80s. Also needs to sort out struggles on the greens for a long-overdue contending role.

adam scott 2017 Masters preview

(Getty Images)

No. 8 Adam Scott

OWGR: 7
Best Masters finish: 1 (2013)
Last three Masters: T-42, T-38, T-14
This year: Top-15 machine in the fall, and early 2017 starts suggest Scott has come back sharp from off-season break. Early putting was strong, while the rest of short game has not been so hot.
Why he could win: Ballstriking prowess, power and extreme comfort makes him dangerous at Augusta every year. Raw emotions appear to have subsided after anchoring ban.
Holding him back: Putting is the key for Scott on a course where he has driven the ball consistently long and accurately in his 15 starts. Will he miss his long putter at Augusta National?

Phil Mickelson 2017 Masters preview

(Harry How/Getty Images)

No. 9 Phil Mickelson

OWGR: 19
Best Masters finish: 1 (2004, 2006, 2010)
Last three Masters: T-2, MC, T-16
This year: Coming off of two sports hernia surgeries in the offseason, he has finished in the top 10 of both his starts this month.
Why he could win: Three-time champion is 46, and just as expectations were low in 1986 for Jack Nicklaus at the same age, there might be reduced pressure on Lefty. His power and short game remain as strong as ever. Last year’s runner-up and a heartbreaking loss in British Open show he still gets up for majors.
Holding him back: Normally impeccable iron player has struggled this year. Must fix that to contend given his tendency to hit a lot of greens at Augusta National, including last year when he hit 70.8 percent. Having not recorded a win since 2013 has to be bothering him, too.

Thomas Pieters 2017 Masters preview

(Getty Images)

No. 10 Thomas Pieters

OWGR: 34
Best Masters finish: First time
This year: Had a T-2 in his season debut at Riviera, where he won the 2012 NCAA Individual title. He added an impressive 5th-place finish at the WGC-Mexico event before missing the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Suffered post-Ryder Cup fatigue but says his batteries are recharged.
Why he could win: 2016’s breakout star was fourth in the Olympics, stole Ryder Cup show with a 4-0 record and has a game that screams future Masters winner. Like Danny Willett last year, the 25-year-old Belgian is trending as this year’s sleeper pick from Europe. His steady old soul may make up for lack of local knowledge on a course that rewards a more conservative approach than many rookies realize.
Holding him back: Lack of experience.

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