Hey there, sports fan. It is the time of year when college basketball wraps up, football is barely a thought in your brain and Opening Day of baseball season can only get you so pumped. You, friend, have to turn to golf, a sport you otherwise ignore for most of the year. For golf fans, this is one of the four most important weeks of the year, and for sports fans, it’s a chance to check in on the game, grumbling about Tiger Woods and inquiring about Phil Mickelson.
This article isn’t for the serious golf fan. That group already knows everything inside of this. This is to help out the sports fan wanting a quick crash course on what has happened since the last time they checked in on the sport, at last year’s Ryder Cup.
Rob SchumacherUSA TODAY Sports
Dustin Johnson is now winning everything
Yeah, seriously, this isn’t really an exaggeration. DJ is the No. 1 player in the world and comes into Augusta National on a three-tournament winning streak including two World Golf Championship events (basically the second tier behind the major championships). He is the overwhelming favorite to snag his second major in less than a year and hopes to continue to improve on a run at Augusta that has seen the 32-year-old finish T-6 and T-4 his last two years at the Masters.
Why has Dustin improved so much over the last year and a half? It’s basically his ability to capitalize with his scoring clubs considering he has a ton of wedges into a lot of holes thanks to his length off the tee (he leads the PGA Tour in driving distance at 316.2 yards per pop). Also, DJ is the same guy that made three eagles in a single round back in the 2015 Masters, so his length and added confidence around the greens is a scary, scary thing for the rest of the field.
Eric GayAP photo
It has been the year of the streaky golfer
It is very, very unusual to be where we are right now with some of the names this early into the PGA Tour season. Two players have at least three wins already this season (Justin Thomas and the aforementioned machine that is DJ) and we haven’t even mentioned Hideki Matsuyama, who won five times in nine starts worldwide between October and early February. Riding the hot hand has seemed to be a smart move in 2017, so give a look to some of the players who have been in form as of late (namely, DJ, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, and some of the other likely cast members).
Joe CamporealeUSA TODAY Sports
Speaking of Thomas, he's one feat away from hitting for the insane golf cycle
Tournament wins, a 59 in a PGA Tour event AND a hole-in-one, all in 2017 for Justin Thomas. If he fires a 62 this week at Augusta National he should just hang up his Footjoys and enjoy the rest of the year knowing it probably won’t get any better than it already has.
Marco GarciaAP photo
Jordan Spieth missed the cut last week, but he doesn’t sound that upset about it
Three starts, never a finish outside the top-two and a bone to pick with Augusta National; all of this adds up to a revenge-feel to Spieth’s week at the Masters.
Also, after missing the cut in Houston, he had this to say; “I think we know, and the other players that are playing next week know, that we strike fear in others next week. So that’s our idea, that’s going to be my confidence level going in, and we’ll step on the first tee ready to play.”
Strike fear! I love it. Spieth already has a win this year at Pebble Beach and has been incredibly consistent as of late, save the missed cut at the Shell Houston Open this past Friday.
Eric GayAP photo
Rory McIlroy was injured, but he isn’t anymore
Is it possible for a guy chasing a career Grand Slam to be somewhat flying under the radar? That seems to be the feeling with the No. 2 player in the world, and it probably shouldn’t be considering how he has played since returning from a rib injury (he finished second in the event he injured it in, mind you).
Rory finished T-7 at the WGC-Mexico Championship, his first event of the 2017 PGA Tour season, and followed it up with T-4 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He didn’t make the Sweet 16 at the match play, but he wasn’t really given much of a chance after Gary Woodland had to withdraw for family reasons, leaving Rory without a chance to advance in his Friday match with Emiliano Grillo.
Rory is almost always the storyline here but Dustin and Spieth are overshadowing him a bit, which has to be nice for McIlroy. A win and Rory will join Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen in the Grand Slam club, which is some pretty elite company in this sport.
Rob SchumacherUSA TODAY Sports
The new name to know is Jon Rahm
He’s 22, turned professional the week after the U.S. Open last year, and has been the second best player in the game so far in ’17. Rahm started the year ranked 137th in the world and has already jumped to No. 12 thanks to a recent run that has seen Rahm finish in the top-10 in five of his last six starts, including a win at the Farmers Insurance Open (his putt on the 72nd green is the highlight of this PGA Tour season so far).
Rahm has never played in the Masters, but his confidence level is as high as anyone in this field and to think the course and moment might intimidate him means you don’t really get how much belief he already has in himself. Of all the players, Rahm is in that Spieth-DJ-Rory group that would be surprising if they failed to finish in the top-20 come Sunday evening.
Gregory BullAP photo
The best case for a 2017 Danny Willett is Tyrrell Hatton
The 25-year-old has been on a pretty impressive run since his win at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last October. Since that victory, Hatton has finished in the top-10 in seven of his 11 worldwide starts, including a T4-10-T4-T17 run since coming stateside to prepare for the Masters. Not only has this been a great run for the first-time Masters invitee, but he racked up two straight top-10 finishes in the final two majors of '16. If someone is going to pull a Danny Willett this week, it’s going to be Hatton.
Brian SpurlockUSA TODAY Sports
If you’re in one of those Masters pools ...
Here are a few sleepers to consider — Lee Westwood, Soren Kjeldsen, Kevin Na and Ross Fisher.
Ian WaltonGetty Images
Tiger Woods is not playing
He played three rounds of golf this year and hasn’t really been seen since, save a media tour for a book about his 1997 win. This you probably already knew.
Kamran JebreiliAP photo
Phil Mickelson hasn’t won in a long, long time but that doesn’t mean his game is off
Did you know that Tiger Woods has won more recently than Phil Mickelson on the PGA Tour? That is not an alternative fact, it’s simply truth. Phil hasn’t raised a trophy since his Open Championship victory in 2013, but his run the last few months has been something pretty special. He is second on the PGA Tour in strokes gained around the greens, second in overall putting average and 17th in strokes gained on the greens.
Where Phil has struggled is with his iron play (195th in greens in regulation this year) and finding fairways (190th in driving accuracy). Phil is the type of guy always looking for that one “something” to click, and a lot of the time it happens at Augusta National. He missed the cut last year. I don’t expect that to happen again for Mickelson.