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Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 expert Masters predictions

Adam-Scott-green-jacket

Those of you who have been loyal LBS readers for years know that the Masters is easily one of Del’s favorite sporting events of the year. In addition to being a tradition unlike any other, the Masters is also a chance for sports fans to forget about the disaster their NCAA Tournament bracket turned out to be. Given that we had a No. 7 seed vs a No. 8 seed for the title this year, I’m guessing that applies to a lot of you.

The best way to shake off the March Madness hangover is to get yourself into a Masters pool. It gives you something to watch from Thursday to Saturday and makes the best golf tournament of the year that much better. For those of you who are looking for some advice, I’ve broken down this year’s contenders and pretenders.

The obvious choices:

1. Adam Scott — We have always known that Scott is one of the best golfers on the PGA Tour. He could just never close. Now that he won the Masters last year, the 33-year-old is officially one of the most dangerous golfers in the world. He won’t be feeling nearly as much pressure this year as he has in years past, which in itself should make the entire field nervous. Scott can do it again.

2. Rory McIlroy — McIlroy is in search of his first Masters victory and is looking to put his 2013 woes in the rearview. He has already had some brutal collapses this season, most notably at The Honda Classic last month when he shot a final round 74 and finished second. Still, Rory finished tied for seventh at The Houston Open last week and has shown flashes of the player who dominated golf a couple years back. His best finish at Augusta is 15th, but he has to break out eventually. He’s the betting favorite for a reason.

3. Phil Mickelson — What can we say about Phil at the Masters that hasn’t already been said countless times? You don’t win three green jackets without taking some risks, and Mickelson is still one of the most exciting risk-takers in golf. We don’t know how he’ll finish, but we know he isn’t going to get cheated. The 43-year-old’s win at The Open Championship last year proved he has plenty of quality golf left. Phil always shines at Augusta.

The serious contenders:

1. Matt Kuchar — Kuchar lost a tough playoff to Matt Jones at The Houston Open last week with a bad hole down the stretch, but he is still playing fantastic golf. He has five top-10 finishes in his last nine tournaments and has played very well at Augusta over the last two years. He finished third in 2012 and was in the hunt on the final day last year until he bogeyed the 16th hole. He looks poised to win his first major at some point this season.

2. Sergio Garcia — Have people forgotten about Sergio? He has been around forever, but he’s only 34 and is searching for his first major victory. Garcia has has a top-five finish at every major. He came in eighth at the 2013 Masters and 12th the year before. He has as much experience as anyone in the field, despite being a notorious choker. With Tiger Woods sitting out because of an injured back, Garcia might be able to relax just enough. He has four top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this year and finished 11th and 16th in his two other PGA appearances. Sergio is certainly playing well enough to win.

3. Keegan Bradley — Bradley has been up and down so far this season to say the least, but he always seems to hang around during majors. His putting will likely determine his fate. The one thing we can say about Keegan is he never seems to get rattled, which is always a recipe for success at the Masters. He has a winner’s mentality that makes him a boom or bust pick.

4. Bubba Watson — We know Bubba has the tools needed to win the Masters because he did it two years ago. We also know he can hit the ball a mile, which is always a plus at Augusta National. Bubba is averaging 317.7 yards driving the ball this year, which is by far the most on the tour. He won the Northern Trust Open in February and has five top-10 finishes already this season. With the exception of the mind-boggling 83 he shot at the Arnold Palmer Invitational a few weeks ago before withdrawing, Watson has been locked in. He should be in the mix over the weekend.

5. Dustin Johnson — Last year, I had Johnson in the “don’t count on it” category. While I was tempted to put him there again this year, we have to acknowledge the fact that he has five top-10 finishes this year and is playing some of the better golf of his young career. Everyone expects Dustin to break at out some point. He’s another long hitter who struggles to make timely putts, so don’t be surprised if that is the story again at Augusta. Still, he finished 13th at the Masters last year. I’m cautiously optimistic for him.

6. Zach Johnson — In case you have forgotten, Mr. Consistency won the Masters back in 2007. Johnson was completely locked in down the stretch last season, and he already has a win and four top-10 finishes this season. His last three Masters have been rough (T35, T32, Cut), but anyone who counts Johnson out from the start hasn’t watched him play over the past 10 months or so.

7. Jason Dufner — No player is more consistent in majors than Dufner. Now that he has finally won one, he’s going to be that much more dangerous in every major he plays. It’s pretty much that simple with the Duf.

It’s tempting, but don’t count on it:

1. Angel Cabrera — Big Angel is going to be near the top of the leader board at some point. That said, he is 44 years old and these tournament fields certainly aren’t getting any weaker. His duel against Scott at the 2013 Masters was one for the ages, but it’s something that is incredibly difficult to repeat.

2. Lee Westwood — The former world No. 1 is simply running out of time to win his first major. The longer you go, the harder it gets. Westwood has a top-three finish in each of the four major tournaments since 2009. His 11 top-10 finishes in majors since 2008 is a staggering number, but he just can’t seem to get over the hump. At age 40 and off to a very shaky start this year, 2014 just doesn’t feel like Westwood’s year at Augusta.

3. Jordan Spieth — Spieth is one of the most exciting young players on the PGA Tour. He will be playing in his first Masters this year, which is overwhelming enough as is. If Spieth somehow managed to win at Augusta, he would be the youngest ever Masters champion. That would make for an incredible story, it just isn’t logical to expect it to happen. That said, he’s going to be one of the better players in golf for years to come. What better time than now?

Hopefully our preview gives you some idea of what to expect when the drama begins on Thursday. Enjoy it, folks. It only comes once a year.



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