Masters 2017 - The Americans
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
WHY would anybody in their right minds bet against Jordan Spieth landing his second Green Jacket at Augusta? He has played in The Masters on three occasions, finishing second at his first attempt, winning on his second go and finishing second again 12 months ago despite a quadruple-bogey seven on the par-three 12th.
In other words, the American has played 216 competitive holes at one of the most difficult golf courses on the planet and come a cropper once. ONCE!
He has struggled for 12 months to put that 12th-hole disaster behind him, reminded about it at every turn and asked whether he would ever be able to put it behind him. Even Spieth would admit that he found it difficult to erase it from his mind. He was strolling towards a second successive Green Jacket when he put his tee shot into Rae's Creek. That was bad enough, but he then dropped another ball, hit it fat and looked on in horror as it barely reached the water.
All eyes were on his every move for the remainder of 2016 and he didn't quite get it out of his system. It didn't help that although he continued to weave magic spells with his putter, he lost the ability to hit those laser-like iron shots at the flag. The harder he tried, the worse it got. But he still managed to find a way to score, although not low enough to win the tournaments that his talent deserved.
Everybody, it seemed, had an opinion about what he was doing wrong. And as suddenly as it all went wrong, Spieth rediscovered his form. It began in earnest in Australia at the end of the year, and it has continued ever since. He has now added another PGA Tour title to his collection, is hitting more greens in regulation than anybody else on the PGA Tour and is still holing those putts. Time and time again.
Most smart pundits believe that The Masters is Dustin Johnson's to lose. I am not so sure. Augusta is a course that requires a huge amount of patience and while DJ has improved in that respect he is still prone to making some strange decisions. The greens will be hard and they will be very fast and although Johnson's putting has improved hugely, how will he handle those treacherous surfaces? On the other side of the coin, his wedge play is just about as good as anybody else's and he will have to produce his very best to ensure that he finds the right parts of those greens.
Much will also be expected of Justin Thomas but it may well be too soon for him. It takes time to learn how to plot your way around this amazing golf course and Thomas has yet to complete his apprenticeship. A slight figure, he is one of the world's longest hitters and, crucially, hits the ball straight. He is also a magnificent iron player and an excellent putter, but he has a temper, and the moment he loses it at Augusta then he may as well walk off the course. Thomas may actually struggle to make the cut.
There would be no more popular winner than the evergreen Phil Mickelson, but time is running out for Lefty. And if you were to offer him the chance to win one more major he would surely opt for the US Open, in which he has finished second a scarcely-credible six times. That he still has the game is not in doubt, and this is a course where he is more likely to get away with wayward driving than on any other major layout. On and around the greens he remains a magician, able to produce shots that most mortals would not even dream about, far less execute.
There will be the usual flurry of interest in the chances of Rickie Fowler but although he is back to something approaching his best, there is still something lacking in his game. He is a fabulous putter but he misses too many greens and you can't win The Masters if you are forever hitting recovery shots to save par. Many will make a case for Matt Kuchar, who always seems to be there or thereabouts, but Augusta suits players who hit the ball high, and Kuchar does precisely the opposite. There are also doubts about his putting.
If you are looking for a decent outsider among the home players, you could do an awful lot worse than putting a few pence on Daniel Berger, who is a wonderful shotmaker with a great temperament. He is sneaky long, produces vast amounts of spin and, crucially, a fantastic putter.
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