Sobel: Ranking the 2018 Masters Field, from 1-87
Credit: John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Justin Rose
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There’s no specific formula for picking Masters contenders.
Players will have to hit it long and accurately off the tee. And Augusta National has been called a second-shot course, playing into the hands of the best ball-strikers. And the short game is obviously important. So is putting, of course.
Throw in a strong-willed mentality and plenty of experience, and our “formula” sounds very much like building the perfect golfer.
So, short of finding one of those, how should we handicap this week’s field?
This is hardly a secret, but the short list of annual contenders usually reads like a who’s who of players who have already contended on multiple occasions during the first three months of the calendar. Masters winners might not always be predictable, but they usually show to have been trending in the right direction going into April.
With that in mind, here’s my ranking of this week’s field, from top to bottom.
1. Justin Rose (+1350). Chugging through the intersection of current form and course familiarity, last year’s runner-up ticks all the important boxes to be this year’s winner. So much so, in fact, that the only downside to picking Rose (pictured above) is that he’s become the trendy pick. Too trendy? We’ll soon find out.
2. Jordan Spieth (+935). Oh, the irony: Elite player insists he wants his game to peak four times per year, then elite player gets criticized for not peaking before those four times. Spieth might get the last laugh, as his ball-striking is terrific right now and his putter should heat up on the drive down Magnolia Lane.
3. Rory McIlroy (+975). If you look at players as stocks, McIlroy is the most volatile blue chip on the market. He’s obviously worth the price, because he can bring this course to its knees and win by a half-dozen shots, but it’s also possible that he struggles early and never finds it. Take the former over the latter.
4. Tiger Woods (+1275). Here’s a blind resume test: Player X has four wins at a specific tournament. He’s never missed the cut there. And he’s finished T-12, T-2, T-5 in his three starts leading into the event. Sound like a contender? Of course it does. Tiger on this leaderboard should hardly be a shocker.
5. Rickie Fowler (+2335). Much like Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia before him, Fowler too often is viewed through a prism of what he hasn’t accomplished rather than what he has. His close calls at majors should only embolden him the next time he’s in contention, which should be this week.
6. Paul Casey (+2170). He might not win as much as other top-20 players — or as much as his talent level suggests he should — but Casey is among the most consistent golfers in the world. Still buoyed by his victory in Tampa four weeks ago, it’s hard to imagine him putting up a stinker in this one.
7. Phil Mickelson (+1665). After his WGC win in Mexico, Lefty admitted he didn’t want to return to Augusta mired in a five-year winless drought. Now he’s brimming with confidence and motivated by the record books: At 47, he’s a year older than Jack Nicklaus was when he famously won in 1986.
8. Jason Day (+1600). Despite his win at Torrey Pines, it feels like Day hasn’t really kicked his season into high gear yet. The lack of reps could leave him rusty, but if there’s anything we’ve learned about the Aussie, it’s that he’s most dangerous when we expect a little less of him.
9. Patrick Cantlay (+8000). Hey, there’s gotta be a few sleepers up here, right? Truth be told, Cantlay really isn’t too sleepy. He’s a ball-striker of the highest order and his game should match up with Augusta perfectly. It might be asking too much for him to win this soon, but the week could prove to be a major stepping stone.
10. Matt Kuchar (+4500). Once the low-amateur at this tournament with a T-21 finish, Kuchar has now matured into a model of consistency, claiming top-five results in four of the past six years. It’s difficult to imagine Kuchar finishing much off that pace this year, playing through his steady brand of solid golf.
11. Justin Thomas (+1165). Too low on this list? Probably, but that only underscores his leap to become one of the co-favorites. It’s not that JT can’t win this week — trust me, he can — it’s just that with only so many majors to go around, the guy who won the most recent one could see some diminishing returns.
12. Tommy Fleetwood (+4000). Another guy who’s quickly rising up the list of the world’s top ball-strikers, Fleetwood should flourish on what’s often been called a second-shot golf course. He missed the cut in his only appearance last year, but his game has taken some major strides forward since then.
13. Dustin Johnson (+1050). Yep, another co-favorite who gets the shaft on this list. As long as DJ doesn’t run down any stairs in his socks, he’s got a chance to win, but he’s hardly wowed anyone in his past three starts. He can show up and finish top-20 this week with his eyes closed. I’ll fade the serious contention, though.
14. Brian Harman (+8000). You might be able to cash a Harman prop on low-lefty from the University of Georgia this week. He owns more top-10s than anyone on the PGA Tour this season and proved at last year’s U.S. Open that his moxie can carry him onto a major championship leaderboard.
15. Bryson DeChambeau (+8000). While McIlroy was charging on the back-nine at Bay Hill three weeks ago, most assumed it would be Woods or Henrik Stenson who would put up the best fight. Instead, it was the guy with the single-length irons who took solo second place. He’s methodical, but he makes it worth the wait.
16. Tony Finau (+9000). The rags-to-riches story will be a Hollywood blockbuster if this Masters rookie can somehow slide his meaty arms into the green jacket. Finau is the type of guy who doesn’t back down from the shine of a big moment, which could at least leave him low first-timer this week.
17. Patrick Reed (+4500). Big, sweeping draws are often the name of the game on this golf course and few can hook ’em like Reed, but his early-career Masters record leaves plenty to be desired, with two missed cuts in four starts and nothing inside the top-20. Look for some positive regression this time around.
18. Alex Noren (+4500). He’s been a European Tour stalwart for years, but U.S. fans are finally getting a taste of Noren’s immense talents. Already with a runner-up and two thirds this year, he might be playing even better golf than his four-win season of 2016, which is saying something.
19. Kevin Kisner (+10,000). The local guy who grew up scoring badges and walking the grounds as a spectator has struggled a bit in his first two starts. A week off following a grueling run to the WGC-Match Play final should have him ready to go, though, and he should improve on those early efforts.
20. Dylan Frittelli (+15,000). Couldn’t let the top-20 pass without including one completely off-the-radar guy. Careful observers might not have him off that radar, however, as Frittelli’s worldwide results for the past six months have been impressively consistent. Need a total darkhorse flyer? Check him out.
21. Bubba Watson (+1535). Tough to imagine him joining Demaret, Snead, Player, Faldo and Mickelson with three wins.
22. Louis Oosthuizen (+5500). Poor Oosty. Just by happenstance, he falls one behind Bubba — again. Like a bad nightmare.
23. Rafa Cabrera Bello (+10,000). Fresh off an uncommon MC in Houston, but that could wind up being a blessing in disguise.
24. Zach Johnson (+12,500). Colder conditions in Augusta this week could have the 2007 champion thinking about a sequel.
25. Sergio Garcia (+2735). A long-elusive major should leave him playing freer, but new dad status could also have an effect.
26. Hideki Matsuyama (+3500). Not long ago, it would’ve been foolish to place Hideki anywhere outside a top-10 prediction.
27. Marc Leishman (+5000). A fast, firm golf course under a two-club wind would be right up this Aussie’s alley.
28. Brendan Steele (+15,000). Classic case of a player who’s much better than the general public ever realizes.
29. Jon Rahm (+2235). His time will come at majors, but for now a lack of patience won’t help him much at this one.
30. Ian Poulter (+5500). Tough to envision back-to-back wins, despite him looking like Ryder Cup Poults this past weekend.
31. Xander Schauffele (+8000). The Rodney Dangerfield of the PGA Tour. Two wins last year and still gets no respect.
32. Henrik Stenson (+4000). Hard to believe the guy who launches 3-woods has never finished better here than T-14.
33. Ryan Moore (+10,000). An offseason conditioning program has him looking svelte and should lead to better results.
34. Charley Hoffman (+9000). He led after the first round last year, co-led after the second round, and finished T-22.
35. Adam Scott (+5500). Once one of the world’s best, he’s now outside the top-50 and largely reduced to an afterthought.
36. Jason Dufner (+15,000). As is always the case with Duf, if he putts well he could be dangerous this week. Big if.
37. Branden Grace (+8000). Has finished T-6 or better at each of the other three majors in the past two years.
38. Tyrrell Hatton (+6600). Plays with a chip on his shoulder, which can be beneficial or harmful, depending on the moment.
39. Kyle Stanley (+18,000). Solid ball-striker who could be a nice “Group D” selection in those pick ’em pools.
40. Jimmy Walker (+14,000). Finally feeling better after Lyme Disease, his game is starting to come around, as well.
41. Hao-Tong Li (+17,500). Give it a few years. The kid who finished T-3 at The Open last year is going to be a stud.
42. Vijay Singh (+50,000). An old-timer always goes low Thursday. The smart money should be on this recent Champions Tour winner.
43. Francesco Molinari (+15,000). Won’t wow anyone with his game, but slow and steady has been known to win a race.
44. Charl Schwartzel (+9000). This past champion hasn’t looked much better than average so far this year.
45. Webb Simpson (+12,500). Inside top-30 for scoring average in each round this season; sixth for overall average.
46. Adam Hadwin (+11,500). Four consecutive finishes of 17th or better over the past two months proves he’s in form.
47. Cameron Smith (+12,500). Lauded for owning one of the world’s best short games, he’ll need to show it off this week.
48. Thomas Pieters (+6600). Owns plenty of offensive firepower, but is known to put up some crooked numbers, too.
49. Kiradech Aphibarnrat (+10,000). Was T-15 in only Masters start and could put up a sneaky low score come Thursday.
50. Daniel Berger (+9000). Finished T-10 in his maiden Masters two years ago, but it remains his lone major top-10.
51. Russell Henley (+12,500). One year ago, he followed a win in Houston with a T-13 here directly afterward.
52. Matthew Fitzpatrick (+11,000). Tons of talent, but three MC and no top-25s in his last five starts is unnerving.
53. Kevin Chappell (+10,000). Would be higher on this list if he wasn’t dealing with a lingering back injury.
54. Gary Woodland (+11,500). Finally won again in Phoenix, but his results have lacked much spark ever since.
55. Joaquin Niemann (+50,000). Playing one last event before turning pro, he has a good chance to make the cut.
56. Bernd Wiesberger (+25,000). Hasn’t quite found it this year, dropping from 39th to 57th in the world ranking.
57. Pat Perez (+15,000). Still enjoying a late-career renaissance, remaining inside the world’s top-25.
58. Bernhard Langer (+45,000). He’s a senior circuit stalwart, but it remains to be seen if he can still do it on this stage.
59. Jhonattan Vegas (+31,500). Big hitter who’s looked a bit out of sorts since a T-20 at the WGC in Mexico.
60. Ross Fisher (+15,000). It’s been nearly a decade since his last (and only) top-10 at the Masters.
61. Fred Couples (+30,000). The consummate Augusta competitor, but no tourneys in almost three months doesn’t bode well.
62. Austin Cook (+25,000). Young guy with a bright future, he should earn some valuable experience this week.
63. Patton Kizzire (+17,500). If it’s possible to “quietly” win twice in one season, then Kizzire’s done it.
64. Shubhankar Sharma (+15,000). The darling of the WGC in Mexico, he’ll be enjoying this year’s only special exemption.
65. Billy Horschel (+25,000). Four straight MCs finally gave way to a T-54 at Bay Hill three weeks ago.
66. Doug Ghim (+100,000). Reigning U.S. Amateur finalist has proven he’s got plenty of game on the college level.
67. Chez Reavie (+175,000). Timing is everything, right? He was playing his best golf on the West Coast a few months ago.
68. Martin Kaymer (+16,500). Once changed his game to compete at Augusta. It didn’t work. Now dealing with an injury.
69. Si Woo Kim (+21,500). Proved at The Players that he can beat anyone, but he’s also proven he can lose to ’em, too.
70. Wesley Bryan (+30,000). Local boy from across the South Carolina border should have plenty of fan support this week.
71. Angel Cabrera (+30,000). Used to be able to simply show up and contend, but those days might finally be over.
72. Larry Mize (+250,000). With finishes of 52nd place in each of the last two Masters, he’s looking to go for the three-peat.
73. Satoshi Kodaira (+50,000). The world’s 48th-ranked player owns a pair of runner-up finishes on the Japan Tour this year.
74. Ted Potter, Jr. (+40,000). He’s followed his improbable win at Pebble Beach with four consecutive MCs entering this week.
75. Danny Willett (+30,000). At his current rate, that win over Spieth could forever have “Yang beats Woods” connotations.
76. Mike Weir (+250,000). Good news: Made the recent cut at the opposite event in Punta Cana. Bad news: Finished T-73.
77. Doc Redman (+75,000). Winner of last year’s U.S. Amateur made the cut with the big boys at Bay Hill recently.
78. Yuta Ikeda (+50,000). Hasn’t finished top-10 anywhere in the world in his past 11 starts.
79. Trevor Immelman (+100,000). He’s lost his game, but it’s a gain for TV viewers as he’s blooming into a fine analyst.
80. Mark O’Meara (+250,000). His T-22 at he Masters three years ago remains his lone made cut here since 2005.
81. Yusaku Miyazato (+50,000). Hasn’t fared well playing in each of the past two WGC events recently.
82. Harry Ellis (+100,000). Only the third player ever to win both the British Amateur and the English Amateur.
83. Jose Maria Olazabal (+200,000). Crazy to think the age difference between Ollie and Phil is the same as Phil and Tiger.
84. Sandy Lyle (+250,000). Now 60 years old, he’s finished between 24th and 48th in three senior tour starts this year.
85. Ian Woosnam (+250,000). It’s been 10 years since his last made cut at Augusta – and 18 since the one before that.
86. Yuxin Lin (+150,000). Won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship by three strokes to gain a spot in this field.
87. Matt Parziale (+200,000). Last on this list might be the best story of the week, a full-time firefighter in the Boston area.