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Monday, 15 October, 2018

Magic Rory McIlroy hunting career Grand Slam

Steve Palmer's lowdown on every player in the Augusta National field

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy
1 of 1

Sandy Lyle The 60-year-old Scot won the Masters in 1988, but has missed the cut at Augusta 18 times since and is merely making up the numbers.

Hideki Matsuyama The finest player Japan has ever produced is a five-time US Tour champion at the age of 26 and 12 of his last 19 Major appearances have yielded top-20 finishes. He spurned a golden chance to win the USPGA last year, though, and feels immense pressure to become the first player from his country to win a Major.


Steve Palmer's verdict

Jeremy Chapman's verdict


Rory McIlroy The little master reminded the world just how magnificent his A-game is when romping to victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month, putting better than ever. It was his first win as a married man and his first since splitting with long-time caddie JP Fitzgerald. The Masters is the final piece of the Grand Slam jigsaw for the four-time Major champ. He has finished in the top ten in the last four years and seems highly likely to be in the mix again on a layout which suits him extremely well.

Phil Mickelson The mercurial left-hander landed his first victory since the 2013 Open a month ago, beating Justin Thomas in a playoff for the WGC-Mexico Championship. Lefty has had a long love affair with Augusta, where he has won three times (2004, 2006, 2010) and notched eight additional top-five placings. Has the 47-year-old got one last hurrah left in him? It is possible, but bookmakers are giving nothing away at the prices.

Yusaku Miyazato The 37-year-old, like so many of his compatriots, is a prolific champion on the Japan Tour, where he has won seven times, but just making up the numbers in elite overseas competition.

Larry Mize The Georgia man turns 60 in September, still dining out on his 1987 Masters victory. Has made three of the last four Masters cuts, but missed four in a row prior to that.

Francesco Molinari The short but accurate Italian is not well suited to the demands of Augusta, which is reflected in his humdrum Masters form of 30-MC-19-MC-50-33.

Ryan Moore The 35-year-old has claimed five low-grade US Tour victories, but has always been outclassed in Major competition, never bettering ninth place in 38 starts.

Joaquin Niemann The hotshot from Chile is the best amateur in the world. He delayed his switch to the pro ranks so he could take his Masters place, the Augusta invitation coming after victory in the Latin America Amateur Championship in January.

Joaquin Niemann ready to showcase his talent

Alex Noren The Swede has made the transition from regular European Tour winner to contender for elite events across the pond. He lost a playoff for the Farmers Insurance Open in January, was third in the Honda Classic a month later, then third again in the WGC-Match Play last time out. His only Masters appearance resulted in a missed cut, though, and his natural fade fights against the shape of many of the holes.

Mark O'Meara The 1998 Masters champion is 61 and has missed the Masters cut in ten of his last 11 attempts. Another weekend off seems highly likely.

Jose Maria Olazabal The Spanish legend, a dual Masters champ, is only 52, but injuries have plagued the later stages of his career. Six of his last eight Augusta appearances have ended on Friday night.

Louis Oosthuizen The 2010 Open champion lost a playoff to Bubba Watson for the 2012 Masters, but the South African has missed four cuts and never bettered 15th in his other eight Augusta spins.

Matt Parziale The fireman from Brockton was the shock winner of the US Mid Amateur Championship in October, earning a Masters spot in the process.

Pat Perez The Arizona man turned 40 and had shoulder surgery, appearing on the wane, but he quickly won the OHL Classic before going on to establish himself in the top 20 of the world rankings. He has failed to find top gear this year, though, and Masters results of 45-MC-18 are uninspiring.

Thomas Pieters The brilliant but inconsistent Belgian bomber finished fourth on his Masters debut last year, taking an immediate shine to the Cathedral of Pines, and the biggest stages seem to bring out the best in him. The Ryder Cup star could easily shrug off indifferent recent form by challenging for a Green Jacket.

Ted Potter The 34-year-old journeyman won a duel with Dustin Johnson for the Pebble Beach title in February. Has missed four cuts from five Major starts and is surely not good enough in this grade.

Ian Poulter The old warhorse came alive in Texas last week, winning a playoff for the Houston Open to book a last-gasp Masters spot. He is making 13th Augusta appearance and has three top-ten finishes.

Jon Rahm The Spanish youngster had a chance to become world number one this year, but he played poorly on weekends when in contention. A shock group-stage elimination from the WGC-Match Play last time out further dented confidence. He faded to 27th on his Masters debut last year and six Major starts have failed to yield a top-20 finish. A few more years of Augusta experience are probably required before he seriously threatens a Jacket.

Chez Reavie The accurate Kansas man is in the form of his life, losing a playoff for the Phoenix Open, then finishing second again in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Augusta is not a good fit for him, though, and three visits have resulted in three missed cuts.

Doc Redman The 20-year-old Carolinian won the US Amateur, having sneaked through to the matchplay element in 62nd place of 64 strokeplay qualifiers. Made the cut (finished 71st) at Bay Hill on his US Tour debut last week.

Patrick Reed The man known as Captain America for his Ryder Cup brilliance has slowly but surely become a Major contender, posting a top-20 finish in six of his last 11, finishing second in the USPGA in the last of them. He possesses all the tools to tame Augusta, with his natural shot-shape perfect for the track, and a sublime putting touch. Equipment issues were handicapping the 27-year-old Texan, but he got them sorted last month and has played great since. Second place at the Valspar Championship was followed by seventh at Bay Hill and a run to the knockout stages of the Match Play where he was defeated by a buzzing Alex Noren. Four Masters have amounted to precious little, but experience is in the locker and confidence is high for his fifth visit. He starred for Augusta University as a youngster.

Justin Rose Last year's runner-up, who has never missed a cut in 12 starts at Augusta, is a popular choice to go one better this time. The Englishman ended last year with ten consecutive top tens and has posted another three in six 2018 outings. He has been swinging superbly for months and has an obvious chance if he performs well on and around the greens.

Xander Schauffele The Tour Championship winner and Rookie of the Year has made rapid career strides in the last ten months, a streak which started with fifth place on his Major debut in the US Open. Two US Tour titles have followed. The 24-year-old is in solid if unspectacular form as he adjusts to new equipment, having switched from TaylorMade to Callaway, but still looks pick of the debutants.

Charl Schwartzel – The 2011 Masters champion was third last year to underline his affection for this venue. The South African, a textbook swinger, is typically in possession of long-game form, but struggles on the greens. He has shown nothing in recent weeks to suggest another bold bid for Augusta glory is imminent.

Adam Scott The Australian, Masters champ in 2013, talked a good game at the start of this year about how focused he was on the season ahead, but early signs indicate that the putting problems which so often waste his strong tee-to-green work are as serious as ever. He has slipped outside the world's top 50 and is difficult to trust until he solves his dancefloor demons.


Course guide

Player guide part one

The Masters quiz


Shubhankar Sharma The Indian youngster has made a meteoric rise from outside of the world's top 500 to WGC contender in the space of five months. He led the Mexico Championship for a long way, before fading to ninth place. He has won twice on the European Tour and leads the Race to Dubai. Making the cut will be his main ambition on his Masters debut.

Webb Simpson The 2012 US Open champion does not have a game suited to Augusta, underlined by form of 44-MC-MC-28-29-MC. He has been grinding a few decent results on the US Tour, but is easy to ignore for this.

Vijay Singh The willowy Fijian, Masters champion in 2000, works incredibly hard on his fitness, but is surely not a serious Jacket candidate at the age of 55. Has missed the cut in the last two years.

Cameron Smith The 24-year-old Aussie got his first individual victory as a pro in the Australian PGA in December and has forced his way into the world's top 50 with a series of solid performances. A rising star, but lacking Masters experience. Tied for 55th on his only visit.

Jordan Spieth The former world number one has finished second, first, second and 11th in his four Masters starts. The Open champion will be chasing a career Grand Slam at the USPGA in August. His putting standards have dipped this term, but his flat stick behaved well in a final-round 66 which claimed a share of third spot in Houston on Sunday. He has been swinging well enough to be a factor, but lacking consistency on the greens.

Kyle Stanley The greens-in-regulation machine has won twice on the US Tour, but his Majors record is abysmal, including a missed cut on his only visit to Augusta.

Brendan Steele The quiet Californian has won three low-grade US Tour events, but struggles to make an impact at elite level. Masters form of MC-27.

Henrik Stenson The 2016 Open champion has been lacking assurance this term, squandering a final-round lead at Bay Hill in meek fashion. He turns 42 this week with a terrible Masters record for a player of his stature - MC-17-17-38-MC-MC-40-18-14-19-24-MC.

Justin Thomas The FedEx Cup champion has become a more refined player and a prolific champion, winning six times since the start of last year. He has progressive Masters form (39-22) and found greens in regulation for fun 12 months ago only to be let down by poor putting. The little powerhouse is in superb form, is well suited to Augusta, and the USPGA champion must have every chance of back-to-back Major victories.


The return of Tiger Woods

Specials


Jhonattan Vegas The 33-year-old Venezuelan successfully defended his Canadian Open title last summer to book an Augusta berth, but is well short of top class. He missed the cut in every Major last year and two attempts to make the Masters cut both failed.

Jimmy Walker The 2016 USPGA champion has seen his form destroyed by illness since and he turns 40 in January in apparent decline. Solid Masters results of 8-38-29-18 give him a squeak, but there has been little recent evidence that he can still flourish at the highest level.

Bubba Watson The enigmatic left-hander, Masters champ in 2012 and 2014, has bounced back from illness, equipment issues and supposedly the verge of retirement to claim two quickfire US Tour titles, first at Riviera in the middle of February, then in the WGC-Match Play last time out. He had dropped to 117th in the world rankings before his Genesis Open triumph. Can he turn 40 in November as a three-time Masters champion? His other seven Augusta appearances have yielded a best finish of 20th.

Mike Weir The Canadian, Masters victor in 2003, has nothing to offer at 47. His last 11 Augusta starts have resulted in eight missed cuts and a best finish of 42nd.

Bernd Wiesberger The 32-year-old Austrian has worsening Augusta results (22-34-43) and humdrum 2018 form of 15-32-MC-MC-30-29.

Danny Willett The 2016 champion dramatically lost his form in the wake of Major glory, dropping from world number nine to 274th in two years. Unlikely to be in gainful employment on Saturday.

Gary Woodland The 33-year-old Kansas slugger landed the third US Tour title of his career with a playoff victory in the Phoenix Open in February. His form has dipped since, though, and he has missed three cuts from five attempts in the Masters.

Tiger Woods Arguably the greatest player of all time could hardly walk in May, shamed and arrested for drink-driving, but less than a year later he is back playing world-class golf and looking a potential champion again. Can he complete the fairytale by conjuring a fifth Masters title and a 15th Major triumph? The hunch is it is too early in the comeback for a Major victory and three years away from Augusta will have eroded his comfort level at the track. There would be no more popular champ, but there is no value in his odds as a result.

Ian Woosnam The Welshman, Masters champ in 1991, turned 60 last month and 15 of his last 16 Augusta appearances have resulted in missed cuts.


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He has finished in the top ten the last four years and seems highly likely to be in the mix again on a layout which suits him extremely well
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