Monday, 21 March 2016

The Masters 2016 - Making the Shortlist, Part1

The eagerly awaited first Major of the year is almost upon us, as the World's best golfers go in search of a coveted green jacket the first weekend in April. Horton Smith (left)  was the inaugural winner of The Masters, and in 1949 along with the first recipient of the Green Jacket, Sam Snead, he was presented with his green jacket for his wins in 1934 & 1936. (The jacket was later auctioned in 2013 for a record €682,000). Jack Nicklaus has won the most jackets with six victories, the last of which came in 1986 at the age of 46 years. Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods have won four whilst Gary Player, Nick Faldo and Sam Snead have three. Since the first Masters in 1934, only five golfers have won the "Grand Slam" (Masters, US Open, The Open & PGA Championship) ; Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Whilst the "Slam" has eluded some of the game's greats, (Trevino, Watson, Nelson and most recently Mickelson) all eyes will be on Rory McIlroy again as he attempts to join this elusive club. Widely regarded as a Masters Champion in waiting, McIlroy will face stiff competition in 3 weeks time in the shape of defending and World Number One , Jordan Spieth, in-form PGA Champion, Jason Day, in-form former Masters champion, Adam Scott and of course twice Masters Champion and winner of the recent Northern Trust Open, Bubba Watson as he attempts to complete the "Slam" by winning The Masters. Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson will be looking to win their first Majors and it's not beyond the possibility that they could do so here.

It will be a limited, invitational field of ~90 players that will descend on Magnolia Lane and from the invitations, it's fair to say that we can eliminate a number of those immediately from the possible winners list. Former champions are entitled to return each year, don their Green Jacket and attend the traditional Champions Dinner, and contest the Par-3 contest and Masters Tournament. It must be a great honour to do that each year, year in year out without really having a chance to win another. As time goes by, the older players would normally be first to be scratched off the list. I've hovered over the delete button on my database over players like Berhard Langer, Freddie Couples and Vijay Singh as these players continue to surprise and put in solid Masters performances. They have survived the first cull from my shortlist this year again too. Not such good news for Sandy Lyle, Mike Weir, Larry Mize, Mark O'Meara, and Ian Woosnam. Sadly, twice winner, Jose Maria Olazabal will not tee it up this year due to ill health. Some of the other "oldies" that we can start to eliminate are Davis Love, Darren Clarke, and Tom Watson and it would be highly unlikely that 45 year old Thongchai Jaidee should win his first Major here too.

Debutantes don't normally win at Augusta either, indeed we have to go back to Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 for when that was last achieved, but records are there to be broken and we may have a real contender in the shape of Bryson Dechambeau who turns pro after he makes his Masters bid as an amateur. I make him one of eighteen debutantes this year, but he's not alone in avoiding the first cull. The other debutantes that I've left in the filter are Justin Thomas, Kevin Kisner and Troy Merritt.

Completing my first cull for the 2016 Masters is Sang-Moon Bae who unfortunately is back in Korea completing Military Service.

The final field will not be finalized until after the Houston Open, so those hovering around the World's TOP50 at present are fighting to gain that invite and will do so in the WGC Match Play and Houston Open. Its unlikely that other Tour winners between now and Sunday 3rd April, not already qualified will make the starting line-up.

As I won't be getting involved in the WGC Match Play this week nor the Puerto Rico Open (PGA Tour), I hope to filter down the shortlist in plenty of time before the Masters tees off April 7th. I've backed three players already in Adam Scott @ 33/1(now 14s), Justin Rose @ 30/1 and Mark Leishman @ 100/1. As I write now, I fancy the chances of Scott, Bubba and Day the most. I don't dismiss the chances of Jordan and Rory lightly !

My initial cull for the 2016 Masters is below ; 26 players eliminated as potential winners.

Who will be next for the chop ?

1. Andy Sullivan
2. Russell Knox
3. David Lingmerth
4. Emiliano Grillo
5. Smylie Kaufman
6. Kiradech Aphibarnrat
7. Fabian Gomez
8. Jin Cheng
9. Romain Langasque
10. Cameron Smith
11. Daniel Berger
12. Derek Bard
13. Paul Chaplet
14. Sam Schmitz
15. Jim Furyk
16. Sang-Moon Bae
17. Steven Bowditch
18. David Love III
19. Darren Clarke
20. Mike Weir
21. Mark O'Meara
22. Tom Watson
23. Sandy Lyle
24. Larry Mize
25. Ian Woosnam
26. Jose Maria Olazabal