Rahm’s Time, Goodwill Seeking Green, or Another Tiger Miracle – The Experts’ Picks

After two years of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, things are back to normal at Augusta National for this year’s highly anticipated Masters – although picking a winner is tougher than ever.

Dustin Johnson won the delayed 2020 event with a record score after being pushed back seven months from its usual location, while Hideki Matsuyama made history last year by becoming the first Japanese man to win a major.

Matsuyama’s triumph was memorable, albeit with only a limited number of clients in attendance in Georgia due to social distancing measures in place, although the preparation for his title defense was less than ideal as he continues to battle a back injury.

Golf’s elite can expect the return of spectators for the 86th edition of the most prestigious tournament of all – and if the excitement wasn’t already at its height, Augusta could also see the return of Tiger Woods, who has not played on the PGA Tour since November 2020 after being involved in a car accident.

But who exactly is in the best position to claim the green jacket in the first major of the year? Stats Perform’s team of experts tries to answer that question ahead of Thursday’s start.

RAHM TO ADD TO SUCCESS OPEN US – Daniel Lewis

Despite being usurped by Scottie Scheffler at the top of the Official World Golf Rankings after an admittedly slow start to the year, Jon Rahm remains the man to beat heading into the Masters. The 27-year-old has placed in the top four in every major tournament, while finishing in the top 10 in each of his last five appearances. After his success at the US Open in Torrey Pines 10 months ago, it’s time for Rahm to shine in Augusta.

SMITH IS BETTER THAN IN 2020 – Patric Ridge

Less than a month after his Players Championship triumph, world number six Cameron Smith looks set to continue and seal a first major triumph. The Aussie finished T2 at Augusta in 2020, albeit five shots behind Johnson. But he enters this tournament ranked higher than ever in his career, and the 28-year-old has won two of the five events he has entered this year. A T10 finish at last year’s Masters will have been a disappointment, but Smith has the tools and form to challenge this time around.

GOODWILL HUNTING THE GREEN JACKET – Peter Hanson

A year ago, you could be forgiven for not knowing much about Will Zalatoris. But the then 24-year-old finished just one stroke behind eventual winner Matsuyama, and his clean ball-striking will be a big advantage on a usually unforgiving Augusta course. Voted PGA Tour Rookie of the Year for 2021, Zalatoris has three top-10 finishes in 2022, including losing a play-off to Luke List at the Farmers Insurance Open. And how about this if you want more persuasion: Eight of the past 10 Masters champions were 1.7 or better strokes from tee to green in the three months leading up to the Masters. Zalatoris is one of eight players who meet these criteria ahead of the 2022 bracket.

DON’T DOUBT THOMAS, TURN JUSTIN OVER – John Skilbeck

Until his challenge faded away last year’s weekend, when he went from just three strokes back to finish tied for 21st, Justin Thomas was on a course that looked sure to lead. to the glory of the Masters. His record has shown year-over-year progress, going from a tie for 39th in 2016, to a tie for 22nd a year later, then to a tie for 17th in 2017, a tie for 12th in 2019 and fourth squarely in 2020. In the midst of that, he won the 2017 US PGA Championship, and Thomas is too good a player to sit on one major tournament for too long. He has the second-lowest scoring average this season on the PGA Tour, has three top-10 finishes in the past two months, and Augusta’s practice rounds with his good friend Tiger Woods have hardly could hinder his cause.

TIGER… JUST IMAGINE! – Russell Greaves

Lazarus was a one-trick pony, but if Woods were to win the Masters again, it would be the second true sporting miracle of his remarkable career. Woods’ 2019 triumph – his fifth at Augusta National – was his 15th major success, 11 years after the previous one. He became the third golfer over 40 to win a major tournament on American soil, joining Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson. Now 46 and out of competition since 2020 following his car crash, a win here would surpass anything Woods has ever achieved. He needs one more to match Jack Nicklaus’ six Masters titles, but would be putting a proud record on the line if he chooses to compete, as Woods has made the cut in each of his 21 appearances at this event.

Helen L. Cuellar