Masters 2017 preview: Dustin Johnson enters Augusta on top of game in quest for first green jacket

By Alec Brzezinski 4 April 2017
Masters 2017 preview: Dustin Johnson enters Augusta on top of game in quest for first green jacket

The most anticipated week of golf has finally arrived.

Whether you are a fan of golf, or just tune in for the Masters, this week offers a chance to celebrate one of the most cherished traditions in sports.

Augusta National, a 7,435-yard par 72, has become arguably the most iconic sporting venue in America with famed Magnolia Lane guarding Butler Cabin, and blooming azaleas painting the fairways.

Usual suspects Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy appear to be the men to beat this week, but there are a host of challengers ready slip on a green jacket should they falter.

To some, the event took a bit of a hit Friday when Tiger Woods announced he would not be playing for the second consecutive Masters. More have moved on from the Woods-dominated PGA Tour and are ready to crown a new champion.

Danny Willett surprised everyone and won his first green jacket on just his second try last year after Spieth suffered through an epic collapse.

Willett is back in the field this week, but his current form has been poor.

Here are this week's top golfers:

Jordan Spieth (world ranking: 6) — The rankings may say six, but it's hard to find five players more likely to win this week. With a win and a t-2 in his last two starts here, Spieth has mastered Augusta at a very young age. Ranked third on Tour in greens in regulation percentage, Spieth is certainly a threat to don his second green jacket.

Dustin Johnson (1) — Leads the Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, total strokes gained, driving distance and greens in regulation percentage. It's not a mystery why he's won his last three starts and now has a commanding hold on the No. 1 spot in the world ranking. Still without a green jacket, this could be Johnson's year.

Rory McIlroy (2) — We haven't seen much of McIlroy this year (just four starts worldwide) due to a rib injury, yet that shouldn't stop the Northern Irishman from contending this week. Still in search of a career grand slam, McIlroy will have to exorcize his demons from a 2011 collapse.

Phil Mickelson (18) — Too old, external distractions in the form of ongoing legal affairs, struggles in Houston last week (T-55). Those are all valid concerns regarding Mickelson heading into the week. Throw them all out. Mickelson is a different animal at Augusta. With three wins and eight other top-five finishes at this course, it's safe to say Mickelson is always a threat at the Masters.

Hideki Matsuyama (4) — Not to put any pressure on Matsuyama, but he is playing with the entire weight of Japan on his shoulders this week. The country is still in search of its first green jacket, and Matsuyama presents its best opportunity to win one.

Justin Rose (14) — Sliding under the radar this week, Rose heads to Augusta with three top-four finishes already this year. He has also finished in the top 15 his last two starts, including a t-15 last week in Houston. Putting can be a question mark for Rose, but his ball-striking is as consistent as anyone on Tour.

Rickie Fowler (8) — Few enter the Masters in better form than Fowler. The orange-clad star has not finished outside the top 16 since a missed cut in early February. Since then, he has amassed a win (Honda Classic) and two other top-four finishes. Last year's missed cut here seems like a fluke, considering he finished in the top 12 in his two previous attempts.

Adam Scott (9) — Any semblance of hype surrounding the 2013 Masters champ was washed away when he missed the cut last week in Houston after a lengthy layoff. Scott has 17 top-20 finishes since his two wins last year, but he has failed to contend in majors recently. Putting, as always, will make or break his week.

Sergio Garcia (11) — It's hard to believe Garcia is 37 years old and still without a major championship. It goes to show how difficult they are to win. While Garcia's problems are mainly mental, Augusta hasn't been his favorite course with just one top-five finish in 18 attempts.

Jon Rahm (12) — Rahm's meteoric rise up the world rankings pits him in the same category as other young stars. Rahm, though just 22 years old, has one of the best sort games on Tour. Despite a short swing, he can keep up with most of the game's long hitters. This is his first Masters appearance.

Brandt Snedeker (22) — Snedeker is exactly the type of player who could slip on a green jacket while flying under the radar. After performing admirably at the Ryder Cup, Snedeker has compiled three top 10s on Tour this year. He has five top-19 finishes at Augusta, including a t-3 in 2008 and a t-10 last year.

Tyrrell Hatton (15) — The 25-year-old Englishman has proven himself on both the European and PGA Tours over the last 18 months. Hatton, who gained temporary membership on the PGA Tour this season, has not finished outside the top 25 in a start since September. He has played in 12 tournaments during that stretch.

Others to watch:

Paul Casey, Justin Thomas, Louis Oosthuizen, Marc Leishman, Russell Henley, Bubba Watson, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Henrik Stenson

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Alec Brzezinski

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