Forward Press: Five guys who are ready to win a major... and five who aren't
Winning your first career major at Augusta National is not as rare as you might expect. Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes of the 2011 Masters to win his first major. Other recent icebreakers include Mike Weir, who won his first and only major at Augusta in 2003, as well as Zach Johnson in 2007 and Trevor Immelman in 2008. This should give hope to plenty of golfers, but to be honest some guys just aren't cut out to win a Masters.
Here is my list of five guys who I think have a real shot to win their first major at this year's Masters... and five who I won't be picking in our office pool.
Sir, I'll need your jacket size ...
Luke Donald (Best Masters Finish: 3rd, 2005)
Why he can win: No golfer has been more consistent over the past year than Donald, who won the money title on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour last season. He's got a killer short game, putts well, is one of the best iron players in the world and won last week at the Transitions Championship. Donald will be making his eighth-straight appearance at the Masters this season, so he won't be distracted by the surroundings or get caught up in the moment. He expects himself to be in contention on Sunday, as he was last year before finishing tied for fourth, and that's huge. To win a major, you've got to believe that you should win a major.
Lee Westwood (Best Masters Finish: 2nd, 2010)
Why he can win: This is a guy who could have won multiple majors already-Westwood has finished tied for third or better six times in major championships. The Englishman will be making Masters start No. 13 (it took Ben Crenshaw 13 tries before he won in 1984) and he's one of the best drivers of the golf ball in the world. Westy won't be intimidated if he's paired with a big name on the weekend, and, at age 38, he's in the best physical shape of his life after putting in some serious time at the gym during the offseason. Some say that he can't seal the deal at the majors, but I don't think his talent can be denied a major title much longer.
Hunter Mahan (Best Masters Finish: 8th, 2010)
Why he can win: With March Madness in full swing, everyone is thinking about brackets, so remember that Mahan is the guy who ran the table at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and beat Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar, Mark Wilson and Rory McIlroy along the way. Mahan should be brimming with confidence, and he's still in love with his new putter. The Texan hits a ton of fairways and greens, has been working hard on his short game and has won four PGA Tour events, including that World Golf Championship, so the next step in his development would be a major.
Justin Rose (Best Masters Finish: 5th, 2007)
Why he can win: The winner of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral is one of tour's leaders in Greens in Regulation and has above average power off the tee. Rose, a streaky putter, tied for fifth at the 2007 Masters and was the leader after the first round in 2008. Like Mahan, he's won four PGA Tour events including a World Golf Championship, so why not a major?
Nick Watney (Best Masters Finish: 7th, 2010)
Why he can win: Quiet and steady, Watney has played in four Masters and made the cut each time. He finished seventh in 2010 after shooting a Sunday 65, which was the lowest final-round score that year. Watney averaged almost 302 yards per drive last season and he gets it done on the greens too, ranking 12th in Strokes Gained Putting last season on the PGA Tour. Watney won last season at Doral, and Phil Mickelson's caddie Bones Mackay once said that "No one shoots 62 as often in practice rounds as Nick Watney." If he gets on a roll Thursday or Friday, Watney has got the firepower to win.
Sir, enjoy a pimento cheese sandwich before you leave ...
Dustin Johnson (Best Masters Finish: 30th, 2009)
Why he won't win: Power is a huge advantage at Augusta National because there is no rough and the par 5s are all reachable. For Johnson, that's the good news. But no matter how good you are with the driver, at some point you're going to need your putter, and for Johnson that's the bad news. Statistically he was one of the worst putters on the PGA Tour last season. Yes, Johnson has made the cut at each of his three previous Masters, but do you remember Sunday at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach or Sunday at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits? Johnson's opponents do.
Bubba Watson (Best Masters Finish: 20th, 2008)
Why he won't win: Like Johnson, Watson is 3 for 3 when it comes to making cuts at Augusta. Also like Johnson, Bubba's putter is holding him back. Watson ranked No. 120 in Strokes Gained Putting last season and has slipped to 144th this year. True, no one curves, cuts and draws the ball better than Bubba, but his Sunday scoring average at the Masters (when birdies and eagles are in the air) is a garish 74.66. As my Sports Illustrated colleague Seth Davis is fond of saying, "That's not how you get Capone."
Webb Simpson (Best Masters Finish: --)
Why he won't win: It's been 33 years since Fuzzy Zoeller won the Masters on his first visit to Augusta in 1979, and only two golfers have accomplished that feat: Horton Smith (who won the inaugural Masters in 1934) and Gene Sarazen (1935). This will only be Simpson's fourth career major championship-how is that possible for a guy who is ranked No. 7 in the world? Oddly, it's looking like last season's 296-yard driving distance average was an anomaly; in 2010 he averaged 285 and this season he's back to averaging about 287.
Sergio Garcia (Best Masters Finish: 4th, 2004)
Why he won't win: El Nino may have worked his way back to No. 21 in the Official World Golf Rankings, and he may have apologized for his 2009 remarks when he said that he didn't like the course and that it is too tricky, but the ghosts of Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones won't forgive Sergio. He can still hit fairways and greens, but deep down, do you really think that he believes that he's going to make putts on Sunday after missing that 8-footer at Carnoustie in 2007? Neither do I.
Mark Wilson (Best Masters Finish: 20th, 2008)
Why he won't win: Sure, he's won three times on the PGA Tour in the last 15 months (most recently at the Humana Challenge in January) and came in third at the WGC-Accenture Match Play in February, but Wilson will be firing a pea-shooter among the Georgia pines. He hits the ball straight as an arrow but ranks a lowly 163rd in Driving Distance. You've got to be longer than that to win a Masters.