This year’s Masters is a tough one to predict. Legit cases can be made for double-digit players, and nasty winds are forecasted for the weekend. We polled our staff to attempt to do the impossible: pick what player will slip on a green jacket on Sunday, along with a dark horse who could disrupt the top of the leaderboard. Leave your picks in the comments below or tweet us at @golf_com.
Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, SI Golf Group: I’m going with Bubba on the hunch that – at Augusta – his best is still better than anyone else’s. In a recent interview, Watson spoke about the anxieties he feels inside the ropes, but this course is his happy place. Arnold Palmer won his four Masters in consecutive even-numbered years (1958-64) and I think Bubba will get three-quarters of the way there on Sunday.
Josh Sens, contributor, GOLF.com: Phil Mickelson. Augusta National to Mickelson is like smelling salts to a prize fighter: one whiff clears his head and springs him back to life. And this year, he doesn’t even need reviving. Phil is heading into his favorite tournament looking sharper than he has in a long while. When you consider that last year, mid-slump, he finished second in the Masters, it’s not hard to picture him walking off with his fourth green jacket.
Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine: Jason Day. Nearly every player in the OWGR Top 15 has done something noteworthy this year leading up to the Masters. Only one, however, currently offers the complete package: Incredible length, remarkable scrambling abilities, solid track record at the Masters, hot as he can be with wins in his past two events and no mental baggage from a recent poor performance or from a head-scratching final-round meltdown. He won the last major of 2015 and will win the first of 2016.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Louis Oosthuizen. I can’t think of a swing that repeats more reliably (or looks more beautiful). He’s been playing well. He’s been right there. He has an impressive playoff beard. King Louie in a playoff, over Charl.
Alan Bastable, executive editor, GOLF.com: Bubba is coming in a little bit under the radar. That might alleviate some of the pressure, even though he’s won two of the last four years. All of the attention is on Day, McIlroy and Spieth. Somehow we’ve forgotten about the guy who’s had the most success here over the last four years. As is true for longer hitters, the par-5s play as par-4s, so as long as the weather doesn’t get too nasty and the wind doesn’t kick up, it gives Bubba such an advantage over the field. And he’s sick. Beware of the sick golfer?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Phil Mickelson: Frankly, I thought Phil’s best days were gone but the surge of the young guys apparently was the kick in the rear he needed to get back to work. Phil’s putting and short game and overall wedge play looks better than it has in five years and Augusta is the place where his experience gives him an edge. I am impressed by the 2016 edition of Phil.
Sean Zak, assistant editor, GOLF.com: Jordan Spieth. There’s one player that has zero scar tissue at this place. His few years of experience have been as memorable as any, and he’s back to have more fun in 2016. He’s one of the best green readers in the world, and he’ll use that to victorious form again this week.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine: I’ve bounced around and around on this. I’ve picked Phil. I might have picked Rory. I think I picked Ian Woosnam. I’m thinking too hard. Jason Day wins this thing if he’s healthy. Best player. Best putter. And supremely confident.
Jessica Marksbury, associate editor, GOLF Magazine: I’m going with Jason Day to win. I know that seems like an obvious pick, but he’s obviously playing really well right now! His March momentum, built on consecutive wins, is reminiscent of Spieth’s epic run last year in the weeks preceding the Masters (a win at the Valspar, 2nd at the Valero Texas Open, and 2nd at the Shell Houston Open), which led to his first green jacket. Not to mention Day’s close calls at Augusta in 2011 and 2013. He now has the confidence and poise to get it done this year.
Josh Berhow, staff producer, GOLF.com: Rory McIlroy. If it wasn’t for me wondering about Bubba Watson’s back I would pick him, so McIlroy is my guy. I like the fact that he’s skipping the Par-3 Contest to focus on what he thinks is best for him — although the fans might disagree — and I think he completes the career grand slam on Sunday, sparking yet another debate over the true leader of the Big 3.
SENS: Hideki Matsuyama. Can the 14th ranked player in the world really be considered a sleeper? Maybe not, but still. In all the constant jabber about golf’s young guns, Matsuyama, who just turned 24, gets minimal mention. He’s playing in the shadow of bigger names. But he’s made the cut in 12 of his 13 major appearances, and last year he finished fifth at Augusta, in a tournament with a famously steep learning curve. Mastuyama has a deft short game and she’s shown plenty of composure under pressure, so a win wouldn’t come as an outright shock to people who’ve been watching him closely. But he’s hardly a mainstream pick. Witness Vegas, which has him at 45 to 1.
BASTABLE: I’ll go with Danny Willett. Growing up in the British Isles, I imagine he’s a good wind player with much experience in tough conditions. I think that bodes well for him this weekend with the current forecast. After a T6 at St. Andrews in last year’s British Open, he’s proven he can compete on the big stage.
MARKSBURY: My dark horse is Bryson DeChambeau. I just love his whole aura! He’s a student of the game and has already proven he can hang with the pros as an amateur over the last six months. If Jordan Spieth could come close to winning as a first-timer in 2014, why not Bryson?
RITTER: DeChambeau is a good pick to make the cut and spend a few extra nights in the Crow’s Nest. But he’s not going to win. My dark horse could win. Louis Oosthuizen. He’s not being discussed nearly enough for how well he fits this course and how great his chances are this week. You could make a case that he’s one Bubba Watson trick shot away from having his own green jacket. This week he has a chance to get one for real.
ZAK: Rafa Cabrera-Bello as a dark horse because he’s played some great behind-the-scenes golf this year. T11 at WGC Cadillac, beat Rory in the Match Play semis and shot a final round 65 to finish 4th at Shell Houston. This after multiple top 5 finishes on the euro Tour earlier this year. Quite possibly the hottest golfer to not win an event in 2016.
MORFIT: My dark horse, if you can call him that, is the easily forgotten but still spectacular Louis Oosthuizen.
VAN SICKLE: Dark Horse: Bryson DeChambeau. He’s got all the tools, plus a unique approach to the game, and like Jordan Spieth, seems mature beyond his years. Bryson borrowed recent Masters videos from Jim Nantz so he could study the breaks on the greens. Now that’s a guy who wants to win.
BERHOW: I’ll take Branden Grace. He has struggled in his previous trips to Augusta but he’s already won one Masters this year — the Qatar Masters! — and has finished T4 or better in the last two majors. Huge talent.
PASSOV: Phil Mickelson/Hideki Matsuyama. If I’m allowed to pick a 45-year-old who hasn’t won anywhere since 2013, then I know Phil Mickelson will make me look good. As soon as Lefty sets foot on the Augusta National grounds, he raises his game. Then again, how can you call him a dark horse, if he already owns three Masters victories, an astounding nine top-3s, 11 top-5s and 14 top-10s. Plus, he’s posted three top-5s already this PGA Tour season. Yet, he’s ranked only No. 20 in the world. If my Phil pick doesn’t qualify for dark horse status, I’ll go with my usual pick: long-hitting Hideki Matsuyama, ranked No. 14 in the world. He won at Phoenix earlier this year, tied for sixth at Bay Hill and closed with a 66 to finish fifth at the 2015 Masters. He’s got major game.