The last five major events all crowned first-time major champs, a trend that could continue this month. A lot of talented pros are poised (or overdue) for a big breakthrough. Here are nine guys to watch.
Outside of an ugly Thursday back nine last year (44), Fowler has always played well at Augusta. The 28-year-old had made the cut in his prior five Masters, with top-15 finishes in 2014 and ’15. Let’s call last year an aberration. Rickie’s calm disposition and solid all-around game should once again bode well.
Kooch’s plodding style isn’t flashy, but it keeps him out of trouble, and Augusta is famous for turning bogeys into triples. At 38, the Florida native knows his way around the National, finishing in the top 8 from 2012 through ’14, and making the cut seven straight years (although he hasn’t won on Tour since 2014).
Though the new Belgian Bomber (Nicolas Colsaerts, anyone?) is a Masters rookie, he’s also a proven performer in new settings. A three-time winner in Europe, Pieters, 25, finished just one spot off the podium at the Rio Olympics, and he went on to win four points as a Ryder Cup rookie at Hazeltine National.
The Spaniard has spent eons among the “best players never to win a major.” Now 37, he refuses to fade away. Serge missed just two cuts worldwide in 2016 and showed he still has title-winning chops by going wire-to-wire to capture the ’17 Dubai Desert Classic.
The Japanese star has found another gear. A torrid early-season stretch saw Matsuyama, 25, win four times (and finish second twice) in six starts, before winning his second straight Waste Management Phoenix Open. A merely above-average putting week might win the jacket.
In January, moments after breaking the Tour’s 72-hole scoring record at the Sony Open, Thomas, 23, let the world know where his mind was: “I’m so excited for the Masters.” Can you blame him? He’d just swept the two Hawaii events, and in hugely impressive fashion.
Koepka’s length vaulted him into the world’s top-15. Like his fellow young bombers, the 26-year-old can reach every Augusta par 5 in two, which helped him make the cut in his first two Masters starts. That power should put him in the mix—if he can also summon the finesse the course demands.
The Masters should reveal if Noren belongs among the game’s elite. The 34-year-old Swede won four times on the Euro Tour in 2016, doubling his career total, vaulting him into the top 10 in the world and earning him his first Masters invite. Still, he failed to crack the top 40 in his two major starts in 2016.
One forgets that amid Jordan Spieth’s collapse and Danny Willett’s charge, Lee Westwood tied for second in 2016. The 43-year-old still has plenty of game for Augusta, as evidenced by top-10s in five of the last seven Masters— not to mention his dramatic eagle on 15 in last year’s final round.