AUGUSTA, Ga. – Twenty-four hours ago, with the wind howling and no one charging, this Masters was in danger of becoming a slog-fest between Charley Hoffman and Will McGirt. What a difference a day makes. Here, ranked in order of juiciness, are the 10 best possible outcomes come Sunday evening. (The numbers in parentheses denote the players’ scores after 36 holes.)
10. Thomas Pieters (-4, co-leader) becomes the first Masters rookie to win since…
…all together now: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979! But Pieters is greener than the Augusta National grass. The first time he saw the course was Monday, and he played just 36 practice holes before pegging it on Thursday. Not that he seems in the least bit overwhelmed. That nugget about a first-timer not having won here in almost four decades? “It’s just a stat,” Pieters woofed.
9. Jon Rahm (-1, three back) becomes the first Masters rookie to win since…
…all together now: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979! The powerful Spaniard came into this week oozing confidence after going toe-to-toe with DJ in the WGC-Match Play final two weeks ago. Vegas liked his chances, too (Rahm’s odds of winning his week were trumped only by Johnson’s, Jordan Spieth’s and Rory McIlroy’s). Rahm will win a green jacket. It’s just a matter of when.
8. Rory McIlroy (+1, five back) charges back to win the career grand slam
If this is the week McIlroy vanquishes his Augusta demons and claims a green coat, he’ll have to do it in dramatic fashion, storming back from a five-shot deficit. He has the firepower to do it, but does he have enough holes left?
7. Jordan Spieth (E, four back) wins after making a 9 in the first round
No Masters winner has prevailed with anything higher than a 7 on one of his cards. Spieth carded a quadruple-bogey 9 on the 15th hole on Thursday. Lordy, if he can bounce back from that…
6. Lee Westwood (+3, seven back) snaps his 0-for-73 major drought
0-for-73! One problem: If Westwood is to snap the streak this week, he’ll need to come from a touchdown back to do it. On to Erin Hills, Westy!
5. Rickie Fowler (-4, co-leader) wins Masters, social media exalts
Fowler (0-for-28 in the majors) is not desperate for a major win to the degree that Westwood is, but a win this would week would elevate his status in a big way; it also might break Twitter. Rickie in a green jacket would be the coolest thing since James Dean in a leather jacket.
4. Phil Mickleson (E, four back) pulls a Jack Nicklaus
The 46-year-old has far more game than Nicklaus did at 46 (recall his duel with Henrik Stenson last summer), so if Phil were to claim his fourth jacket this week, it would not feel nearly as momentous as Jack’s win in 1986. Still, Mickelson hasn’t won in nearly four years. The pines around here would continue to rattle until June if Phil could mount a charge and win this thing.
3. Sergio Garcia (-4, co-leader) defeats fate, wins a major
It was five years ago at this tournament that Garcia uttered these immortal words: “If I felt like I could win, I would do it. Unfortunately at the moment, unless I get really lucky in one of the weeks, I can’t really play much better than I played this week. And I’m going to finish 13th or 15th. What does that show you?'” That appeared to be the final nail in the coffin of Garcia’s major chances. Hell, if he didn’t believe he could win one, how could anyone else? And yet here we are again – at halftime of this 81st Masters – believing that maybe 2017 Sergio is a new Sergio.
2. Stewart Hagestad (+3, seven back) becomes the first amateur to win the Masters since…
No one! Nope, it’s never happened. It won’t happen this week, either, but, man, has this kid been impressive: 74-73 in these conditions? Stout stuff.
1. Fred Couples (-1, three back) does the unthinkable
Oh, Freddie, how you tease us so. Just as the azaleas bloom each spring, so too, it seems, does Couples when he wheels down Magnolia Lane. In 14 of his 32 Masters starts, he has been in the top 10 after 36 holes; amazingly, six of those occasions came after he turned 50. His chances this weekend hinge on two questions: the state of his back (solid, he says) and the state of his putter over nervy putts on what will be firm, fiery greens (stay tuned). A Couples win would be staggering, more astonishing even that what Tom Watson oh-so-nearly achieved at 59 years old at Turnberry in 2009. Nine players in the field weren’t born when Couples won his only green jacket back in 1992 – including Couples’s third round playing partner Jon Rahm. Vamos, Freddie!