Rozner: How to pick a winner at the Masters

  • Jon Rahm, here driving on No. 7 at the March 27 Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas, is a solid choice to be wearing the green jacket Sunday.

    Jon Rahm, here driving on No. 7 at the March 27 Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas, is a solid choice to be wearing the green jacket Sunday. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 4/5/2021 1:32 PM

There are only a few people on the planet who truly understand how to safely make their way around Augusta National.

Well, safe is a relative term. It's really about avoiding disaster.

 

One of those people is Jack Nicklaus, but he's 81. Another is Tiger Woods, and he's currently indisposed. There's Ben Crenshaw. He's 69.

Crenshaw gave the playbook -- literally -- to Jordan Spieth, who has a Masters win, two seconds, a third and should have won back-to-back, but up 5 at the turn in 2016, he followed a pair of bogeys by hitting 2 in the water at No. 12.

Good night.

The three-time major champ had been wandering in the desert for four years -- after losing his swing while chasing distance -- but he won Sunday in San Antonio after trending the last two months and now has to be taken seriously this week.

Spieth was 50-1 to win the Masters on Feb. 6 -- I tweeted that number while he was putting up a 61 in the third round in Scottsdale -- and the odds have been crashing over the last few weeks, settling at 10-1 and the third betting choice behind Dustin Johnson (8-1) and Bryson DeChambeau (9-1).

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There's no more likable guy on the PGA Tour than Spieth, but even though his wedge game and wild escapes are starting to look magical again, he will have to show more consistency, tee to green, before he garners a pick here.

As for DeChambeau, his best finish is 21st as the low amateur in 2016. Fairways matter at Augusta and missing to the correct side of the green is crucial. Bomb-and-gouge is not the answer, but the reigning U.S. Open champ is not going to change his philosophy.

Last year, DeChambeau had 2 doubles and a triple while finishing 34th. Big numbers are easy to find and will take you out of it quickly if you don't respect the golf course.

Collin Morikawa (28-1) has an approach game as good as anyone in golf today. He will be a serious Masters threat once he has more experience on the course, as is the case for Will Zalatoris (80-1). Between them they have one start at Augusta.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The time is soon arriving for Patrick Cantlay (20-1), but I'm not feeling it this time around.

When choosing a winner here, you always want to start inside the Top 15 in the world rankings, inside the Top 15 in strokes-gained approach and generally thinking in terms of the five most physically talented players in golf.

That's Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm. When any one of them is at their best, it's game over.

No reason not to pick Johnson, except it's a different course than the one he took apart last November. It may not be as soft or forgiving. And it's been 20 years since Woods went back-to-back, 30 years since Nick Faldo did it and 55 years since Nicklaus.

They are the only repeat winners at Augusta.

Koepka (25-1) was going to be the pick up until his knee surgery three weeks ago. He was rounding into form, looked healthy and very dangerous before another setback. Beware, however, the injured golfer.

McIlroy (16-1) is a mess. He has lost his way while chasing the DeChambeau clubhead speed. It's painful to watch.

Thomas (11-1) was brilliant at The Players Championship, coming from behind on Sunday and reminding everyone that unless Woods is healthy, Thomas is the best iron player in the world. He's capable of going low at any time.

Thomas is back in the form that produced his 2017 PGA Championship win. He finished fourth last year at the Masters and 8 shots behind Johnson, but tougher conditions would give Thomas a better shot.

What's troublesome is how he plays from the top. He blew a 3-shot lead with 3 to play at Workday last summer and lost to Morikawa in a playoff. He's had some questionable Sundays with a chance to win. If not for that, Thomas' iron play would be the deciding factor, and he's a beast when chasing.

That leaves us with Rahm (11-1), who was right there with Johnson in the third round last year until a mud ball and an awful 3-wood on the par-5 eighth led to a double. He gave up 7 shots to Johnson on Saturday alone after being tied, ultimately finishing T-7 and 10 shots back.

In 4 starts, Rahm has three Top 10s and he's ready to win a major after being home for the birth of his first child Saturday.

Plenty of players make sense, like Cam Smith (40-1), Scottie Scheffler (45-1), Viktor Hovland (33-1), Patrick Reed (33-1), Tyrrell Hatton (45-1), Paul Casey (33-1) and especially Daniel Berger (33-1).

But the exercise here is to pick one player, so the selection is 26-year-old Spaniard Jon Rahm, the former World No. 1 and a new dad, riding the high of fatherhood and after winning the two most difficult tournaments of 2020.

He's not afraid, he's tough as nails and he's ready for his first major championship.

A baby and a major championship. That would be some terrific story.

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