Alright. Here we go.
We’re just a few hours away from teeing off the 79th Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.
The first major of the golf season promises excitement, intensity and drama; it always does.
As usual, the field is stacked with the highest-ranked players in the world and past champions, including Tiger Woods, who has returned from a self-imposed leave of absence.
Which pro has the physical game and the mental focus to outlast the 97 other players to don the green jacket Sunday evening?
Keep reading for some Masters stats, sleeper candidates and Heavy’s winner pick:
– Jack Nicklaus has the most victories with 6
– 47 of the first 78 tournaments have been won by 17 players
– There have been 4 wire-to-wire winners: Craig Wood, 1941; Arnold Palmer, 1960; Jack Nicklaus, 1972; Raymond Floyd, 1976
– There have been 4 back-to-back winners: Sam Snead in 1953 & 1954; Jack Nicklaus in 1965 & 1966; Nick Faldo in 1989 & 1990; Tiger Woods in 2001 & 2002
– Widest margin of victory: Tiger Woods, 12 strokes, 1997
– The biggest comeback: Jack Burke, 9 strokes in the final round, 1956
– 3 players have won on their first try: Horton Smith, 1934; Gene Sarazen, 1935; Fuzzy Zoeller 1979
– Youngest winner: Tiger Woods, 1997, 21 years 3 months 14 days
– Oldest winner: Jack Nicklaus, 1986 (6th victory), 46 years 2 months 23 days
– No amateur has ever won
Patrick Reed, age 24
Reed already has a win under his belt this year and hasn’t finished outside the Top 25 in his past 4 events. The former Augusta State star (yeah, THAT Augusta State) missed the cut last year, but he’s been lights out in greens hit and putting. Huge needs.
Jason Day, age 27
He probably isn’t exactly a sleeper, but nobody ever talks about Jason Day, so he qualifies. His last 4 Masters: T2, WD, 3, T20. The Australian is a cool character, much like fellow countryman Adam Scott, and that’s also important at Augusta. Don’t be surprised if Day sees the light again and is there when the tournament is on the line.
Sergio Garcia, age 35
Can Garcia be considered a sleeper? Of course he can; he’s never won a major. The always-seemingly underachieving Garcia missed the cut a year ago, but finished T8 (2013) and T12 (2012). Sergio isn’t even playing that well at the moment. But that’s what happens at the Masters, there’s always someone in contention who shouldn’t be. Garcia is that guy this year.
Stephen Gallacher, age 40
Stephen Gallacher had a T34 in his first Masters appearance in 2014. He doesn’t play much stateside, but his game has improved as he’s gotten older, as evidenced by his No. 38 world ranking. Gallacher isn’t a household name, but he’s a bit underrated coming into Augusta.
Joost Luiten, age 29
And now for the guy nobody has really heard of. The young man from Netherlands is coming off a T26 in his only Masters appearance. He missed the cut last week at the Shell Houston Open, but he has a few things going for him: he’s better-than-average in total driving and he’s good at getting to the green and putting. Will Luiten win? No. But he’ll surprise.
Winning back-to-back Masters is no easy feat. Winning 3 in 4 years is even harder. If Bubba Watson wins this weekend, that’s what he’ll accomplish.
And I think he’s going to do it.
I’m going back to that stat above. The one about the 47 of the first 78 tournaments being won by 17 players. Yes, of the thousands and thousands who have teed it up in Augusta, 17 players have won 60 percent of the tournaments.
That tells me it takes a special type of player to win this prestigious major. Watson kills this course because A) well, he’s really good, and B) he doesn’t crumble under pressure. Part B is probably even more important when it comes down to crunch time on Sunday. Augusta National brings out Watson’s best.
A little bit of a concern is the fact Watson tends to fall apart in odd years at Augusta – 42nd in 2009, T38 in 2011 and T50 in 2013. That’s just a coincidence. And while Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson and the scorching hot Jimmy Walker are extremely tempting picks, Watson is also on his game right now. And when the lights are brightest so is Bubba.
Watson continues his truly impressive recent run at Augusta and gets his third green jacket.