I love Augusta and the US Masters. I, of course, enjoy the competition and the golfing challenge it represents, but I’m also fascinated by the history of the place and by the unique atmosphere this tournament generates. For me, it one of those signs that spring – and maybe even summer – is on its way. There is something truly special about the sights and sounds of this incredible event, from the spectacular displays of azaleas to the roaring crowds in the evening sunshine as the new champion pulls on their green jacket. It’s just pure sporting magic. So, what’s in store for the US Masters for 2018? Here are my thoughts on what to look out for in Augusta this year.
Can 2018 top 2017? And will this be Rory’s year?
Last year’s Masters provided some fantastic entertainment, with Sergio Garcia winning his long-awaited first Major victory after finally beating Justin Rose in an exciting play-off. There are certainly enough storylines this year to keep fans gripped right to the end – not least, whether Rory McIlroy will finally be able to complete his career Major Grand Slam. This year’s US Masters will be the fourth time that Rory returns to Augusta with the Grand Slam in his sights, and his recent 64 at Bay Hill to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational by three shots from Bryson DeChambeau suggests that he might be hitting form at the right time. Whether he does it or not, let’s just hope that it all comes down to as exciting a finale as last year’s Masters.
The unknown quantity: Tiger Woods
I admit it – it seems completely ridiculous to call someone who is pretty much the most famous golfer of all time an ‘unknown quantity’, but in many ways that is exactly what he is as we head towards the US Masters this year. His troubles over the last few years – on and off the golf course – are well documented, and so I’ve been delighted to see him back in action in recent months. But which Tiger Woods will turn up at Augusta this year? Will it be the player who looked a shadow of his former self at the Open in 2014, or will it be the revitalised and occasionally sparkling player who has been thrilling the crowds again since his recent return to competitive golf? As a golf fan, I certainly hope it’s the latter.
Can the Brits do it again?
Remember Danny Willett’s remarkable win back in 2016? In one of my favourite moments in recent Masters history, Danny became only the second English player to win at Augusta. While asking him to repeat that fantastic effort this year might be a step to far, it might well be the year that another Englishman, Justin Rose, finally stops being the bridesmaid at the Masters. He’s been runner up twice, in 2015 behind the winner Jordan Spieth and of course last year in the playoff. He’s clearly got the talent to take on Augusta – let’s just hope that he holds his nerve to claim to the top prize this year. Apart from Justin, keep a close eye on fellow Brits Tyrrell Hatton, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood.
Will Dustin Johnson finally win at the Masters?
He’s been world number one for what seems an age, and is widely accepted as the world’s best golf at the moment – but Dustin Johnson has had some rotten luck when it comes to the Masters. He missed the 2012 event due to a back injury he suffered at home, and then in 2017 the curse struck again, as he fell down a staircase in the house he was renting in Augusta before the tournament and didn’t even make the first tee. He was the big favourite, and most probably will be again, but it will be fascinating to see if he finally delivers. Maybe just don’t go upstairs for a while Dustin…
I’m convinced that this year’s US Masters is all set to be an absolute classic – there are enough top players involved this year who will really feel they have something to prove on this most testing of stages. But as ever, it will all come down to that last, tortuous round, and to who can hold their nerve as the shadows lengthen on the final day. I personally can’t wait.