What’s it take to win the Masters?
The answer: ice water in the veins. No sporting event puts as much pressure on an athlete than the Masters. If you can’t handle it, you’ll never wear the green jacket.
The Masters kicked off yesterday amongst blustery conditions at Augusta. Jordan Spieth once again put himself alone atop the leaderboard with a sterling round of 66, two strokes clear of the field. With his mediocre play of late (one missed cut, zero top-five finishes in last five tournaments) it may come as a surprise to some that Spieth is leading the biggest golf tournament of the year.
Spieth has proven his mettle at Augusta and that combined with his talent, makes him a clear favorite from here on out.
Golf has never been healthier with a lineup of young stars and solid veterans that will push Spieth over the weekend. Should he slip up under the windy conditions, then we’ll have a new champion on Sunday. Don’t expect a runaway like last year. Let’s take a look at the top-10 golfers in the world and their chances to win the Masters. The emphasis will be on their history of playing under pressure—rating their coolness on a one-to-ten ice-cube scale.
Jason Day—His late-season run last year was a sight to behold as he won three tournaments in a row, including his first major (PGA). He has been dominant this season as well and ascended to #1 in the world. Day was just featured on David Feherty’s interview show and talked about his tough upbringing with an abusive, alcoholic dad. Well, he may have been abusive and alcoholic but he raised one heck of a golfer! Started off strong yesterday but faltered on the back 9 and came in even par. Clutch factor—he has played well in the Masters including 4 birdies on the back 9 in 2011 to come in second. He also held off Spieth at the 2015 PGA for his first major title- no easy feat. He has however had a number of other opportunities to win majors where he didn’t come through. Six ice cubes.
Jordan Spieth—As noted earlier, wunderkind Spieth laughs in the face of pressure and won the Masters handily last year. Spieth is the #2 golfer in the world with two major championships last year all at the tender age of 22. He’s a short game maestro who is on track to be the best putter in the history of the game….supplanting Tiger Woods, Ben Crenshaw, Jack Nicklaus, and Ol’ Flatstick Gomez (one of these golfers is made up). Spieth still has his girlfriend from high school and is humble to a fault. He credits his special needs sister, Ellie, with keeping him grounded. In short, he’s the anti-Tiger. This year will tell if he will become the dominant player of his era or just one of the many good young players in the game today. Clutch factor- unflappable. Nobody wants to go head-head with him down the stretch. Nine ice cubes.
Rory McIlroy—The Irishman had a disappointing 2015, not winning a major and spraining his ankle playing soccer that caused him to miss the British Open at St. Andrews. The worst part of that story is he called playing soccer a “kickabout.” A healthy Rory would have won at St. Andrews by five strokes as the course was set up perfectly for his game. Instead he watched from his couch (hey just like us). Rory was slated to have a huge 2015 after winning last two majors of 2014 and dumping his wacky fiancée Caroline Wozniacki (Google pink hair, Masters). Instead, Spieth stole the spotlight and his #1 ranking. Rory is still the most talented golfer alive and if he’s driving the ball well can take over tournaments. If anyone will come to dominate golf in next 10 years, it will either be Rory or Spieth. Played well Friday but stumbled home with bogeys on two of last three holes for a 2 under 70. Clutch factor—had infamous meltdown at 2011 Masters where he shot 80 and lost 4-stroke lead. He was, however, clutch down stretch to win PGA Championship in 2014. Great in the Ryder Cup also but still lets too many victories slip away. Five ice cubes.
Bubba Watson—He’s a weird dude with a weird swing. Still, he wins a lot. Bubba is actually his given Christian name. People give him a hard time for yelling at his caddie after he hits a bad shot. And they should—he often looks like a petulant child. But like a child, he never seems aware of the situation so he can be immune to pressure in close golf tournaments. He hits the ball a mile and has to be a favorite at the Masters after winning in 2012 and 2014. Another player with a poor back 9 yesterday and finished with a 75. He can stay locked into his weird world where pressure doesn’t affect him. Eight ice cubes.
Rickie Fowler—The most popular golfer in the United States with the younger demographic. Kids love him for his cool demeanor and outlandish outfits. He’s taken to wearing high-top golf shoes which actually looks worse than it sounds. He hasn’t won a major though he was in top five in all four in 2014. That’s never been done before. His win at the 2015 Players Championship was the top clutch performance of the entire year in any sport. He played the last six holes in 6-under par and then won in a playoff. Another extremely likeable young player that never complains when things don’t go his way. That’s a rare trait for golfers. Looks to be inevitable he’ll win a major it just won’t come at Augusta this year as he opened with an 80. Clutch factor: not having won a major hurts him here and he hasn’t always made great decisions under pressure but can definitely execute the shots. Seven ice cubes.
Henrik Stenson—The Sturdy Swede as I call him…but nobody else does. Maybe it’s because he’s not from Sweden? He’s been close at majors but always seems to falter down the stretch. He’s an incredible ball striker but short game can vanish under pressure. It would be fun to see him win a major as he doesn’t smile very often. No surprise, the sturdy Swede opened with an even par 72. Clutch factor: He has wilted under pressure in majors and has settled for runner up in too many tournaments. Three ice cubes.
Adam Scott—The handsomest player in the game but they don’t give trophies for that. Women want to be him and men want to be with him. That’s how the saying goes, right? Adam won the Masters in 2013 which was supposed to be catalyst for him becoming dominant. That hasn’t happened but he comes into Augusta with two PGA tour wins this year. Once he used a goofy long putter which made him look less handsome but after it was banned he has transitioned smoothly to a short stick. Tough start for Scott on Friday—opened with a 76. Clutch factor: He had an epic collapse at 2012 British Open with bogeys on last four holes handing title to Ernie Els. He came back to win Masters in 2013 in duel with Angel Cabrera. Five ice cubes.
Dustin Johnson—What to say about Dustin? Dustin is the bad boy of the PGA tour with rumors of drug use and womanizing following him his whole career. He was one putt away from winning the 2015 US Open but instead ended up 3-putting and handing the title to Jordan Spieth. After tapping in to lose by one, he showed no emotion and just picked up his ball, shook hands and walked to his car. That’s a cool reaction if you ask me. Other guys would have sulked, cried, screamed, or collapsed. He just walked over to his baby momma Paulina Gretzky and headed for the parking lot. Maybe he’s lacking the fire or maybe he has his priorities in line. What was lost in the epic 3-putt was the fact Dustin came to the 18th hole down by one stroke and hit the best drive and approach shot you’ll ever see. He also was the victim of terrible, bumpy greens at Chambers Bay. Will the 2015 US Open creep into his mind whenever he gets close to winning a major? Dustin never got it going yesterday and came in at 1 over par 73. Clutch factor: the 3-putt could haunt him and he has failed to win multiple other majors when in contention. Three ice cubes.
Justin Rose—Rose burst on the scene as a 17-year old English golf prodigy who finished fourth at the British Open in 1998. He struggled for years after that but eventually put it all together culminating in his win at the 2013 US Open at Merion. He is an incredibly consistent golfer who has the complete game to win on any course. Shot a very solid 3-under 69 yesterday. Clutch factor—Seems very steady under pressure. Comes up huge in Ryder Cups. US Open win at Merion came with Philly fans yelling in his backswing because they wanted Mickelson to win. Seven ice cubes.
Patrick Reed—He’s a quality player with some college baggage (kicked off University of Georgia’s golf team) who has been maligned (unfairly?) as a cheater in the press. There is no worse label than “cheater” in golf. Maybe pedophile. At the 2015 Tour Championship, I was standing with my wife and baby on the 230-yard, par-3 18th hole. Wife asked if we were safe where we were standing. I said, sure, we’re 30 yards short of the hole and 10 yards right—these guys are pros. Next ball hits right in front of us, bounces up and lands in a guy’s lawn chair. I wanted to call child protective services on myself. It’s Patrick Reed’s ball and he is an ornery cuss. Most PGA players would have a laugh with the ball on a chair—not Patrick. He takes his drop and hits out of rough but he duffs it into the sand trap. He turns around and is irate. “Whose camera was that?? You f—ing people!.” I didn’t hear a camera but there may have been a clicking sound. I do know that Bryce Harper hits 400-foot home runs with people booing him as loudly as possible. Still, a part of me roots for him as the Tour has too many nice guys. It’s easy to be nice when you live the sweet life of a golfer. It takes a special kind of man to still be an ass. Reed is going to need to get moving after and opening 76. Clutch factor: Jerks tend to be clutch as they don’t care what people think so that alleviates a lot of pressure. He came through big time in the 2014 Ryder Cup with his infamous shushing of the British fans. Small sample size though. Six ice cubes.
The winner of this tournament gets a lifetime exemption. Think about that. You can tee it up when you’re 80 years old! I think Spieth holds on in a tightly contested battle with McIlroy to win again. Not because he hits it the furthest or has the best strategy but because he’s the most clutch.
Dan Redmond can be found on twitter @danfromdc or at firstname.lastname@example.org