There is no golf event watched more, analyzed and over-analyzed more than the Masters. The disappearance of a few trees at another course might go unnoticed, but at Augusta National, it sucks up hours of discussion and debate. And of course, everyone has to make a pick for the biggest event of the year, even if that’s a hopeless blindfolded throw of the dart. So we gathered some of The Fried Egg Staff to bat around some of the themes, discussion points, and predictions for the 2022 edition of the Masters.
Is there something you’re keen to see Fred Ridley address this week?
Andy Johnson: This is one of the most anticipated press conferences of the year. It would be fascinating to hear Ridley address the Saudi Golf League and the Phil Mickelson saga that have dominated the game. The majors could hold so much power over the potential success or demise of these alternate leagues. If Ridley is non-committal on how they will handle the SGL, it would open the door to more players potentially joining Kokrak, Westy, Kevin Na, Phil, and other rumored commits.
Will Knights: The Mickelson/LIV Golf situation tops the list, but I’m also interested to hear how Ridley frames the course changes. Is this a shift in philosophy for the golf course that will lead to more alterations in the future? Is wall-to-wall fairway an option that could be back on the table?
Meg Adkins: I would love for Ridley to read the minutes from the club meeting where the Dude Perfect All Sports proposal was addressed. “New Business: After a lengthy discussion of what a “foxtail” is, the motion to allow Dude Perfect to film at Amen Corner was passed unanimously.” Since there’s a zero percent chance that happens, my consolation prize would be for him to address the Netflix documentary that will be filming at Augusta this week. The Masters will be the most anticipated episode when the series comes out, so it’ll be interesting to see if he gives any insight into the access the film crew has been given.
Garrett Morrison: Chairman Ridley needs to explain the absence of the peach ice cream sandwich from the Masters food menu! A few, if not several, content aggregators will hang on his every word!
Just kidding. Phil, the Saudi league, and the course changes are the main topics I’ll be tracking.
Courtesy of the Masters Tournament
Is there a “star” or name player you think will bomb out this week?
Garrett: Maybe this is my crooked way of ducking the question, but I feel like an unusual number of stars have bomb-out potential this week. For reference, here are the final standings of the 2021 Player Impact Program:
- Tiger Woods
- Phil Mickelson
- Rory McIlroy
- Jordan Spieth
- Bryson DeChambeau
- Justin Thomas
- Dustin Johnson
- Brooks Koepka
- Jon Rahm
- Bubba Watson
These are, at least according to the PGA Tour’s bean counters, the best-known golfers in the world. And how many of them are in excellent form right now? Justin Thomas and…
Okay, let’s run through the rest of the list: Tiger would be the story of the tournament if he simply manages to walk 36 holes; Phil is on double-secret probation; Rory missed the cut last week at the Valero Texas Open and hasn’t placed higher than T-10 on the PGA Tour this year; Spieth looks… well, fragile on the greens; Bryson is recovering from serious hand and hip injuries; neither DJ nor Koepka has won since the first week of February 2021; Rahm has plummeted to 136th in Strokes Gained: Putting; and Bubba has not been a factor in the past several major championships. Aside from Rahm and maybe Koepka, none of these big names would be shocking cut-missers this Friday.
That said, a good three fifths of the PIP top 10—Rory, Spieth, JT, DJ, Koepka, Rahm—would make reasonable winner bets, too. You just don’t know what to expect from most of these guys nowadays.
Fine, fine. Here’s my surprise-ejection pick: Viktor Hovland. (I’ll let you decide whether this is a reverse-jinx attempt.)
Will: It’s an obvious answer but I don’t think Bryson stands a chance this week, especially if the wind blows as forecasted on Friday. He’s coming off what appears to be a rather serious injury and he has looked bad at the WGC Match Play and Texas Open. It wasn’t that long ago that he was calling Augusta National a Par 67, but recent struggles don’t give me much hope for him this weekend.
Andy: Ahhh my favorite topic, who won’t win! Of the high-profile names, the best bet is on Tiger, assuming he plays. That said, “bombing out” for Tiger, given the circumstances, would be not making it to the first tee. So I will go with Rory McIlroy. This is not something that I want to happen but he is the player in the top 10 of the OWGR that I have the least confidence in this week.
Rory’s first rounds in majors, and the Masters in particular, hint at a mental issue. Getting out of the gates without stalling out has been a problem and not one that can be switched with a new swing coach. As we have seen in the last eight years of lead-ups to the Masters, Rory has done everything to try and change his preparation and mentality to overcome the slow starts but with little impact. Can Rory win this week? Of course, but of the top 10 in the world, he’s the one I trust the least – it may sound crazy, but that’s where I’m at.
Meg: My confidence in Jordan Spieth finding his game this week is very low, but I’ll hold on to the sliver of form he showed Sunday at Valero. Instead, I’ll go with Bryson being befuddled by Augusta once again. There’s been no rhythm to his year with the injuries and he’s been exposed in all his previous Masters outings with his highest finish of T-21 coming in 2016 as an amateur.
What’s one hole or area of the course you’re particularly interested in watching this week?
Garrett: Like everyone, I’m looking forward to seeing the action on the refurbished 11th hole, but I’ll be keeping an especially close eye on balls that come to rest in the re-contoured surrounds to the right of the green. In recent years, this has been a go-to bail-out target for players who are out of position in the fairway. But if recovery shots from that spot are now more difficult, we could see more aggressive approaches and, consequently, a greater range of scores, from birdies to double bogeys.
Brendan Porath: My favorite shot to watch out there is the approach into the 9th. Andy wrote last month about some of the changes at that hole which might impact where that shot is coming from and how it is played. So I’ll be most interested in continuing to watch those shots from below the players’ feet up to an elevated green. Outside of the 11th, the other obvious area is the extended 15th tee, which Collin Morikawa kept saying is now going to “make you think about it” when it comes to the decision of going for it or laying short if the stretched out hole is into the wind.
Meg: Latanna Stone found herself directly behind one of the few remaining trees on the right side of 11 during the final round of ANWA on Saturday. She punched short of the green, failed to get up and down, and walked off with a bogey. I’m sure we’ll see more than a few of the men in a similar spot this week, and I won’t be surprised if there are some grumblings about the new-look 11th.
Expectations for Tiger:
Meg: I’ll be keeping my expectations low and hope I’m pleasantly surprised by the outcome. If he makes the cut and a Tiger roar or two echoes around the course over the weekend, it’ll be the cherry on top of an unthinkable return. I just hope we don’t see him struggle physically throughout the week or take a step back with his recovery.
Courtesy of the Masters Tournament
Brendan: Listening to the players who watch on the range, and the few who have played with him out on the course the last two days, you’d think Tiger is one of the favorites. It does seem like his speed and feels around the green are all there, but then again, if it had been a struggle or looked grim, do you think those testimonies from his playing partners would convey that? Of course they’re going to say he looked good. I think Tiger will acquit himself just fine, and I think he’ll make the cut. The physical demands this course presents for him are getting all the oxygen as the challenge, but we can also focus on the familiarity – he knows how to play this course better than anyone on earth, and well enough to at least not hang in there and make the cut.
Is there a Masters rookie that you are most closely watching?
Garrett: Masters first-timers Cameron Davis and Cameron Young will join returnees Cameron Champ and Cameron Smith to form a robust Cameron Zone at Augusta National. You heard it here first: Cameron is the most common first name in the 2022 Masters field.
In all seriousness, Cameron Young, who nearly won at Riviera in February, is an elite driver of the golf ball. He could do well this week.
Andy: A Masters rookie who is one of the least talked about players on Tour is Talor Gooch. The former Oklahoma State Cowboy flies under the radar because of the youth invasion in golf, but Gooch is a throwback to the way golf used to work. The 30-year-old has methodically worked his way up the ranks of golf and been a great example of continual improvement. Gooch’s OWGR has gone from 337th at the end of 2018 to 33rd as of this week. Looking deeper at his statistics, you see immense improvement. He ranks as an above average player in every strokes gained category except driving, and he is plenty long for Augusta. What stands out are two skills – approach play (15th in SG approach) and short game (5th in SG around the green) – that are essential at Augusta National.
Meg: Sam Burns is coming into his first Masters with form after successfully defending at Valspar last month. The spotlight isn’t as bright as it is for fellow 25-year-old, Scottie Scheffler, garnering much more attention as the new No. 1. Burns ranks 13th in scoring average and can rack up birdies. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him towards the top of the leaderboard going into the weekend, where he could make a run at joining Fuzzy Zoeller as the only rookie to win the Masters.
Within reason, what would be an ideal or best-case scenario playing out this week? It could be a winner, something related to the course, the coverage, whatever…
Andy: Tiger plays and makes it to the weekend. This is not anything groundbreaking but when he is around a golf tournament and in the mix, there is a different energy. Outside of Tiger, it would be awesome to see Rory play a strong opening round.
Meg: This might be pushing the limits of the “within reason,” but it’s Rory completing the career grand slam. With Tiger mania back this year, the attention Rory normally receives is turned down a couple notches. If he avoids airmailing greens from 150 yards and in and giving the tournament away by the end of his round on Thursday, maybe we get a Sunday with Rory in the mix.
Courtesy of the Masters Tournament
Will: Best case scenario is Rory finally slipping into a green jacket but I’m not holding my breath.
Brendan: Adding to the Rory chorus here – that’s been the case for everything non-Tiger for the last eight years. But the way some of you have talked about him in this roundtable, I’m questioning whether that’s “within reason” now.
And no more messing around, who is the pick to win?
Meg: After American Anna Davis came out on top and hit an 11 on the style scale on Saturday, I’ll keep with the trend of ANWA and Masters champions hailing from the same country. Justin Thomas is my pick to win. It feels weird to say that a major champion is due for a breakthrough, but his 2017 PGA Championship win at Quail Hollow feels like it was ages ago. He’s had four top ten finishes in the calendar year so far without all areas of his game clicking. I think he puts the pieces together this week and slips on the green jacket Sunday.
Brendan: Aside from becoming an absolute darling pick in the golf internet community in the last few days, it’s been fairly quiet on the Koepka front. It’s unclear why the four-time major winner often gets cast aside for other less accomplished players during these pre-major hype days, but it’s happened again this week. He’s been in fine enough form, showing well through Q1 and most recently at the Match Play, and we know that form is dialed up at majors, including at Augusta, where he almost always contends when healthy. I am picking Koepka to get his fifth major.
Will: Scottie Scheffler! I’m riding the hot hand. He’s firing on all cylinders right now and might have the least buzz of any world No. 1 entering a major championship. He has plenty of distance and he’s been great on and around the greens. Why not make it four wins in six starts?
Garrett: Patrick Cantlay. Look, I know he hasn’t played well since the WM Phoenix Open in mid-February, but before that, Cantlay reeled off six straight top 10s, only one of which wasn’t a top five. He’s a guy, like Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson, who periodically goes cold for a few weeks and then pops up and spanks a stacked field. When Cantlay is on, his game has no weaknesses and can hold up at any course in any conditions.
Andy: It’s Brooks for me. He played well the start before this week but didn’t win, a recipe for his other major wins and he got snubbed by not having a press conference.
More Masters coverage from The Fried Egg team:
Is Augusta National Turning Over a New Leaf?
Geoff Ogilvy’s notes on all 18 at Augusta National
Stories worth your time and tracking at the 2022 Masters
The Art Behind Augusta’s Roars: Focal points in Alister MacKenzie’s routings
Tiger’s Masters flirtation is something more than ceremonial