The Golfer of the Year – an award Ballesteros won on three occasions in 1986, ‘88 and ‘91 – is voted for by the golf media. He beat off competition from Rose, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Rookie of the Year Jon Rahm...
10 threats to McIlroy’s Masters bid
As Jordan Spieth lands another victory and sets his sights on the majors, let’s take a look at 10 players who could ruin Rory McIlroy’s bid to land a career Grand Slam with victory at the Masters.
1. Jason Day
Has a win to his name already this year but ee were in this position 12 months ago after he triumphed at the WCG-Accenture Matchplay. A thumb injury put the skids on his challenge last year but if he is 100 per cent fit this time around then he could be Rory’s biggest threat. Good Augusta form, great ball striking and imagination, a fighter and well overdue his first Major.
2. Bubba Watson
You can’t ignore a man who has won it twice in the last three years no matter what form he is in heading down Magnolia Lane. There’s something about Augusta which brings the best out of Bubba and if on his game, he’ll be very difficult to stop. He relished chasing down Jordan Spieth last year but will be interesting to see if he could do the same if a rampaging Rory was out in front.
3. Jordan Spieth
Was in fine form at the turn of the year but went off the boil. His timely return to form with victory at the Valspar Championship shows he is now capable of performing when the pressure is on. Has openly admitted to feeling the pressure when leading The Masters last year but has shown an immense level of maturity for someone so young. He has learned a lot in the last 12 months and his victories this year prove he is capable of closing out a win when he gets in front. Still slight question marks over his temperament when things go wrong but a definite contender.
4. Rickie Fowler
Fantastic effort by the Californian in the majors last year but there are two ways of looking at it. It is only natural to have concerns about a player who gets close very often but doesn’t get the job done (think Phil Mickelson pre 2004). But there’s little doubt Rickie has got the game to win multiple majors. His T5 last year was his best effort to date and you get the feeling he will only get better. He’s gone head to head with Rory a few times now and is yet to get the better of his former Walker Cup rival but surely that run can’t go on forever?
5. Brooks Koepka
Rookies don’t win at Augusta but this guy has had a truly remarkable year. A tied fifth at the US Open and a tied 15th at the PGA were followed by wins at the Turkish Airlines Open and the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The 24-year-old is one of the PGA Tour leaders for driving distance and is possibly one of a few players who would be hitting second from the fairway when playing with McIlroy. Rory is the best driver in the world right now and can intimidate most players off the tee. Like Spieth, he has shown great maturity and seems to have all the right ingredients to become a Major champion.
6. Martin Kaymer
Who cares if it doesn't come naturally for him to draw the ball. Kaymer is a player no one wants to see at the top of the leaderboard, regardless of his collapse at Abu Dhabi earlier this year. In fact his blip at the HSBC could actually make Kaymer an even stronger front runner in the long term. He’s got the talent and the nerve to add to his major collection and is capable of running away with a tournament when the putter gets hot.
7. Justin Rose
He’s never really set the world alight at Augusta but has proved he can go low. Five top 20 finishes in his last seven visits make him a worthy contender. He’s at that age now where adding to his major collection will be his main aim each year. Hasn’t got that pressure of trying to win his first Major so will feel comfortable if in contention on Sunday.
8. Henrik Stenson
Unlike Rose, that pressure of not winning a Major may be starting to wear heavy. But this isn’t the flaky Stenson of four or five years ago. Has been camped out at the summit of the world rankings for the past two years and has been knocking on the door in the Majors. He’s yet to register a top 10 at Augusta but has steadily been improving over the past three years. If he can get his nose in front he’s more than capable of blowing a field to pieces.
9. Lee Westwood
Yes really. Time is running out but his game looks in decent shape and has a great recent Masters record - worst finish in last five years is tied 11th. Don’t be surprised to see the Englishman in contention again. You get the feeling an on-fire McIlroy will be too much for him to handle but if all these contenders fail to hit the heights, Westwood could swoop in for that elusive Major.
10. Ian Poulter
Like Westwood, he’s a seasoned Augusta performer now. has only missed the cut once since his debut in 2004. Revitalised by his equipment switch to Titleist and seems to be getting injury free and into some form. If he gets a sniff on Sunday we could see the eyes-bulging Ryder Cup player from Celtic Manor or Medinah and I don’t think Rory, or anyone else, would want to go up against a fully fired up and on form Ian Poulter.
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