The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Who can win the Masters, who can but won’t and who to pick in your pool

Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlory remain threats to win at every major championship. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Masters, an April tradition known as much for heralding the arrival of spring as for its role as golf’s first major of the calendar year, instead will be contested in November this year, with no fans, colder temperatures and a different array of colors lining the fairways. But with many of the world’s best players entering the event in fine form, identifying the winner could be as tricky as ever. Here are five players who can win the tournament, five who can but won’t and three under-the-radar picks who might surprise the rest of your pool.

Five who can win

Bryson DeChambeau

Age: 27

World ranking: 6

Best Masters finish: Tied for 21st (2016)

Best 2020 finish: First (Rocket Mortgage Classic, U.S. Open)

In 1997, Tiger Woods overpowered Augusta National to the point that the course, over time, needed to change — and be lengthened. Now comes a character who makes that version of Woods look like a short hitter. DeChambeau is coming off his first major victory at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, and he boldly arrives here threatening to put into play a 48-inch driver — the maximum allowed by the rules — in search of even more distance. DeChambeau said Tuesday that the longest iron he would have into any hole this week would be a 6-iron (at the par-5 eighth) and he probably will hit wedge (or less) on at least seven holes. “It’s a substantially easier golf course [for DeChambeau] than it is for everybody else,” said Justin Thomas, who played a practice round with DeChambeau on Monday. Yet DeChambeau realizes: “Still, it comes down to putting and chipping out here.” It says here he can do that, too.

Dustin Johnson

Age: 36

World ranking: 1

Best Masters finish: Tied for second (2019)

Best 2020 finish: First (Travelers Championship, Northern Trust)

The Masters tee times are out. Here’s what you need to know.

The old saying that there are certain horses for specific courses doesn’t really apply to the unflappable Johnson, who seems to be able to succeed on all kinds of tracks in all sorts of conditions. Given his past six results, beginning at the PGA Championship, his form at the moment is unmatched: tied for second, first, second, tied for third, tied for sixth and tied for second. His best Masters finish came just last year, when he closed with a 68 to tie for second behind Woods, and he has been at par or better in 13 of his past 16 rounds at Augusta.

Rory McIlroy

Age: 31

World ranking: 5

Best Masters finish: Fourth (2015)

Best 2020 finish: Tied for third (Farmers Insurance Open)

It might seem odd to put a player who hasn’t won in more than a calendar year — dating to last November’s WGC-HSBC Champions in China — among the clear favorites at the only major he has never won. But there’s also the following, from three-time Masters champ Phil Mickelson on Tuesday: “The guy is as complete a player as there is — as well as smart, knowledgeable and works hard. So he’ll win [at Augusta] and complete the Grand Slam. He’s too great a player not to.” Heady stuff. Without much fanfare, in his past six appearances at Augusta, McIlroy has five top-10 finishes.

Jon Rahm

Age: 26

World ranking: 2

Best Masters finish: Fourth (2018)

Best 2020 finish: First (Memorial, BMW Championship)

Rahm arrives at Augusta as arguably the best player on the planet who has yet to win a major. The consensus in the game: One (or more) is inevitable, and he has much in his favor this week. He has broken par in his past seven Masters rounds, a stretch in which he is 24 under. He has the length and the creativity, and he can putt. The easy case against Rahm is that he has occasionally failed to keep his emotions in check. But with two victories in front of zero fans this year, he has shown he can navigate tournament golf in a pandemic world.

Justin Thomas

Age: 27

World ranking: 3

Best Masters finish: Tied for 12th (2019)

Best 2020 finish: First (Tournament of Champions, St. Jude Classic)

Thomas has been ranked first in the world and is a major champion. He has enormous talent and supreme confidence, so much so that he was asked Tuesday whose iron game he might take to replace his own and replied, “I’m very satisfied with mine.” Given all that, his (relative) lack of success in majors is a mystery. His win at the 2017 PGA Championship is not just his only major victory, it’s his only top-five finish in 19 major starts. That said, his overall skill level and recent form — tied for second his last time out, tied for eighth at the U.S. Open, tied for third at the Tour Championship — is difficult to ignore.

Five who can win but won’t

Rickie Fowler

Age: 31

World ranking: 46

Best Masters finish: Second (2018)

Best 2020 finish: Tied for 12th (Rocket Mortgage Classic)

Masters gambling preview: The best bets to put on the green jacket

From 2014 through last year, Fowler finished in the top 12 at the Masters five out of six times. For most of the past six years — starting in 2014, when he posted top-five finishes in all four majors — he has been among the best players never to have won a major. But Fowler is no longer an up-and-comer, and he has fallen off the face of the planet. In his past 29 tournaments, he hasn’t finished in the top four once. A Masters title — or any major championship, anywhere — once seemed inevitable. That’s no longer the case. The talent is there. The game, at the moment, is not.

Brooks Koepka

Age: 30

World ranking: 12

Best Masters finish: Tied for second (2019)

Best 2020 finish: Tied for second St. Jude Classic)

What Koepka has accomplished — winning four majors in his past 11 starts — cannot be ignored. He is a physical monster whose levelheadedness in even the most intense situations might be unmatched. Yet a series of events — his own erratic health, his caddie’s positive coronavirus test — has left him with uneven results headed into this Masters. His last victory was a year ago July. He withdrew from the U.S. Open at Winged Foot and missed the FedEx Cup playoffs because of nagging knee and hip problems. He declared Tuesday, “I feel normal,” and he’s coming off a top-five finish last week in Houston. Still, the mounting issues and inconsistencies — and the form of other players — would seem too much for Koepka to overcome.

Collin Morikawa

Age: 23

World ranking: 4

Best Masters finish: Masters rookie

Best 2020 finish: First (Workday Charity Open, PGA Championship)

There’s nothing about Morikawa’s game that says he can’t — or won’t — win here at some point. But a simple fact remains: Since the tournament’s early days, the only player to win in his Masters debut was Fuzzy Zoeller. That was back in 1979. So Morikawa’s practice rounds this week weren’t just to prepare to compete but to get over the awe. Morikawa’s victory this year at the PGA Championship at Harding Park can’t be discounted, because it shows what he’s capable of in the future. But it’s also true that in seven starts since, he has missed three cuts and finished in the top 10 just once. The smart money says Morikawa will win here someday — because he’s so young and so good. The smarter money says it won’t happen this week.

Jordan Spieth

Age: 27

World ranking: 80

Best Masters finish: First (2017)

Best 2020 finish: Tied for ninth (Pebble Beach Pro-Am)

Spieth lands in this category because of his raw record at Augusta, which includes six starts and the following finishes: tied for second, win, tied for second, tied for 11th, third and tied for 21st. Sixteen of his 24 rounds here have been under par, and he has broken 70 nine times. But there are raw numbers that say he has no chance, regardless of his Masters résumé. Spieth’s last win anywhere came at the 2017 British Open, when the question seemed to be whether he would approach Woods’s major championship haul. His recent record suggests he should be an afterthought: five missed cuts in his past 11 tournaments, with only one finish better than a tie for 30th.

Tiger Woods

Age: 44

World ranking: 33

Best Masters finish: First (1997, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2019)

Best 2020 finish: Tied for ninth (Farmers Insurance Open)

At the Masters, Tiger Woods walks in two worlds: Yarn-spinning legend and defending champ

It’s hard to dismiss the reigning Masters champ as unable to win here the very next year. But a few things conspire against Woods. First would be reps: After the coronavirus caused the sport to pause, it restarted, and Woods barely stuck his toe back in the water. He has played just six times since and was a non-factor at the PGA (tied for 37th) and U.S. Open (missed cut). Since 2014, he has missed this event with injuries three times, finished tied for 17th and tied for 32nd — and won. He knows every shot on the course. The question is execution. He executed a year ago when others couldn’t. It’s fair to question whether that kind of magic, at this age, can be generated in consecutive years.

Three to add in your pool

Jason Kokrak

Age: 35

World ranking: 24

Best Masters finish: Masters rookie

Best 2020 finish: First (CJ Cup)

As demonstrated above, betting on a player making his Masters debut is dubious — if the objective is to take a winner. But for a sneaky-high finish, why not the journeyman Kokrak, who last month notched his first PGA Tour victory? Kokrak, who was born in Canada but played his junior golf in Ohio and collegiate golf at Xavier in the same state, might be a good fit not just for the course but for the specific conditions the field will face this week if the course is wet. Not only does the 6-foot-4 Kokrak hit the ball long enough, but he ranks third on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting. He can roll it, and he could rise.

Louis Oosthuizen

Age: 38

World ranking: 19

Best Masters finish: Second (2012)

Best 2020 finish: Third (U.S. Open)

Golf bet big on legalized sports gambling. It’s paying off.

Oosthuizen’s game might be better than his record. He won a British Open at St. Andrews in 2010. He lost a Masters playoff to Bubba Watson in 2012. He led after 36 holes last year at Augusta, where he has broken par in eight of his past nine rounds. Plus, he has to be buoyed by his performance at Winged Foot, where he was third. What Oosthuizen has to avoid is the blowup. Since 2014, he has 24 rounds at Augusta: 15 under par but six at 75 or above. Here’s believing he’s savvy enough to stay away from big numbers this week.

Cameron Smith

Age: 27

World ranking: 45

Best Masters finish: Tied for fifth (2018)

Best 2020 finish: First (Sony Open in Hawaii)

The Australian hits it far enough that the predicted wet conditions might not bother him, and he has some form and history that could point to a solid performance this week. He is coming off a tie for fourth two weeks ago and was 11th the week before that. He tied for fifth at Augusta two years ago, when he finished with a 66 — showing his ability to go low. He is a top-20 putter on the PGA Tour, and for all the talk about distance here (see: DeChambeau, Bryson), there’s no more important skill at Augusta than rolling it on the greens.