The Masters tournament begins on Thursday and the excitement level is higher than ever with the anticipated return of Tiger Woods to Augusta National. Woods exploded back on the scene earlier this year with impressive rounds at the Valspar Classic and Arnold Palmer Invitational. Woods was once the most dominant golfer in the world, but injuries and personal issues have keep him out the the famous Masters’ green jacket for over a decade. His return here is great for the sports and should send ratings through the roof.
But Woods isn’t the only one going for green at Augusta. A lineup of the PGA’s best will be on hand, including former champions Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, and Phil Mickelson. Here’s a list of the five players to keep on eye on during the tournament dubbed “a tradition unlike any other”.
Watson hit one of the most memorable Masters tournament shots in history, a gutsy approach shot from deep in the woods on the 10th hole during a sudden death playoff with Louis Oosthuizen for the 2014 championship. Watson has captured the green jacket twice in the last six years and the 39-year old lefty is one of the favorites to win again this week after a resurgent 2018 season that has seen him win twice already.
Johnson is currently the number one ranked golfer in the world. He became number one after his February 2017 victory at the Genesis Open and has yet to relinquish the top spot for the past 59 weeks. Despite a game that is imminently suited to Augusta National, Johnson has never really been a factor at the Masters though, with his best finish being fourth in 2016. But he’s been racking up wins elsewhere with 17 victories to date, including the 2016 U.S. Open. The 33-year old Johnson is married to Paulina Gretzky, daughter of legendary hockey player Wayne Gretzky.
Spieth is only 24-years old, but he’s already accomplished more than many pro golfers twice his age. Spieth turned pro in 2013 and within two years had captured both a Masters and U.S. Open championship. He’s the second youngest Masters champion in history and even tied the 72-hole record set by Tiger Woods in 1997. After winning the British Open in 2017, Spieth claimed three of the four majors before his 25th birthday. He nearly captured three majors in one calendar year in 2015, but finished second in the PGA Championship in August. Always a threat in major championships, Spieth is gunning for his second Masters title in four years.
As a fresh-faced kid from Ireland, McIlory looked like the PGA heir apparent following Tiger’s fall from grace. He won the U.S. Open in 2011, the PGA Championship in 2012, and the British Open (and another PGA Championship) in 2014. Winless on the PGA Tour since 2016, the Ulsterman is back in full flight after a win at Bay Hill two weeks ago. And he’s still looking for his first Masters championship, with his best finish coming in 2015 when he placed fourth. A win for McIlroy this year will also allow him to complete the career Grand Slam.
Woods’s accomplishments are long enough to fit the entirety of this page. Not since Jack Nicklaus has a pro golfer dominated the competition so thoroughly as Woods from 1997 to 2008. He took home the Masters green jacket four times (1997, 2001, 2002, 2005) and is the favorite (along with McIlroy) to win again this year. Woods has an incredible 79 career PGA tour wins, good for second all-time to the great Sam Snead’s 82. At 42-years old, Woods is the oldest golfer to make this list and a win at the Masters would give him his 15th Major victory (3 behind Jack Nicklaus’s 18).