Rory McIlroy is the bookmaker’s favourite this year and he’s one Major short of a Grand Slam. What does he need to do to get over the line?
He just needs to get himself in the same position as he did last year and have a good Sunday – that’s all there is to it. If he stays in contention on the Sunday, he’s got a very good chance of success. He’s been in a few close-run situations before at the Masters and with every tournament he’s gaining more valuable experience.
Rory’s playing really well – his putting stats are much better than people think. There’s obviously going to be some added pressure on him because he’s looking to complete his Grand Slam, but he’s experienced in big matches and his game’s in good shape.
Rory has a great tee-to-green game and is the biggest hitter out there, and Augusta is well suited to this with its wide fairways. One of these days Rory McIlroy will win the Masters, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it happens this year.
Tiger Woods had to withdraw from the Arnold Palmer International because of a neck injury, but he’s said it won’t harm his chances at the Masters. Do you think this injury could potentially affect his game at Augusta?
I don’t see it being a big issue. Tiger’s not got a history of recurring neck injuries, so I think his withdrawal is purely precautionary. It was a sensible move on his part to take the week off while he recovered.
Tiger, as we know, is all about winning Majors. He got himself into contention a lot last year, particularly at The Open. Although he couldn’t quite pull it off at Carnoustie, he will have learnt from that experience and it certainly served him well at the Tour Championship. His victory there reminded us of his calmness and ability to perform under pressure.
While Tiger is still at an age where he can compete at the top level, he’ll feel can add to his Majors haul. He’s 42 years old and Jack Nicklaus won the Masters at 46, so you definitely can’t write Tiger off. Like Rory, if he’s in contention on the last day, he’s got a very good chance, and Tiger knows what it takes to win at Augusta in that situation.
Dustin Johnson is also among the favourites to win the Masters this year. How do you rate his chances at Augusta and what is the key to him winning the tournament?
He’s had a good season so far, having won the Saudi International and the WGC-Mexico Championship. He’s very consistent, he’s long off the tee which suits Augusta, and he’ll be determined to win another Major. Dustin should have more Majors to his name by now because he’s such a good golfer and he’s been World Number 1 for a while.
He’ll feel that he’s on a payback mission at Augusta, having had to pull out in 2017 due to injury. He’ll be very determined to win a Masters and he’s undoubtedly one of the main favourites, if not the favourite, because he’s got such a strong all-round game.
Justin Rose has performed very consistently at Augusta, with 5 top 10 finishes there, but he’s yet to win the Masters. Why has he fallen short in previous years and what could swing it in his favour this time around?
I think he’s been unlucky. He’s been very close on a several occasions, most notably when he lost to Jordan Spieth in 2015 and Sergio Garcia beat him in a play-off in 2017. It’s not like he’s thrown a big lead away, he’s been in the running but has just lost out because other golfers have raised their game.
He has a faultless game, as proven by his World Number 2 ranking – he’s long off the tee and he’s a good putter. It’s only a matter of time before he wins another Major and that could well happen this year.
Brooks Koepka has arguably got a point to prove after having to withdraw from last year’s tournament due to a wrist injury. What will his mindset be going into this year’s tournament?
He’s definitely got a point to prove and I’m really looking forward to seeing how he gets on this year. We know that he can perform on the big stage and that he’s obviously good a great temperament, having won back-to-back US Opens.
He’s another big hitter who has the perfect game for Augusta’s wide-open fairways and his drive is his biggest asset. He was one of the few success stories at the Ryder Cup from an American perspective and he should be very confident going into the Masters.
Justin Thomas is your favourite for this year’s Masters. What aspects of his game most impress you and why have you picked him?
Justin is a young golfer with great technique and a lot of professional wins to his name. What most impresses me about Justin is that he has a habit of scoring low when he’s in the mood – he’s broken 60 a couple of times. If he can go this low on one of the days at Augusta, it might be enough to win.
He’s long and straight off the tee with a deft touch around the greens and it’s no surprise to me that a number of pundits have backed him to win the Masters. He’s going to be there or thereabouts, no doubt about it.
You said in last year’s Masters review that you felt it was only a matter of time before Rickie Fowler wins a Major and that he doesn’t have any significant weaknesses in his game. His 2019’s got off to a good start, so how would you assess his confidence going into this year’s tournament?
He’s played as well as you can in Majors without winning a Major over the years. He ran Patrick Reed very close last year, he was very much in contention heading into the final round in 2017 and he finished T5 in 2014.
Augusta is a course he plays well and he has a good record there. He doesn’t have the same long game as Dustin, Brooks or Rory, but he can hole the important putts. As well as his technical qualities, he’s very popular with the crowd and really gets them onside. He’d certainly be a very popular winner if he finally did it this year.
Francesco Molinari is a bit of an outside bet for this year at 30/1. What kind of threat can he pose and what attributes from his game could see him emerge victorious?
30/1 is certainly a good price for Molinari and if you were a betting person, you’d be wise to put a fiver on him. I think you’d get a run for your money.
His performances at last year’s Open and Ryder Cup and at the recent Arnold Palmer International illustrate how much his game has improved. He’s always been a strong tee-to-green player, but his putting has become a lot more consistent since he’s started playing more on the greens in America. We saw this at Carnoustie where he holed a 6 foot putt to win the tournament.
He’s got a good stroke and if he’s in the mood he’ll be in with a shout of adding another Major to his name.
What will determine who wins the Masters this year?
It’s all about the back nine and who can raise their game there. The toughest holes are on the back nine and we can look back to some dramatic moments in Masters history where even the best golfers have struggled to navigate these holes.
When Danny Willett won in dramatic fashion in 2015 and when Jack Nicklaus made his legendary final round charge in 1986, this was down to how they played the back nine.
So many players have failed to win the Masters because of this – Rory should have won in 2011 when he had an unassailable lead but he played the back nine badly, and the same can be said about Jordan Spieth in 2015.
Whoever copes best with the pressure of the back nine will be crowned Masters champion and it will be a thrilling watch for spectators.
To find out more about what makes a Masters champion, check out our exclusive interactive guide ahead of this year’s tournament!