The leading 10 Masters contenders ranked

Mark McGowan

Scottie Scheffler crosses the Hogan Bridge at No. 12 - Image by Masters media

Mark McGowan

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It’s Masters week, and like a kid in a sweet shop, I can barely conceal my excitement. Most of you – myself included – will be entering a Masters pool of some description, but at the risk of getting egg on my face, I’m going to narrow the contenders down to 10 and rank them accordingly.

So, who is going to get fitted for a Green Jacket? Here are my favourites in reverse order….

10. Wyndham Clark

Wyndham Clark shows his emotions after securing his victory at LACC (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

In 1934, Horton Smith became the first player to win the Masters at his first attempt, which is not surprising because it was the first Masters tournament ever held. Gene Sarazen, who didn’t play in ’34, became the second man to achieve the feat a year later. 45 years would pass before Fuzzy Zoeller would become the third man to do so, and there the list stops.

This year, Wyndham Clark heads the sub-bracket looking to complete the legendary fourball. Should Wyndham be higher on the list? Probably. He’s the reigning US Open champion, he’s a man in form, his three PGA Tour wins have all been ‘big-deal’ events, and he’s ranked number four in the world. But the subtleties of Augusta National take time to figure out and his big fade off the tee won’t work on 10 and 13. A future Masters winner, perhaps, but I’ll stick my neck out and say not this year.

9. Xander Schauffele

Xander Schauffele plays a stroke from a bunker on the No. 2 hole during the final round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club

Three top-10 finishes at Augusta National, including a T2 and a T3, should have ‘X-Man’ on everybody’s shortlist, but his failure to convert strong 54-hole positions into wins have become a worry. Does everything well – and it goes without saying that whoever wins the Masters will be sharp on all facets this week – but being better than average each day usually isn’t enough over 72 holes.

He needs to do something special, and probably needs to do it on Sunday. And that’s when his problems usually start. Hard to see him outside the top-10 or top-15, hard to see him winning.

8. Cameron Smith

Cameron Smith (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Loves Augusta National and has four top-10s and no missed-cuts in seven starts. Clearly has the short-game skills to excel and his biggest weakness – a sometimes wayward driver – is not always punished here the way it may be elsewhere, mainly because he has the imagination and creativity to fashion a recovery.

He’s another man who could and maybe should be higher, but a playoff loss in Hong Kong aside, he’s been good if not spectacular on LIV this year and was forced to withdraw after round one of LIV Miami due to food poisoning. He should have no issues being back fully fit by Thursday, but four competitive reps is all he has under the belt in 2024.

7. Patrick Cantlay

Patrick Cantlay (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Like his close friend Xander, Cantlay is a man who should win more than he does and his major record is very poor for a player of his quality. And that’s something of an enigma given how well he’s performed under the intense pressure of the Ryder Cup. For a little while back in 2019, it looked as though he could be the man to put a pin in the Tiger balloon but a poor finish cost him dearly.

A big major performance has to come, however, and I’m banking that it’s this week. Will he win? I seriously hope not, but I do expect him to have a say on Sunday, and not just for being the tortoise-paced man in the group ahead of the leaders.

6. Hideki Matsuyama

Hideki Matsuyama celebrates winning the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, Sunday, April 11, 2021.

Now gearing up for his 13th Masters – I know, it’s hard to fathom that he’s been around that long – Matsuyama is the first former winner we encounter on this list and he’s missed the cut just once. A runaway winner here in 2021, his win at the Genesis Invitational was him back at his best and he’s since had a T12 at Bay Hill, a T6 at the Players and a T7 last week at TPC San Antonio.

And he leads the PGA Tour in Strokes-Gained-Around-The-Green, which always comes in handy at Augusta National. Putting is always a concern, but if the other areas of his game continue to fire, he can still win this even with a lukewarm putter. Already immortalised in his home country and a Hall of Famer in waiting, becoming a dual-Masters winner would cement his status worldwide.

5. Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy reacts after chipping in for birdie from the bunker on the 18th green during the final round of the Masters (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The perennial question: Is this Rory’s year at Augusta? It’ll be no surprise if he opens with a 67, but it’ll also be no surprise if he opens with a 77, that’s why he cant be any higher than fifth-favourite in my rankings. It’s not a stretch to think that had Rory gone on to win on that ill-fated Sunday in 2011, that he could have a closet full of Green Jackets by now, but Augusta National and the Masters have become his white whale and the enormity and weight of the task seem crushing.

His third round aside, he looked good at TPC San Antonio, but this year’s tendency to throw in double bogeys (and worse) out of nowhere is seriously worrying. But the fact that he’s even outside the top-two in this ranking suggests that he’s as far under the radar as he’s ever likely to be. His recent visit to Butch Harman – a man who’s coached more Masters winners than anyone else – could payoff mentally and there’d be no more popular winner worldwide. But we’ve dared to dream before and if he’s to have any chance, he needs a good opening round – preferably something in the 60s – or the demons of Masters past will resurface.

4. Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth – Getty Images

When Spieth’s Augusta ventures are reduced to a jaunt around the par-3 course and a role as honorary starter, I’ll still be convinced that he can win the Masters. A win, two runners-up, two thirds and a fourth in 10 starts, many of which he’s arrived at Augusta National in horrible form, barely capable of keeping the ball in bounds off the tee, make it crazy to think he’ll never not have a chance here.

It’s a golf course designed for chaos and no man embodies it more. When you compare Spieth and McIlroy side-by-side, it’s hard to fathom that the Texan could ever be deemed a better prospect but here we are. I’ll not be putting any money on him; the twists and turns and potential for disaster are more than I can handle with dough invested, but how can you not have him as one of the likeliest candidates to win the thing?

3. Brooks Koepka

Brooks Koepka with caddie Ricky Elliott at the 2023 Masters Tournament (Image: Masters Media)

The Koepka major championship flowchart is a relatively simple one to construct. Is it a major? Yes. Is Brooks Koepka playing? Yes. Is he able to walk? Yes. Conclusion: he’s a serious contender.

Has his form been great? No, it hasn’t. Does that really matter? Not really. Nobody has done a better job of turning up on the big stage and exerting his authority over the rest of the field, and only a rampant Jon Rahm stopped him from adding his fifth major title to his C.V. here last year, but it didn’t take long for him to right that wrong.

Everybody makes bogeys, everybody misses short putts, everybody gets bad breaks, but nobody is better at dealing with it and moving on than Brooks. He says that the Masters is “statistically your best chance to win a major,” and for a man as cold and calculated as he is, statistics matter. Winning the Masters would move him alongside Phil Mickelson, Nick Faldo and Lee Trevino on six career major titles and that’s the sort of company he feels he deserves to be in.

2. Jon Rahm

Jon Rahm celebrates his Masters victory (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The defending champion, the first European to ever win both the Masters and the US Open, and the man who’s never missed the cut here in seven starts, with a win and four top-10s included. So why isn’t he favourite? Well, only Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo, two of the most singularly minded golfers in the game’s history, have successfully defended the Masters since Jack Nicklaus did it in 1966, and Rahm has the added weight of being a LIV defector and the uncomfortable questions raised along with the fact.

A Champions Dinner to host, a speech to prepare, all of these are distractions, and while he’s definitely been the most consistent player on the LIV circuit in 2024, he hasn’t been able to convert any of his final-round chances into victories. But the music, the boisterous crowds, and the 54-hole tournament length are all things that have gotten under his skin a little. He’s back among the respectful patrons at Augusta National, back playing 72 holes and back with a point to prove that, LIV or no LIV, he’s the true Alpha Dog in men’s golf.

1. Scottie Scheffler 

Scottie Scheffler (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Who else? Had Scottie not missed a short putt on the 72nd hole at the Houston Open, we’d likely be talking about him arriving at Augusta looking for his fourth successive win on the PGA Tour – yes, the Masters is a co-sanctioned PGA Tour event, even if the Tour have no say in its staging – something only Tiger Woods has been able to achieve since 1953.

Given how he hits the ball and scrambles, par-5s are mincemeat for Scheffler and it’s hard not to see him covering the 16 – there’s no way he’s missing the cut and going home after two rounds – in 12-under, minimum. And since only once has a Masters winner reached -20 after 72 holes – that was Dustin Johnson in 2020 when it was staged in November – realistically, if he picks up six more shots over the other 56 holes, he’ll have his second Green Jacket.

But he didn’t win in Houston and it was a weak putt on the last that stopped him in his tracks. Last year he arrived here as the reigning Players champion, the winner from Phoenix and seeming close to unstoppable, but it was also here that the putting issues first really surfaced. A year removed, he’s gone to the depths of despair with the flatstick and is seemingly out the other side, but nowhere is your putting scrutinised more. If he putts well, he wins. But that’s a big if.

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