Sam Torrance Masters preview: Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Alex Noren among Dustin Johnson's Augusta rivals

 
Sam Torrance
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TOUR Championship - Round Two
Johnson is the world No1 and on a run of three wins (Source: Getty)

World No1 Dustin Johnson will understandably tee off at Augusta on Thursday as the favourite to don the Green Jacket but he is by no means the only player harbouring strong claims.

Indeed, such is the depth of quality among the current top 10 at the moment that this year’s Masters has all the makings of one of the most closely contested Majors for a long time.

Jordan Spieth had his moment in 2015, but not since the heyday of Tiger Woods has a player gone into a Major with the aura of invincibility that Johnson has generated this season.

Read more: Why cool customer Dustin is cream of the current US crop

His momentum has been building since his victory at the US Open in June last year. That transformed his outlook and with it his career; he has won five of his 17 events since, including the last three.

Johnson appears to be very much in control of his game and has not played badly for ages. Everyone has so-so rounds, but like the great players he has turned them into 69s and 70s.

What’s more, the distance he hits the ball makes him enormously suited to Augusta. Gaining an extra 30 yards in the air can mean the ball travels 100 yards further altogether if it pitches on the downslope.

If there is a question mark over Johnson, it is over what happens if his technique is not as magnificent as usual. His swing is one that when it goes out, it goes right out.

He’s the hottest property in golf since Tiger for a reason, though, and if I had to put my life on anyone this week it would be Johnson.

McIlroy driven by pain of 2011

Rory McIlroy of N. Ireland pulls his cap
McIlroy is out to rectify his dramatic collapse in 2011 (Source: Getty)

Rory McIlroy has many reasons for wanting to win the Masters, not least that it is the only Major missing from his CV, but most of all because of what happened in six years ago.

It’s the tournament that we all grow up watching and, having taken a four-shot lead into Sunday, he had an opportunity to win it. He blew it, and that would have hurt more than anything.

When you come up against an obstacle that you can’t overcome it gets to you. Rory has wanted to rectify it ever since but hasn’t managed to satisfy that desire.

There are no questions about McIlroy’s ability but his build-up to this tournament has not been ideal: he hasn’t won since suffering a rib injury earlier this year.

Despite going close that fateful year and recording top-10 finishes in his last three visits, Augusta has not been his favourite course, so that adds to the apprehension.

Form aside, if Rory does play his game then the Northern Irishman can rival Johnson all the way.

Spieth ready to challenge again

The Masters - Final Round
Spieth suffered his own Masters heartache last year (Source: Getty)

Spieth experienced his own final-round disaster at last year’s Masters when his hopes of a second Green Jacket evaporated along with a five-shot lead down the back nine.

He is a very strong character, though. He bounced back from that disappointment with a win the following month and enjoyed a great Ryder Cup as the United States reclaimed the trophy.

The 23-year-old is confident and playing well – he has won already in 2017 – and his worst finish at Augusta is second place, so he is certainly a contender.

Day could be surprise package

The Masters - Preview Day 1
Day has struggled this season with injury and off-course issues (Source: Getty)

Jason Day is another former Masters runner-up and could be something of a surprise package this time.

His form has suffered this year due to injury and the distraction of his mother’s illness, but both of those situations appear to have improved and he looks more settled.

World No3 Day has done a lot of work off the course to lose some of his bulk and that could help with his back problems.

We know how good the Australian’s game is, so if he is fit and focused he could do anything.

Newcomers Rahm and Noren hold outside chance

World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play - Final Day
Spaniard Rahm has impressed in his first full season on tour (Source: Getty)

Jon Rahm is the new kid on the block, having taken the PGA Tour by storm in his first full season. He has one title already and took Dustin all the way to the final green at the WGC Match Play last month.

This is the Spaniard’s Masters debut and it is very difficult to win at the first attempt. There are so many subtleties to learn during your first four or five rounds.

That said, it’s possible to avoid those subtleties altogether, and I definitely give the 22-year-old an outside chance.

Alex Noren is also a Masters newcomer but is a lovely player and won four times last season.

The Swede is well suited to Augusta because he of his ability to fade the ball, which is an advantage there.

Six weeks ago Hideki Matsuyama might have been the favourite, following his extraordinary run of five wins in nine events.

The world No4 is a prodigious hitter and has previous at this tournament; he was seventh last year and fifth in 2015. He can go close again.

Rickie Fowler is another who has shown signs this year. He won the Honda Classic and, although he let a lead slip at the Houston Open at the weekend, is obviously in form.

Fellow American Justin Thomas, who also hits it a mile, can’t be discounted either.

Bad weather could suit evergreen Mickelson

It wouldn’t surprise me to see three-time winner Phil Mickelson thrive this week. Mickelson may be 46 but he is still playing the golf of his life and if the forecasts of high winds prove correct, it could suit seasoned competitors like him.

Open champion Henrik Stenson, 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott and England’s Paul Casey are three more experienced contenders, while Augusta’s reputation as a course cut out for repeat successes could favour two-time champion Bubba Watson.

Champion Willett in need of a boost

Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National Golf Club
Willett is back at the scene of his greatest triumph (Source: Getty)

Danny Willett was on cloud nine after his triumph 12 months ago but has been struggling since before the Ryder Cup and shown no form whatsoever.

Who knows whether memories of last year’s glory will give the Englishman a timely boost, although it looks unlikely.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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