The Masters is the final opening day of the golf season. For some of us (like me), golf starts around Jan. 1 with the Sentry Tournament of Champions. For others, it’s the Farmers Insurance Open at the end of January when Tiger Woods exits his annual hibernation. For many, though, it’s Masters week, the first event of the season with something at stake.
Because of this, and because golf’s majors are so narrative-driven, many of us need some stories on which to hang our hats. Not necessarily middle-of-the-season stories but bigger picture reminders of why it’s easy or fun to root for different golfers in a given field.
This year’s Masters field has fewer golfers than most, but among the stars — we’re excluding improbably rooting interests like seniors and amateurs — there is (and will be) plenty to fist pump in the days ahead. Let’s take a look at nine guys to root on at this year’s Masters.
After a near-miss last year when he finished one stroke out of a playoff with Patrick Reed, Fowler has now played 34 consecutive major championships without a win — or as it’s known in the golf world, half a Sergio [Garcia]. He’s always an easy pull and especially so this year after nearly doing the deed in 2018.
If you like rooting for history, Rory is your guy. He’s again playing for the career slam and won’t be 30 until May. He also seems to have found some peace with Augusta, and I think it’s always easier to root for the placid over the unsettled. “I think there’s a difference between a personal desire and a need,” McIlroy said recently. “And I think I’ve separated those two. I would have said a couple of years ago, ‘I need to win a Masters. I need a green jacket.’ Where now it’s, ‘I want to. I want to win it. And I’d love to win it. But if I don’t, I’m OK.’ And I think that is the difference. … So have I a desire to do it? Yes. Do I have a need to do it? No.”
Sometimes picking somebody to root for is as easy as answering the question, “Who seems like they love and appreciate and revel in playing golf more than everyone else?” You might find yourself backing Fleetwood and his flow come the weekend.
I get it. I get why you wouldn’t want to root for Tiger. But it’s undeniable that, no matter who’s in the middle of it late on Sunday, if Big Cat is pouring in birdies and awakening the echoes, it’s going to be an absolute roller coaster.
He’s not the most cuddly teddy bear on the list, but a Koepka win here would mean every major would have somebody trying to complete the career slam. Rory at the Masters, Jordan Spieth at the PGA Championship, Phil Mickelson at the U.S. Open and Koepka at The Open.
Lefty might be a turn off for some, but he delivers what 99 percent of golfers cannot: a level of excitement that is in the same universe as when Tiger is contending. A win here would also give him four jackets and tie him with Tiger and Arnold Palmer for the most ever behind Jack Nicklaus at six.
After he had to withdraw from the 2015 Masters because his wife nearly died, I will always connect Leishman to this event. It’s an emotional thing to win an event like this one, but for the Leishman family, I cannot imagine a more overwhelming moment than walking up No. 18 thinking about all that once nearly transpired and how far they’ve come since then.
It’s hard to relate to wunderkinds. It’s harder still to feel bad for them. But if it’s possible for mere mortals to empathize with somebody like Spieth, now is the time. He’s coming off a stretch where he hasn’t finished in the top 10 of a PGA Tour event since last July and has slipped outside the top 25 in the world. Four majors at the age of 25 will make you forget a lot of things awfully fast though.
After destroying his leg in the Par 3 Contest last year but still notching a top 10 in the actual event, Finau will be a fan favorite going into this year’s tournament. He’s a jolly cat with a monstrous family that seemingly never met a day on the course he didn’t like. In other words, he acts like we all think we would act if we were pro golfers (even if we wouldn’t). With just one win to his PGA Tour page, a Masters victory would be a life-changer.