CG’s Storylines to Watch at the 2017 Masters

Published on Tuesday, April 4th, 2017 in News | Slider

Jordan Spieth and Michael Greller consider yardage during practice rounds at the 2014 Masters. (Photo courtesy Michael Greller)

If you haven’t noticed, it’s golf season.

You can be forgiven, certainly, for thinking we’re still mired in the depths of winter — the temperatures haven’t exactly warmed up (as of last week, Seattle had yet to have a day over 60 degrees in 2017), and we just finished the wettest first quarter of the year in our region’s history. So … yeah, it’s been rough.

But when I turned on my TV last weekend, I heard that familiar piano music, and the voice of Jim Nantz coming through my speakers with, “A tradition like no other …” and it was as if the ice that’s been forming around my heart (and certainly on my driver) for the last few months was melted away. It’s been a long time coming, but Masters week is finally here — and that means that our playing season can’t be too far behind.

Being the tradition that it is, and the first major of the year to boot, the Masters is never short for storylines. Here are a few that we find most compelling this week:

1. Whither Jordan Spieth?
The 2015 Masters made Jordan Spieth (and, it must always be mentioned, his University Place caddie, Michael Greller) a household name. The 2016 Masters — OK, specifically, the 12th hole in the final round of the 2016 Masters — took that house, lit it on fire, dropped a tree on it, then opened up a sinkhole and swallowed it up. OK, OK, it wasn’t that bad — but following a year in which Spieth won five times on the PGA Tour — including consecutive majors, and nearly a third — and climbed to No. 1 in the world rankings, the 22-year-old won just twice in 2016, and followed up his back-nine Masters disaster with three-straight lackluster major performances (T37, T30, T13) and a drop to No. 6 worldwide. While we’d all love to have a year so bad that we “only” win $5.5 million, hoist a Ryder Cup and finish No. 6 in the world, this week marks Spieth’s best chance yet to prove that he’s put the 2016 Masters behind him.

2. Who’s Next?
While the selection process of The Masters ensures that only game’s most successful golfers have the chance to compete for a green jacket, it doesn’t mean that we’re guaranteed to see a big name atop the leaderboard on Sunday evening. In fact, seven of the last 10 Masters — and eight of the last 13, dating back to Phil’s first win in 2004 — have crowned a first-time major champion. Most of them — Phil, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Spieth — were well-known at the time of their win, but The Masters still has the potential to produce a Danny Willett, Charl Schwartzel or Trevor Immelman seemingly out of nowhere. From the latter (well-known) group, maybe this is the year Hideki Matsuyama, Sergio Garcia or Rickie Fowler finally remove themselves from the “Best Player To Never Win a Major” debate, or maybe an Alex Noren, Jon Rahm or Tommy Fleetwood enter the ranks of royalty.

3. Rory’s Return
Did you know that Rory McIlroy has never won The Masters? It’s easy to forget, with all of the success he’s had since then, but Rory’s collapse in the final round in 2011 (followed less than two months later by his first-ever major victory) is just about as close as he’s come to an interview in Butler Cabin (he’s had higher finishes, yes, but I’d argue that at no time has Rory been closer to winning The Masters than he was when standing on the first tee that Sunday in 2011). Rory hasn’t won a major since the 2014 PGA, and was cut twice at majors last year. Now, I’m not saying that it was totally the clubs, but can we consider that maybe it was the clubs? Or that maybe somewhere in the back of Rory’s mind, he thinks it might have been the clubs? Since switching from Nike to Callaway to kick off the 2017 season, Rory’s put together a good run of form, and climbed back to No, 2 in the world rankings. If you’re looking for a first-time winner to pick, you could do a lot worse than quite possibly the best player in the world, flush with renewed confidence.

4. The Actual Best Player In The World
Remember that time Tiger Woods won seven straight tournaments? Or the separate time that he won six straight? Or that completely separate time that he won five straight? I know, I know … I’ve taken an item that should be about Dustin Johnson going for his fourth-consecutive win, and instead made it about Tiger Woods. But … dang, that guy was good. If Dustin can win his fourth in a row — becoming the first player other than Tiger to do so in nearly 65 years — while adding a green jacket to his legacy, we may have to consider that this “new” DJ (the one who doesn’t melt down in high-pressure situations) isn’t just the best player in the world right now, but possibly one of the best we’ve ever seen.

5. Can Ryan Moore Do It?
Hometown favorite Ryan Moore told us in October that last year’s Ryder Cup win — and truthfully, even his selection to the team — was a big confidence-booster for him. The Puyallup native has generally been strong at The Masters, with two top-15 finishes since 2010, and just two missed cuts in his last six appearances at Augusta. He’s never had trouble winning on Tour (five career Tour wins) and had the honor of rolling in the winning putt at the 2016 Ryder Cup — is this the year he adds a major championship to that already-impressive trophy case?

There’s plenty of other storylines to watch, too — Jon Rahm’s ongoing rise, Jason Day’s devotion to his mother, and more — these are just the ones that we find most interesting. What about you?

2017 Cascade Golfer Masters Picks

Dick Stephens, Publisher: HIDEKI MATSUYAMA
My heart is with Fred Couples, but Matsuyama is the best tee-to-green golfer in the world, presently. Approaches each shot like a robot. Tenaciousness wins green jackets — five wins in a year and has a top-10 in every major in his short career. The world No. 2 can bust through this year.

Brian Beaky, Editor: JORDAN SPIETH
Look, I know things fell apart quickly last year. But how can you not pick a guy who, in three career Masters, has never finished WORSE than second?

Simon Dubiel, Golf Sales Manager: DUSTIN JOHNSON
Just because it is obvious doesn’t mean it is wrong. At present it is DJ’s world and everyone else is just living it. Dude got the monkey off his back winning the U.S. Open last year. His father-in-law is Wayne Gretzky, his wife is Paulina, he has already won three times this year — including back-to-back World Golf Championships — and is ranked No. 1 in the world. Better measure him up for that green jacket because his “A” game is currently unmatched.

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