The Masters 2015: 10 bold predictions

Ladies and gentleman, the moment you've all been waiting for is finally here. It's officially Masters week after 22 PGA Tour tournaments this season headlined with winners like Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and more. Now, it's time to take what we know and make some predictions for the first PGA Tour major tournament of the season.

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The Masters 2015: 10 bold predictions

Jordan Spieth vs. Patrick Reed will be the story after two days

The Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed rivalry is the future of American golf. Spieth at 21-years-old and Reed at 24 are young hot shots that have proved that they’re solidified golfers on the PGA Tour.

Spieth ranks fourth in the world and Reed ranks fifteenth. Both have surging confidence and each has a victory this season and multiple top-10 finishes.

It’s very possible that Reed and Spieth will be on or right near the top after the first two rounds at Augusta National because of their extremely consistent play and ability to get off to great starts. Reed’s round one scoring average is his best out of each round and his putting in the first round is also his best. Spieth is more of a second round guy with his round two scoring average at 69.88 and his 27 putts per second round ranking as his best per the four days.

In Spieth’s rookie Masters last year he was very impressive and was able to finish T-2 and he definitely has a great chance of winning, but with much of the attention on him this week, I just don’t see it happening. Reed also played his rookie Masters last year but missed the cut. Both guys have been the story of American golf this year and they will be early in the Masters this week.

(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Three South Africans will finish in the top 15

A player from the United States has won the Masters 58 times between 35 different golfers. The next country with the most players to have won the Masters is South Africa, who owns five green jackets. The first three wins came from golf legend Gary Player, and the next two came in 2008 by Trevor Immelman and in 2011 by Charl Schwatzel.

There are five South Africans in the 2015 Masters field. Ernie Els (finished second in 2000, 2004), Schwartzel, Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen (finished second in 2012), and Branden Grace.

Any of these guys could win including Els, who is 45 years old and has four major victories to his name but none at Augusta National. Guys over 40 have had proven success at Augusta National especially golfers like Fred Couples who has finished in the top 20 in the last six Masters. Don’t be surprised for Els to be near the top come Sunday.

A guy who could do really well is 26-year-old Branden Grace. He has had a great season so far winning two events on the European tour and adding two more top 20 finishes in six events. Grace is posting his career-best scoring average on the European Tour this year (69.96) and he also is driving the ball 305.2 yards on average this season, bringing up his career best by nearly 10 strokes. Driving the ball long at Augusta National is a big factor for winning the tournament and if Grace can keep it in the fairway, we may seem him wearing the green jacket.

Any combination of these five golfers could finish in the top 15 this year and I expect at least three of them will end up there by the end of the tournament. With the recent success of Immelman, Oosthuizen and Schwartzel as well as a guy you can’t ever count out in Els and a prime dark horse in Grace, South Africa is going to try and take over Augusta National this year.

(Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Winner will be 30 years of age or more

Nine of the last 12 Masters winners have been age 30 or older including the last three winners (Bubba Watson and Adam Scott). Augusta National is a golf course that favors more seasoned players who have been in the Masters before. It’s something you need energy and stamina for, but also need to know the mindset to have on the first tee and in the final round.

While younger guys under 30 have no doubt had success at Augusta National, they’ve only been wearing the green jacket at the end of it all three times in the past 12 years. Those winners were Charl Schwartzel, Trevor Immelman and Tiger Woods (2005).

With the winner being over 30, it takes out golfers that people think have great chances this year like Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler and more. But it also lets us look more at guys like Jimmy Walker, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.

Spieth and McIlroy are coming into the Masters with all the odds in their favor and with plenty of hype between the two of them, but neither will be your winner come Sunday.

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods paired for the final round

For this to happen, you need Tiger Woods to make the cut, which many think he can’t and won’t do. But then, you have to get Tiger and Phil Mickelson tied after three rounds and make themselves the featured pairing for Sunday. But, I think both will happen.

Both guys have been great at Augusta National in the past with seven wins between them and while I don’t think either will win this week. Their great consistency at the Masters shows me that these two could be in the top 10 and paired for the final round.

Mickelson has 12 top 10 finishes and three wins since 1999 and Tiger Woods has won four times (1997, 2000, 2001, 2005) and 13 top 10’s since 1997. These guys know how to perform at Augusta National and they’ve been there on top of the leaderboard. You can never bet against either of these guys in the big tournaments no matter how old they are.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have been paired 36 times in their careers and the last time they were paired was at the 2014 PGA Championship for the first two rounds. After Phil won both head-to-head rounds at the PGA, he tied up their all-time head-t0-head scoring series 16-16-4. The perfect storyline? Tiger and Phil getting paired at any point in the Masters, but I’m hoping it’ll be for the final round after both players have been successful over the first three days.

Phil Mickelson will finish somewhere in the top 10 because of his consistency and history at Augusta National and I’ll give you my prediction for Tiger in a later slide.

(Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy will finish outside the top 25

Rory McIlroy is facing a ton of attention this week and has in the last month about winning the Masters and completing the PGA major grand slam that only six golfers have ever done in history.  Tiger Woods completed the grand slam when he was just 24-years-old and now Rory McIlroy will look to get his at the young age of 25.

But, sadly this won’t happen for McIlroy.

The pressure will prove to be too much for him and he’ll struggle early without a chance to get back on the top of the leaderboard or even in the top 25. McIlroy is known to choke at Augusta National, and this year won’t be much different.

After winning the U.S. Open, the British Open and the two PGA Championship’s, all McIlroy has left to conquer is Augusta National. He’s had opportunities to win at The Masters in the past couple years, but one bad round has ruined him. In 2011, Rory came into the final round at the Masters 12-under par after an opening round 65 put him on top of the leaderboard and he stayed there throughout the first three days. But, Rory choked under pressure in the final round and shot an 8-over par 80 on Sunday, throwing him all the way back to 15th.

In 2013, Rory looked poised to have a chance to win after two rounds, but a third round 79 made him fall way back, putting him too deep to get back into the top 10. In 2014, McIlroy’s second round 77 crippled him despite going under par in each of his other three rounds and he finished T-8.

You can say that Rory McIlroy is the best golfer in the game right now, but you can’t for a second be sure that he’s a shoo-in to win at Augusta National this week. It’s the one place in Rory’s career where he’s shown such strong inconsistency, and he’s only been consistent in choking year to year.

I wish Rory all the best this year, but his pressure has been heightened ten fold because of the possibility of completing the grand slam this week at such a young age. He’s going to have a terrible third and fourth round and he’ll drop out of the top 25.

Plus, it looks like McIlroy’s ex-fiance Caroline Wozniacki has found a new boy toy in J.J. Watt. Hopefully that’s not in his head at all either.

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

A non-American wins the 2015 Masters

58 times an American has won the Masters and just 18 times has a non-American won, but this year a non-American golfer will win another green jacket.

In the last seven Masters, a non-American has won four times (Immelman, Angel Cabrera, Schwartzel and Scott). Since 2009, Americans and non-Americans have alternated in winning the green jacket every year and after Bubba Watson won in 2014, it’s time for that cycle to continue.

There’s an exceptional field of non-American golfers who have great chances of winning including Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Jason Day, Adam Scott as well as great dark horses I like including Branden Grace, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Paul Casey, Hideki Matsuyama and more.

In recent years, there have been plenty of international players inside the top 10 of the Masters leaderboard. In 2014, we saw seven international players in the top 10 including Jonas Blixt, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Lee Westwood, Thomas Bjorn, Bernhard Langer, Rory McIlroy and John Senden. In 2013, four of the top five on the leaderboard were international players: Adam Scott, Angel Cabrera, Jason Day and Marc Leishman.

The fact is that international guys are really beginning to dominate and split green jacket time with American golfers more than ever before. Watch out Spieth, Reed, Kuchar, Walker, Watson and Mickelson, because it’s another year where a non-American will win the Masters.

(Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Watch out for the old-timers

Don’t be surprised if you see some 50+ year-old golfers up near the top of the leaderboard and possibly winning a green jacket this year.

No golfer age 50 years or older has ever won the Masters, but with the recent success by Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer getting into the top 10, a senior victory is bound to happen soon.

Looking specifically at Fred Couples, in the last six Masters he has finished in the top 20 including a sixth place finish 2010 and he has impressed even in his 50’s. The problem with Couples in the Masters? The third and fourth rounds where he runs out of stamina and has been +10 in his last three Saturday and Sunday rounds combined.

Last year, German golfer Bernhard Langer, who is tied for second in all-time wins on the European Tour and has dominated the Champions Tour, placed T-8 in the Masters after a final round 3-under score that was the second best score in the field. If older guys like Langer can set themselves up in a good spot early and be able to close the way he did, we could see them winning the green jacket this year.

Some great seniors in the field include Couples, Langer, Vijay Singh, Darren Clarke, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Larry Mize, Mark O’Meara and Tom Watson. Watch out, young guys.

(Photo by Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)

Tiger Woods will finish in the top 10

Once again, you can hate me all you want, but don’t be surprised when my hopefulness rings true. The truth is, no matter how bad Tiger’s game has been recently, he’s a contender to win in anything he plays in because he’s the greatest golfer of all time.

Tiger missed the Masters last year and ratings went down by over 30 percent. Now that he’s back, so is the excitement from casual golf fans who might not care about the tournament if he’s not in it. That’s exciting. It’s also a lot of pressure. But, he’s dealt with pressure his whole life, he just needs to get his mental game on point once again.

Here’s how Tiger has played in the Masters since his last victory at Augusta National in 2005:

He’s made the top 10 each year he’s played except once in 2013 and made the top five except twice. The guy knows Augusta National and knows how to play big. His exceptional golf game is going to come back to him at some point, so why not this week? The key will be his short game that has struggled so immensely over the past two years.

Tiger is going to get a top-10 finish after a great Saturday and Sunday. He won’t get the win, but he’ll be right up there near the top of the leaderboard along with his fourth round partner Phil Mickelson.

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Masters rookies will make it interesting

There are a good number of first time Masters players in the field this week and some could have good chances of getting near the top of the leaderboard. The most notable Masters rookies include 35-year-old Erik Compton, 24-year-old Brooks Koepka, 23-year-old Seung-Yul Noh, 25-year-old Morgan Hoffman and 27-year-old Cameron Tringale

The guy I like most out of this bunch? Koepka by far. He’s got one victory this year already at the Phoenix Open and he’s fifth in the PGA Tour in driving distance with an average of 307.8 yards per drive. He’s made all seven cuts he’s played for and has three top 10’s. His long driving will be great at Augusta National and he could be a real threat this week.

Morgan Hoffman is another guy that drives the ball over 300 yards and after a fourth place finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he’s playing well and has a chance to really succeed at Augusta National.

Erik Compton is a fan favorite who has had two heart transplants and is a great story for the game of golf. Compton finished T-2 in the U.S. Open last year and maybe he’s ready to get back onto the front page of a major tournament leaderboard.

Any of these guys can win and don’t be surprised if they’re making things interesting in rounds three and four this week at Augusta National.

(Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Lee Westwood wins the 2015 Masters

Forget Tiger, Rory, Phil, Sergio, Jason, Jordan, Henrik and anyone else other than Lee Westwood because the 41-year-old Englishman is going to win his first ever PGA Tour major tournament this week. Westwood has finished second or third in each PGA Tour major but has never been able to finish the job, now he finally will.

Since 2010, Lee Westwood’s worst finish at Augusta National is T-11 in 2011 and he finished in the top 10 every other year. He finished seventh last year, finished third in 2012 and second in 2010. Lee Westwood is one of the best golfers in this era to not have a major tournament victory and it would be a shame for his career to end without one.

Westwood has played in seven PGA Tour events this season and made six cuts. He missed the cut at the Shell Houston Open after back-to-back 71’s. In the six events he’s made the cut, Westwood has had a top 25 finish in each one. He’s been strong and consistent and has had a great approach game. He doesn’t have to go that low at Augusta National either, he just needs to be consistent throughout all four days.

If Westwood can get his putting under control on the tough greens, I think he’ll win the green jacket this year and win his first PGA Tour major tournament. His putting is down from last year. He’s 51st in putting average this year and was 32nd in 2014. Despite is struggles on the green, Westwood has been able to consistently nab top 25 finishes.

In the last two years, Westwood didn’t have a score in the 60’s for any round during the Masters but was still able to finish in the top 10. If he can grab just one 67 and shoot consistently the rest of the tournament just under par, he has a real shot to win this week.

He’s well deserving, it’s just a matter of time before Westwood joins the list of legendary golfers who have won the green jacket especially with the way he’s played at Augusta National in recent years.

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are dominating headlines leading into the Masters.

McIlroy has four major victories, but he hasn't won the Masters. He'll look to complete the "grand slam of golf" this week at Augusta National joining a short list of great players who have done it in the past including Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen and Gary Player.

Tiger Woods, who was on an indefinite leave of absence until his game was "tournament ready" since February, announced last week that he would play in the 2015 Masters after much speculation that we wouldn't see Tiger play in the tournament he's won four times in his career. Tiger has played in two PGA Tour events this season since undergoing back surgery last year. Woods missed the cut at the Phoenix Open and then withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open after stress to his back.

When Woods missed the Masters last year, TV ratings went down by over 30 percent marking the worst ratings since 1993. Now, Tiger's return creates an incredible atmosphere at Augusta National and as more attention falls on him, less attention falls on dark horse candidates to win the Masters.

Other storylines include the fact that Jordan Spieth is coming in as one of the favorites to win the Masters after a great year so far. If Spieth wins, he would be the second youngest player to win the Masters at 21 years and 259 days just behind Tiger Woods' record of 21 years and 104 days that he set in 1997.

Big hitter Bubba Watson has won twice in the past three years and now we wonder if he can be stopped at Augusta National in 2015. Fellow big hitter Dustin Johnson returned from his leave of absence/suspension and won the WGC-Cadillac Championship as he looks to win his first major. Jimmy Walker comes into the Masters ranked first in FedEx Cup points with two wins already this year.

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