Dark Horses Masters 2019

We all have our Ones to Watch as for this year’s Masters Champion – and the lists vary greatly. The following are six players who are many fans’ favorites,  and none of them would be a surprise winner.

Rickie Fowler

Rickie Fowler should probably be on the Ones-to-Watch first string after his second place finish here last year, his 12th runner-up finish on the PGA Tour, and his victory in February at the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open, his fifth PGA Tour win. At last year’s Masters Fowler began the final round four strokes behind leader Patrick Reed and brought the thrilled galleries to their feet with six birdies on the last 11 holes, including one on the 18th that forced Reed to par for the victory.

In his win earlier this year Fowler started Sunday four strokes ahead of his nearest competitor, lost the lead and got it back for a two-stroke win over South African Brandon Grace. Fowler has been among the most popular players on the Tour for the past decade, and even though he just turned 30 in December, that is especially true among the young and the very young fans in gallery. He is an official ambassador for PGA Junior League Golf. There probably couldn’t be a more popular victory at The Masters than one by Rickie Fowler.

Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth, 25, has fallen from a dominant place atop the world golf rankings to his No. 23 place at the end of 2018. He hasn’t posted a top-10 finish since a tie for ninth at the Open Championship at Carnoustie in Angus, Scotland last July. Spieth first earned the world No. 1 ranking when he finished second to Jason Day at the 2015 PGA Championship. After losing the top ranking over the next month he put a firm grip on the honor when he won the 2015 Tour Championship by four strokes. That was Spieth’s fifth victory of the year and won him the FedEx Cup. With the Tour Championship victor’s purse he set a PGA Tour money winning record with $12,030,485, not counting the $10 million bonus for the FedEx Cup. One of those 2015 victories was his landmark win at The Masters. In that dazzling win Spieth shot the first-round record 64 and either set or tied the Masters scoring record after 36, 54 and 72 holes. He had reached the lowest score in Masters history at -18 late on Sunday afternoon but a bogey on the 18th hole dropped him to -17 and a tie with Tiger Woods with the all-time Masters winning score. He has 11 PGA Tour victories and three major championships. While Spieth has not been playing well for most of 2018, his immense talent could reawaken at any time and bring him another green jacket this April.

Bubba Watson

Bubba Watson, 40, won The Masters Tournament in 2012 and 2014 with spectacular demonstrations of golf. He has 10 other PGA Tour victories, including three in 2018 at the Genesis Open in February, the World Golf Championships – Dell Technologies Match Play with a finals win over Kevin Kisner, and the Travelers Championship in June by three strokes over Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, J. B. Holmes and Beau Hossler. The wins brought him to a No. 16 world ranking by the end of the year. Five of Watson’s 12 Tour wins came in playoffs, including his dramatic curling wedge shot out of the deep woods to the right of the first playoff hole from where he was able to defeat South African Louis Oosthuizen with a 10-foot birdie putt. Earlier in the day, Oosthuizen holed his long approach shot on the second hole, scoring an extremely rare double-eagle 2 on a par 5. Watson is still among the longest strikers of the ball in golf, is among the very few players who are still able to dramatically curve the ball in mid-air with the modern ball that is designed to fly much straighter. And because he played collegiately at the University of Georgia, Watson is wildly popular with the Augusta golf patrons.

Bryson DeChambeau

Bryson DeChambeau, 25, as a student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, majoring in physics, became the fifth golfer to win both the individual NCAA Division I championship and the U.S. Amateur in the same year, joining Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore. Although he could have joined the PGA Tour at that point, DeChambeau chose to maintain his amateur status in order to accept his invitation to the 2016 Masters Tournament, where he finished as the low amateur and tied for 21st place overall. In at least one way, DeChambeau has a swing like no other golfer in history. He has used his passion for physics to manufacture a swing using a full bag of clubs of the same length, only the lofts are different – allowing him to use the same swing at different distances. Immediately after The Masters, DeChambeau made his pro debut at the RBC Heritage in South Carolina and tied for fourth. His decision to turn professional abandoned his amateur invitations to play in the U.S. Open, and the Open Championship at Royal Troon, but he went on to qualify for the U.S. Open where he finished tied for 15th and earned over $152,000. That established his world rank at No. 158 after fewer than three months on Tour; he reached the No. 5 position at the end of the 2018 season. DeChambeau has five PGA Tour wins, four in 2018 including the Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies championship during the Tour Playoffs. In 2019 DeChambeau won for the first time on the European Tour at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic by seven strokes. In his only Masters Tournament as a professional DeChambeau finished in a tie for 38th last year. If indeed golf is a cerebral game played on the five-inch course between your ears, practicing physicist Bryson DeChambeau should have an advantage on other players. 

Tony Finau

Tony Finau is virtually a rookie on the PGA Tour at the age of 29 and with just one victory – the 2018 Puerto Rican Open, which is played the same weekend as the WGC World Match play and generally attracts the top 64 players in the world. His No. 12 world ranking in mid-winter this year is based on a string of high finishes in both 2017 and 2018 major championships, World Golf Championships and Tour Playoff events. He tied for seventh in 2017 at both the final playoff tournament at the BMW Championship and then the next week at the Tour Championship before finishing second a week later at the Safeway Open. In 2018 Finau tied for 10th at his first Masters Tournament, finished fifth at the U.S. Open, tied for ninth at The Open Championship, tied for 10th at the World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational, and in the playoffs rode a string of 2nd at The Northern Trust, a tie for fourth at the Dell Technologies Championship, a tie for eighth at the BMW Championship and a tie for 15th at The Tour Championship. He followed those excellent finishes by more good form in important tournaments including a tie for 10th at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St. Andrews and a second in the World Golf Championships – HSBC Championship in Shanghai, China. He hasn’t been on the world stage long enough for us to get a good grasp on his possibilities, but he certainly rises to the top in big events, and there is none bigger than the Masters.   

Xander Schauffele

Xander Schauffele rose to No. 7 in the World Golf Rankings by early 2019 in less than three years on the PGA Tour. He graduated from the Web.com Tour to the PGA Tour after the 2016 season. Fresh on the “Big” Tour, he tied for fifth at the 2017 U.S. Open, earning him an exemption into the 2018 U.S. Open. Three weeks later, Schauffele earned his first Tour victory at the Greenbriar Classic, starting the final round three strokes out of the lead but winning by one after making two birdies on the final three holes. That victory brought with it exemptions into the 2017 Open Championship and PGA Championship and the 2018 Masters Tournament. Entering the 2017 BMW Championship he stood 32nd in FedEx Cup points, needing to reach No. 30 to earn an invitation to the year-end Tour Championship. To the amazement of everyone watching, Schauffele played the final six holes in 6-under-par with a birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-par-birdie streak to reach 26th in the points system and an invitation to the Tour Championship. Even more surprising, Schauffele made birdie on the 72nd hole to pass Tour star Justin Thomas to become the first rookie to win the Tour Championship. Schauffele was voted “Rookie of the Year 2017” by his peers. In 2018, Schauffele finished tied for second in both The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass and at the Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Links. In October 2018, Schauffele won the WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai, China in a playoff over Tony Finau. In January 2019 Schauffele won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, shooting the tournament record 62 in the final round. Like Tony Finau, it might be too early to make projections on Xander Schauffele – but he continues to surprise. And Augusta National Golf Club was built for surprises.

Article appears in the April 2021 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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