So you're saying: "How can you possibly pick a winner five years hence?" OK, you probably aren't using "hence" unless you've got a gig at some Renaissance Festival, but work with me here. Who's your bet to win The Masters in five years? Here are some dos and don'ts to guide your guessing, and then my top five choices.
Don't worry about the up-and-comer who will up and steal the 2019 show. The Masters is the only major that doesn't move around; it's always at Augusta National Golf Club, which means the course rewards experience. No amateur has ever won The Masters, and only one Masters rookie won, Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. Also, the only golfer to have made The Masters his first PGA Tour win was Bernard Langer in 1985.
Don't be tempted by the turn-back-the-clock guys. Believe me, I sorely wanted 59-year-old Tom Watson to pull it off at Turnberry in the 2009 British Open. Same with 53-year-old Fred Couples almost every year at The Masters. Freddy will be 58 in five years — it could happen! But it won't, so don't chase the old-guy dream by picking anyone in their 50s.
Do put a forty-something on your list. Jack Nicklaus won at 46, and Gary Player won at 42. Both had won multiple times previously. Mark O'Meara won for the first time at 41. It can be done, so spice up your list with someone who has won multiple times, someone like Tiger Woods (he'll be 43 in 2019) or Bubba Watson (he'll be 40). Phil Mickelson? He'll be 48, which would make him the oldest champion ever. With his injuries, he's iffy. Angel Cabrera would be tempting to include because he's won twice and is a horse made for this course. But he'll be 49.
Do think top-10 finishers. After the 2014 win by Bubba, 16 of the last 22 winners each had a top-10 finish the previous year.
Given all that, here are my five picks:
- Bubba Watson. The first time he won, it was entertaining. The second win confirmed that he has the power fade (heavy on the power) that fits all but two of Augusta's holes. As impressive as his driving is there, it no longer overshadows his putting on Augusta's greens.
- Louis Oosthuizen. The 2010 British Open champion scored only the fourth ever albatross in the 2012 Masters, and lost to Bubba that year in sudden death. A swing to behold and study.
- Rory McIlroy. A two-time major winner, he's driven to get back that 2011 Masters championship he blew on the back nine on Sunday (he shot an 80). He has tons of talent and will settle into his game again.
- Jason Day. Here's my long shot. I've liked him at The Masters since he finished second in 2011 and third in 2013. He'll break through big in the next two years with a major win and be primed for The Masters in 2019.
- Tiger Woods. Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but this back injury will be a blessing for Woods, a time to wander in the wilderness and find peace in his swing and his head. His 2019 win at The Masters will be his 19th major championship, putting him ahead of Jack Nicklaus.
Jordan Spieth? We'll see. Adam Scott? The 2013 champion has one of the best swings ever, but how will his putting hold up once the belly putter goes bye-bye? Justin Rose? Another major winner with a gorgeous swing, but he just doesn't seem to be the horse for this course.