It’s Masters week! The first major of the season is upon us and there is plenty to be excited about. The 2017 Tournament has the potential to be one of the best Masters in recent history. Here’s a preview of what lies ahead this week at Augusta National Golf Club:

Scoring Opportunities:

2nd Hole — Pink Dogwood

After a daunting opening hole (#1 was 2016’s second hardest hole) the players get a scoring opportunity with this Par-5. The dogleg left was the easiest hole on the course last year and saw six eagles and 113 birdies. Any player looking to get their round off to a good start, especially on Sunday, needs to take advantage of the easiest hole on the course.

13th Hole — Azalea

A great tee shot here is important if a player wants to make a birdie or have a chance at eagle. Leaving it right off the tee can put anyone in danger of finding the pine needles and there is not much room to put it left. Players also have to be aware of the creek that runs in front of the green. All in all, a good tee shot and a good second shot can set anyone up with a chance to get a red number. The 2016 tournament saw 7 eagles and 119 birdies and was the second easiest hole on the course.

Danger Zone:

1st Hole — Tea Olive

The challenge of the first hole is another thing that makes the Masters so brilliant. Every golfer starts at 1 and is forced to confront this hole while filled with nerves. The challenging green can derail a players chances almost immediately, as we saw with Ernie Els last year. The opening hole yielded only 19 birdies last season and was the second toughest hole on the course.

4th Hole — Flowering Crab Apple

There is always so much talk about the swirling and ever changing wind at the famous 12th hole at Augusta, but players and caddies are quick to mention that the wind at the 4th hole is just as deadly. The 240-yard par three can cause many challenges to players. Sending the ball over the green off the tee is almost a surefire bogey or worse and leaving it short puts the player at risk of landing in the sand. This hole provides little room for mistake and can derail someones chances early on a Sunday if they hit a bad tee shot.

11th Hole — White Dogwood

The eleventh is continually the toughest hole on the course and is the start of Amen Corner. If you miss the fairway too far left, you’re in the trees. If you miss the fairway too far right, you’re in the trees. To make things even tougher, the green is surrounded by trouble. There’s water to the left and behind the green, a sand trap to the right, and two mounds to the front right of the green. Players can find themselves in all sorts of danger on this hole. The challenging hole saw just 9 birdies in the 2016 tournament and 134 bogeys or worse.

Amen Corner

We’ve already touched on most of Amen Corner, but it’s tough to leave out the famous 12th hole at Augusta National, which is in the middle of Amen Corner. The 11th, 12th, and 13th holes make up Amen Corner and last year it was the famous par-3 12th, named Golden Bell, that claimed the corner’s latest victim on Sunday. Jordan Spieth put two balls in the water at the par-3 en route to a quadruple bogey. They say that the Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday. Why? Amen Corner is why.

The Favorites

Dustin Johnson

The number one ranked golfer in the world enters the tournament with victories in his previous three starts. There is nobody better than Johnson in the golfing world right now. He has finished T6 & T4 in the last two tournaments at Augusta. This will be his first start at the Masters as a major champion, which should help his confidence this year. He has proven to the world that he can win in majors and he has proven to the world that he is a legitimate number one ranked golfer. Expect Johnson to be in the thick of things this weekend.

Jordan Spieth

There is absolutely no way you leave Spieth off a list of contenders in this tournament. In three Masters appearances he has finished no lower than second place. He has been in the final group on Sunday all three times and tied the tournament record with an 18-under victory in 2015. The biggest thing to watch for with Spieth this year is how he rebounds from his 2016 collapse. At the turn last year he was well on his way to his second consecutive Green Jacket and was set to make history. However, Amen Corner took that away as he bogeyed 11 and then sunk two balls in the water at 12 to take a quadruple bogey 7. Despite last years final round, the young texan has shown he has what it takes to be a contender here and could very easily be in contention again on Sunday this year.

Rory McIlroy

Will this be the year McIlroy completes the career grand slam? The four-time major champion has yet to breakthrough at the Masters and will be looking to do it this year. One thing with McIlroy is that he continually struggles to post four excellent rounds at Augusta. Aside from 2015 where he had four rounds under par and finished in 4th place, the Northern Irishman always seems to blow up in at least one round of the tournament. And even in that 2015 tournament he found himself below the cut line as he made the turn on Friday. McIlroy is a huge threat when he is on top of his game and will always contend in majors. Putting together 72 great holes of golf this week could help him finally capture that green jacket.

The Contenders:

Jason Day

Much like the three listed above, when Day is on top of his game he is scary good. However, Day hasn’t been near the top of his game and is struggling with some family issues. How that all comes together will determine his finish this week.

Justin Thomas

Thomas started the year on fire with three wins in his first six starts but he has slowed down recently. He has missed the cut in three of his last six appearances and didn’t make it out of the round robin at the WGC-Match Play. If Thomas finds his form he’ll contend. If he doesn’t, it could be a short week for him.

Hideki Matsuyama

Matsuyama has had a season much like Justin Thomas. Hot start, cool as of late. If he finds his touch this week he’ll contend. If not, well, he won’t contend. Simple as that.

Others to watch:

Henrik Stenson — Hasn't had success at Augusta throughout his career. Finally got over major hump with win at 2016 Open Championship.

Bubba Watson — Two-time Masters Champ. Course fits his game when he is on his game.

Adam Scott — 2013 Masters Champ. Always a threat in majors.

Rickie Fowler — Hot start to the season, including a win at The Honda Classic. Is he finally poised to break through in a major?

Jon Rahm — Young Spaniard has been feeling it since his maiden PGA Tour victory at the Farmers Insurance Open. Has shown he’s not afraid of the moment.

Phil Mickelson — Top-10’s in two of his last three tournaments this season. Can’t leave Phil off a list of guys who’ll show up to play at Augusta.

Winner Prediction:

I’m going to show some real bias here and lock in my favorite golfer Rickie Fowler. He has had a great start to the season and according to swing coach, Butch Harmon, Rickie has been working really hard this season. The pressure is on Rickie not only to win a major, but to win more often. I think he comes into this tournament locked in and ready this week and captures his first major and second win of the season. His short game has been solid this year, which is extremely important at the Masters. Look for Fowler to sink some putts and continue his success making sand saves when he does find himself in the bunker. Do orange pants and a green jacket match well with each other? We’ll find out on Sunday night.

The unfortunate news of the week is that Tiger Woods will not be in the field for the second consecutive year. Woods has missed most of the last two seasons with a lingering back injury and will be forced to skip the Masters again in 2017. He may not have contended had he played, but the fact of the matter is, golf with Tiger Woods is always more fun to watch.

There ya have it. The field is set. The course is ready. Now it is time for the fun to begin. The best week of the golf season is finally here. It’s time to sit back and enjoy the 81st edition of the Masters Tournament.

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