The first Major Championship of the season is upon us, which means all eyes are homed in on Augusta National Golf Club. Sergio Garcia returns to defend the Masters title he won 12 months ago and will hope to become the first man since Tiger Woods to win back-to-back Green Jackets.
Seven of the top ten players in the Official World Golf Ranking have finished in the top 10 at the Masters previously, with Garcia the only one to have triumphed on the hallowed course. It all points to being another classic week among the azaleas.
Our stats guru has weighed up the numbers and picked the following three players who could be contenders for your Fantasy team this week.
In the immediate aftermath of losing the play-off to Garcia last year, Justin Rose proclaimed, “I believe I can win this one day.” His record suggests those words may prove prophetic. Rose has finished in the top ten at Augusta for the last three years running and hasn’t finished outside the top 25 in any of his last eight appearances. Of players to have played 49 rounds or less at Augusa, Rose has the third best scoring average of 71.83, behind only Jason Day (71.56) and Rory McIlroy (71.82).
The 37 year old has 17 sub-par rounds out of 28 at Augusta since 2011, but has never gone lower than 67. Rose has four top eights in America this season, so will feel increasingly confident of a first Masters title. His back-to-back wins at the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open at the end of last season proved the 2013 US Open Champion is perhaps at his peak right now. A second Major Championship title is a strong possibility.
Will he? Won’t he? One of the many stories circulating over Augusta National this year is whether Rory McIlroy will complete the Career Grand Slam. With four top tens in his last four appearances in this event, you’d be bold to steer clear of backing the Northern Irishman to add to his four Major titles. At only 28 years old, McIlroy has plenty of time to improve on his best finish of fourth, recorded in 2015, but arriving off the back of a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, you’d have to feel everything is playing in to his hands.
McIlroy also performed well in the Desert Swing earlier this season, finishing in a share of third at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and outright second at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic respectively. While the challenges of competing in the desert won’t have prepared him for the test lying in wait this week, he will at least take confidence from an undeniably strong start to the season. With just one Major left to tick off in an already illustrious career, don’t be surprised if McIlroy goes low to win a first Green Jacket.
After missing the cut at European Tour Qualifying School last November, Shubhankar Sharma couldn’t have envisioned he’d be teeing it up at the Masters just six months later. It’s to the Indian’s credit that he has performed so strongly this season that the powers that be at Augusta felt compelled to hand him an invite. Sharma has won twice on tour this season, at the Joburg Open and Maybank Championship, and has climbed to World Number 68. He excelled at the recent WGC-Mexico Championship, leading after 54 holes and playing in the final group with Phil Mickelson and Tyrrell Hatton.
Despite a raft of new experiences this season, the 21 year old has handled himself with poise and an air of confidence you’d expect from a more senior player. His impressive performance in Mexico City, where he finished in a share of ninth, has shown he can mix it with some of the world’s best and another opportunity to perform on the biggest of stages could lead to another week to tell the grandchildren about.
Think you’ve got what it takes to pick a winning team? Time to register your side for our season-long game by clicking here. Good luck!