Jordan Spieth began his preparations for the 2017 Masters on Monday, a year after his spectacular collapse at Augusta. (0:41)
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Here’s my attitude toward picking the winner of a golf tournament: Go big or go home. No risk, no reward. Don’t lay up. You know, all the macho stuff that every recreational golfer boasts before slicing a 3-wood from 245 yards into the middle of a pond.
Anyone can play for par. Some go chalk and take the No. 1 player available. Some go with the hot hand. Some use a process of elimination to whittle down the list of contenders. Me? I like to take a low-percentage hack right at the flagstick.
This week’s one-in-a-million shot is really just a 1-in-94 shot, which means those low percentages have already improved considerably. Even so, “anybody’s ballgame” here at the Masters Tournament already has a sense of a “three-horse race” in some eyes. If you’ve hung out at the local 19th hole lately, you’ve likely heard some semblance of this argument: I don’t think anyone can beat DJ right now, but maybe Rory or Spieth have a chance.
It’s this overconfidence in the favorites that makes me even more optimistic about my pick — a guy who has never won a major, a guy who usually draws more criticism than praise.
Rickie Fowler is going to win the Masters.
I could point to the stats: He ranks in the PGA Tour’s top 30 this season in strokes gained for driving, approach shots, chipping and putting, while also posting the lowest scoring average.
I could point to the facts: He’s just over a month removed from winning the Honda Classic and finished in a share of third place at the Shell Houston Open this past week, proving he’s still in form.
Or I could point to the intangibles.
Too often, golf lives in the past. Just as a portion of the public is still waiting for Tiger Woods circa 2000 to magically reappear among the loblolly pines, it largely still views Fowler as the brash kid wearing his hat backward, the one who’s more hype than hope. More than any other professional golfer, Fowler gets ripped for what he hasn’t accomplished rather than celebrated for what he has. But he now owns four career PGA Tour wins, two more on the European Tour, a consistent spot inside the world’s top 10 and top-five finishes at each of the major championships, a feat he pulled off in a single calendar year back in 2015.
The main takeaway here? He’s not a kid anymore. He’s 28, and a victory this week would be a culmination of Fowler’s maturation.
Of course, there will be those who contend that he can’t win simply because he hasn’t yet. That would have been irrational logic for Danny Willett last year — and five of the previous six Masters champions.
The recent winner’s list should serve as a vital reminder that there’s no sure thing in this sport. Even all those years of “Tiger or the field?” questions more frequently yielded victories for the latter. All the talk this week is about Dustin Johnson, who has won each of his last three starts; and Rory McIlroy, who needs a win here to complete the career grand slam; and Jordan Spieth, who has finished second-first-second in his initial three Masters appearances.
Fowler? He’s the guy who opened with an 8-over 80 last year, turning a potential rally up the leaderboard into a quick missed cut. He’s the guy who looked susceptible while winning the Honda and vulnerable while losing the Shell.
He’s also a guy who understands how he can win the Masters. When I asked him why he believes that’s possible, he didn’t hesitate.
“I’m making a lot of birdies right now, and that bodes well around this golf course,” said Fowler, who ranks seventh this season in birdie average. “You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to have to settle for bogeys here and there. … Having a lot of offense these last two tournaments is something that I want to feed off of.”
He isn’t the safe pick. He isn’t the “aim for the fat part of the green and make your routine par” kind of pick.
Fowler is the ultimate risk-reward attempt, one that can pay off with an eagle or penalize with a double-bogey. But that’s how recreational golfers play the game. If there’s a one-in-a-million chance of pulling it off, we go for it.
In this case, it’s only a 1-in-94 chance.
Rickie Fowler — the matured, talented, consistent Fowler, that is — is going to win the Masters this week. I believe that just like I believe every 3-wood from 245 won’t slice into that pond.