Here are the 5 unexpected golfers who could make a splash — and maybe even win it all –at The Masters 2018.
Names like Alex Noren and Patton Kizzire may not be familiar to many a sports fan, but they represent a sizable obstacle for Tiger Woods as he makes his way back up the PGA Tour, and they are in prime position to shake up this year’s Masters.
Tiger’s spring surge up the world rankings, in which he’s looked eerily close to the Tiger that dominated golf for a decade, was met with resistance by both long-driving big guns of the tour — think Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy — as well as the sport’s stalwarts, consistent veterans in the mold of Henrik Stenson.
The tour is competitive and unwilling to relent to the sudden roar of Tiger. This is no better exemplified than by the numerous sleeper candidates waiting to overtake them all on the biggest stage. Mullinax, Kizzire and others could throw a wrench into the proceedings at Augusta, and quite possibly knock the stars off their perch and keep Tiger from golf’s top tier.
Here are 5 dark-horse candidates to win the green jacket.
(All stats per PGATour.com.)
5. Kevin Streelman
Streelman, a 39-year-old American from Phoenix, is enjoying a career year. Through 12 events, he’s made the cut 11 times, easily the best percentage of his 11-year tour career, and he already has five top-25 finishes. By comparison, Justin Thomas (ranked second in the world) had 14 top-25 finishes in a 25-event season in 2017. Five of 12 is not a bad ratio for a player who didn’t make the tour full time until he was 29.
His accuracy on the fairways has improved dramatically in the last year, to the point where he has become one of golf’s best on second and third shots. After hitting just 66 percent of greens in regulation last season (64th on tour), he has hit 72.83 percent in 2018, placing him solidly in first. That means he’s hit the green more often on GIR (greens in regulation) strokes, which are strokes that will allow a golfer to putt for a birdie or better — i.e., the first shot on a par 3, second on a par 4, etc.
He’s created more birdie opportunities for himself by becoming more efficient with woods and irons in his hands, and the results have shown. He is second in the PGA in total sub-par rounds this season, finishing sixth amid a crowded field at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February and putting himself on pace to win his most prize money since 2013.
Putting is a concern — he is 181st in putts per round and does not fare well in almost any advanced putting stat, with his -0.417 putting strokes gained (180th on tour) specifically tanking. One who does not putt well at the Masters does not finish the weekend with a green jacket.
But he is playing better than he ever has, and his precision in putting the ball on the green is an essential skill for Augusta. If he stays disciplined off the tee (he has performed better this season when his average driving distance decreased), he could make a run.