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Ones to Watch – Augusta Magazine

By Stephen Delaney Hale

Every era of golf seems to have a dominant few — a small band of golden boys who define their age. 

Even though the immortal Bobby Jones was too ill to contend while playing the first few Augusta Invitationals, he would have had contenders. Gene Sarazen, Horton Smith and Jimmy Demaret ruled the two decades before World War II. A few years later came a flashy group out of Texas. Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead out of the mountains of western Virginia. Then came golf’s Big Three: Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus. 

Nicklaus’ career overlapped with Tom Watson, plus Johnnie Miller and Tom Weiskopf, neither of whom won a Green Jacket, but they gave Nicklaus a hard time in 1975. Watson’s two victories coincided with two from Seve Ballesteros and very popular wins by Ben Crenshaw, Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer and Nick Faldo. 

The next year opened the door for the five tournament run over 22 years by Tiger Woods. The Woods decades were shared by the three victories of Phil Mickelson. A dozen years of worthy champions followed, especially in 2015 with Jordan Spieth, until the formation of the latest “big three,” (not just at the Masters but worldwide) Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy have dominated the world number one label among themselves for exactly the last 48 months. 

Our prediction? One of the current “big three” for today’s generation will win. But we’ll add a secondary prediction since a new strong group is forming. Viktor Hovland may be gaining ground, and he’s got a convoy of talent behind him: Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Max Homa, Matt Fitzpatrick, Brian Harman, Current U.S. Open Champion Wyndham Clark, Tommy Fleetwood, Collin Morikawa, Tom Kim and Tyrrell Hatton. 

With that formation of talent inexorably moving up the ladder, the future of world golf and the Masters Tournament is primed.

World Golf Rankings as of April 8, 2024

1 Scottie Scheffler

Scottie Scheffler

If he weren’t so good and playing so well at any given tournament, you’d think Scottie Scheffler was overly cautious. It was news on a recent broadcast when Jim Nantz pointed out that he was smiling. A close-up camera shot confirmed the brief gesture. By all accounts, Scheffler is the nicest guy, but his iron-clad personal discipline waits for the rounds to be over before showing his emotions. Golf tournaments are often lost by premature confidence. But, anybody would be happy with a game like Scheffler’s. He is among the top 15 in most driving distances and among the very best on the greens. When the putts drop, Scheffler is likely your winner.

2 Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy is arguably the best on the planet at driving a golf ball. He is invariably the longest on all the tours, and when compared to others, he is consistently and frequently in the fairway. When the putts drop (sound familiar?) you should have already put your money on McIlroy. He’s also the most fun to watch since Seve Ballesteros and Masters’ fans are crazy about the “cute kid” from Ireland. At 34, he still has a boyish charm. For any student of the game, McIlroy is a masterful study. He examines every shot and considers several of them before choosing his club. Most great golfers tend to be intelligent (Nicklaus, Woods, etc.) and to paraphrase the Caddy Shack groundhog nemesis, Carl Spackler, “… he’s got that going for him.”

3 Jon Rahm

Jon Rham

Jon Rahm is prodigious off the tee. He is considered among the best iron players in the game, but he has the same weakness as his two major rivals — sporadic putting. His game, like his robust physical appearance, can be dominating. Like Scheffler, Rahm’s Masters victory was his fourth victory in the young season. His putting was spectacular in his two major championship victories, last year’s Masters Tournament and the 2021 U. S. Open. With a six-shot lead after three rounds of the 2021 Memorial Tournament, Rahm was forced to withdraw after a positive Covid-19 test. Later that month, Rahm made putts all day to maintain standing with the leaders. Tied with Louis Oosthuizen at the 17th tee, Rahm sank 25- and 18-foot putts on the last two holes to defeat the South African by one stroke for his first major title. The following month, after a 3rd place finish in The Open Championship, Rahm was preparing to leave for the Tokyo Olympics when his third and final Covid test, again, turned positive and he was forced to withdraw from the games. We expect to see him in or near the lead Sunday afternoon at the Masters.

4 Wyndham Clark 1

Wyndham Clark

At 30, Wyndham Clark won his first PGA Tour tournament in 2023 at the Wells Fargo Championship by four shots over Xander Schauffele. A month later, Clark defeated Rory McIlroy by one stroke at the U.S. Open at the Los Angeles Country Club. He earned $3.6 million for his first major tournament win. His steely resolve earned him a place on the U.S. Ryder Cup team in Rome, where he produced a score of 1-1-1. He is currently ranked No. 6 in the world.

5 xander schauffele

Xander Schauffele

Xander Schauffele has won seven times since joining the PGA Tour in 2015 — but that doesn’t include the Olympic gold medal he won at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In 2017, he finished 5th in the U.S. Open, and three weeks later, he was awarded his first PGA Tour trophy at The Greenbrier Classic. Subsequent good play won him an invitation to the TOUR Championship. He returned the favor by making birdie on the 72nd hole, winning by one shot over Justin Thomas and becoming the first rookie to secure the season championship. Schauffele’s World Golf Ranking rose 267 spots from the end of the previous year and made him PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. With three wins in 2022 that included the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in partnership with Patrick Cantlay, the Travelers Championship and the Genesis Scottish Open, his name has become a fixture on leaderboards throughout the world. He is a formidable threat whenever he steps up to the tee. 

6 Viktor Hovland 1

Viktor Hovland

Like so many of the best players, the young Norwegian had a great long game and iron play, but his chipping and putting often let him down. Reflecting strong optimism and ambition, Hovland hired a coach for his short game and his scoring around the greens has been world-class the past two years. Hovland was low amateur in both the 2019 Masters Tournament and the 2019 U.S. Open. He broke the record for low amateur score in the U.S. Open, a record that stood since Jack Nicklaus’ in 1960. After some time as No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, he turned pro and soon won at the 2010 Puerto Rico Open. In December that same year, he secured a second win on the PGA Tour at the Mayakoba Golf Classic and followed that up by becoming the first Norwegian to win on the European Tour at the 2021 BMW International Open. He shot a final round course record of 61 to win the BMW Championship, the second event in the 2023 FedExCup Playoffs. Showing off his remodeled putting stroke, his scorecard featured numerous birdies and pars. The following week Hovland won the TOUR Championship and the FedExCup. Last fall, Hovland was a leader of the European Ryder Cup team. He went 3-1-1 and defeated Collin Morikawa in singles matches. Always smiling, always polite and humble, if his game gets any better it won’t be fair. 

7 Patrick Cantlay

Patrick Cantlay

Patrick Cantlay, 32, of Long Beach, Calif., had a spectacular amateur career at the University of California, Los Angeles. When he finished runner-up in the 2011 U.S. Amateur, he was invited to the 2012 Masters Tournament, where he was the low amateur after finishing 47th. He turned professional at the 2012 Travelers Championship and claimed his first professional win at the Tour’s Columbia Championship. His success on the developmental tour earned him his PGA Tour card, but he played sparingly for the next three seasons with a back injury. Returning to the game in 2018, he earned his first PGA Tour event in November at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. In 2021, Cantlay won several tournaments, including the TOUR Championship, the FedExCup and was voted PGA Tour Player of the Year. He has nine professional wins.

8 Brian Harman

Brian Harman

The reigning Open champion Brian Harman attended the University of Georgia where he was a three-time second-team all-American. The Savannah, Ga. native won his first PGA Tour tournament at the 2014 John Deere Classic; his next win came at the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship. Harman had to make a 28-foot putt on the 72nd green to claim victory over Dustin Johnson and Pat Perez. He won the 2023 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool by six strokes in a spectacular, if surprising, demonstration of great golf. He was in command from the second round when his score of 65 beat the field scoring average by eight strokes. The British bookies had tagged him as a 125-to-1 longshot! He went 2-2-0 in The Ryder Cup last fall, losing to Tyrrell Hatton in the Sunday singles match. He is ranked No. 10 in the world.

10 Max Homa

Max Homa

Max Homa, 33, was named to the All-America Team as a senior at the University of California, Berkeley. He turned pro after playing on the 2013 U.S. Walker Cup team. After an inconsistent four years as a pro, Homa won the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship. With more frequent victories, he earned spots on the national team events. That included a 4-0-0 record in the 2020 Presidents Cup and 3-1-1 as one of the bright spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup matches outside Rome, Italy, where he defeated Matt Fitzpatrick in the Sunday singles, 1 up. In 2024, Homa hit a 477-yard drive at The Sentry tournament — the longest drive ever measured in the shot-link era beginning in 2003. He currently sits at No. 8 on the World Golf Rankings. Homa, a Burbank, Calif. native, lives with his wife and child in Scottsdale, Ariz. 

11 Matthew Fitzpatrick

Matthew Fitzpatrick

Born in Sheffield, England, Matt Fitzpatrick was the low amateur in the 2013 Open Championship, won the 2013 U.S. Amateur and later that year played on the European Walker Cup team. He won his first tournament in the 2015 British Masters, finishing 12th place in the final Order of Merit that same year. In 2016, Fitzpatrick competed in his first Masters Tournament, tying for seventh. He won the 2016 Nordea Masters, which earned him a spot on the 2016 Ryder Cup team. Later that year, Fitzpatrick won the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai for his third career victory. He won the 2022 U.S. Open for his first major tournament victory. He played in the 2023 Ryder Cup, going 1-2-0, which included losing a Sunday singles match with Max Homa. Fitzpatrick currently sits 9th in the World Golf Rankings.

World golf rankings have been updated since the print version of the April 2024 issue of Augusta magazine and the Augusta magazine Tournament Guide

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