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Ignore young Americans at your peril

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Iain Carter | 20:14 UK time, Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Surely this will be Europe's year. How can the continent's 12-year Augusta drought stretch any further with the abundance of talent it has brought to this year's Masters?

This is the popular theory, anyway. After all there's the German world number one, who won the most recent major, the Englishman just behind him in the rankings, the US Open champion from Northern Ireland and a whole host of talent champing at the major bit.

It is a well-founded theory that a Martin Kaymer, a Lee Westwood, a Graeme McDowell or for that matter any of the dozen or so Europeans who currently reside in the world's top 25 can be the one to don the 2011 Green Jacket in the Butler Cabin.

But it may not happen. This time next week, it may be the case that Jose Maria Olazabal is still the last European to win a Masters.

Never mind the European threat, the always dangerous South Africans, the Aussies capable of breaking their own Masters duck (the one that lasts forever) and the Asian challengers - because there's every chance that the title could stay in the USA.

rickie595.jpgRickie Fowler is one of America's hottest young golfing talents. Photo: AP

And not just because defending champion Phil Mickelson has hit form and a perky Tiger Woods is talking up his chances. The American threat runs deeper because Uncle Sam boasts its own generation of young players ready to make the major breakthrough.

Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney, Hunter Mahan, Anthony Kim and Bubba Watson are all dangerous contenders this week.

Watney is probably the standout candidate to be a homegrown first-time winner. The 29-year-old has three top 20 finishes from his three previous visits to Augusta and last year finished seventh.

Victory at the WGC Championship at Doral last month provided this form horse with his biggest title to date, adding to four top ten finishes on the PGA Tour in 2011.

"Nick Watney is just coming into his own in terms of winning events," 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples commented. "He'll do very well at Augusta."

Couples believes it is easier for younger players to prosper at the modern Augusta because many of the nuances of the course have been taken away by the lengthening process of recent years. "It's very long, and in my opinion it takes away an advantage from the guys who have played there forever," he said.

"It's not the same course I played for 20 straight years. You'd play for lots of nooks and crannies and the ball rolls closer to the hole. But nowadays instead of hitting a nine or an eight iron, you are hitting a four or a five and that becomes much harder to do.

"So younger players, they all have a shot," America's Presidents' Cup captain added. "I have a lot of faith in the US players, the Rickie Fowlers and Dustin Johnsons," he said.

It is surely asking too much for the 22-year-old Fowler to win his first tour event on his Masters debut. But at the age of 26 Johnson already has four PGA Tour titles to his name. His long game, which is very long, will be a big advantage here at Augusta.

His ability from 100 yards and closer will need to markedly improve to make Johnson a contender, but Watson - another of this generation of big hitters - possesses the imagination to improve on a so far uninspiring Masters record.

bubba595.jpgAugusta is tailor-made for the big hitting Bubba Watson. Photo: AP

Certainly defending champion Phil Mickelson can see his fellow left-hander finish better his current best mark of tied 20th. "The one thing he does extremely well, better than most players, is he has very creative shot-making," Mickelson observed.

"If he pulls off some of the shots he sees, he's going to be able to capitalise and make a lot of birdies on the par fours as well as the par fives. I think he is going to be a factor, he's been playing such good golf that his creativity and golf skills should get him in contention."

Watson has already won once this year and relishes the prospect of going "Bubba-long" as he likes to put it, and could go deep into this week as a challenger for the title.

Kim was third last year and has putted well on both his previous appearances but has only one top 10 finish to his name in 2011.

Mahan, by contrast shared eighth and 10th places in the last two Masters and was impressive in Houston last week. Can his chipping stand up to the Augusta test though?

Another American to consider is Ryan Moore, who finished 13th as an amateur in 2005 and topped the putting stats here last year. On the negative side his recent form is less encouraging.

Regardless of nationality, it is possible to mount arguments in favour of more contenders for this Masters than ever before. It is that wide open.

Weight of numbers suggests European success but, in judging potential winners and each-way payouts, you ignore the home nation at your peril.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Let's be honest there is no odds on favourite to win this year. You could talk up the chances of most of the field. It's just a case of whoever is in good form, has a bit of luck and has a hot putter.

  • Comment number 2.

    I've got a feeling Hunter Mahan will win this. Such a cool head under pressure.

  • Comment number 3.

    @ waldovski

    Up until a few weeks ago I would have agreed with you about Mahan who seemed not to fluster under pressure. However the way he played on the weekend of the tournament a few weeks ago (the name escapes me now) has made me question this thought.

    Overall I tend to agree with post no 1. Such is the quality in depth of the masters field that realistically 25-30 guys could be thrown into the mix with a chance of winning. Personally, I would love to see GMac or Rory win, however if I was forced to make a bet tomorrow I think I would probably side with Kaymer, being the long shot gambler that I am. Terrific with the short stick, Excellent short game, plenty long enough and with nerves of steel, if the German comes right he will be difficult to beat regardless of who else is at the top of the leaderboard

  • Comment number 4.

    Yeah it's open this year.

    Thanks to the BBC for only being able to watch full coverage at the weekend though. Not long before you're edged out totally and just providing highlights. Good thing the Open is a 'jewel'

  • Comment number 5.

    To mention Rickey Fowler in this article is a joke. He has never "tied together" 4 good rounds in ANY tourney...he is given all these plaudits for his 4 birdie effort to finish his Ryder Cup experience. No one mentions Ryo...a true young gun (19y/0).

  • Comment number 6.

    Discount Dustin Johnson at your peril, Iain. He's a local boy and will be playing a different course than the rest of the field. Dustin will win a Masters sooner rather than later.
    Nothing about Matt Kuchar, the same age as Bubba after all, with much better credentials?
    Glad you mentioned Ryan Moore, decent enough (better than most Europeans' certainly) form this year, and perfectly happy to be under the radar.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'll quite happily just settle for a Masters that is full of good shots, fair sportsmanship and Sunday drama.

    As much as I'd like a European to win (Westwood/Rory Mac especially) I just want an exciting Masters.

    When Immelman won, it was a bit of an anti-climax, as was Weirs in 2003.

    But this must be the most open field for a Major that I've seen in a long time, the fact that so many people look to have a "strong" chance just makes for the excitement. Hopefully the weekend leaderboard will be top-loaded with big names all gunning for the prize!

  • Comment number 8.

    I'll be hoping that 'lefty' Mickelson continues to win me the money he has over the last 6 years at the Masters (4 payouts from 2 wins and 2 5th places). He's come in from 9s to 6s over the last few days after his Houston win.

    Others worth a shout e/w....Hunter Mahan, Nick Watney, Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm really looking forward to it this year. It's a crying shame the beeb has only got 2 days coverage, I know it's complain if they do as it's cost the taxpayer tons and complain if they don't but still, I have sky and so will be watching all of it but I'll certainly be back with the beeb come Saturday evening (with a bit of 5 live thrown in of course Iain - hope your putting stroke has improved by the way!)

    I've gone with 5 E/W bets this year:
    Kim, 40-1 (lowest average scoring round the course, albeit with only 2 appearances, plus wins on this type of grass)
    Kaymer, 22-1 (because he's just damn good - even though no current world no.1 has won it besides Tiger)
    Westwood, 16-1 (because Majors are all he seems to be focused on and his recent Major finishes warrant an EW, plus we share a surname :P)
    Cink, 100-1 (gotta have an outsider and at the masters he has to be American with their record)
    and finally... Schwartzel, 80-1 (on a hunch).

    No Mickelson as the odds just aren't worth it, plus winning the week before tends to mean you don't win the Masters! No woods as 10-1 with his recent record is too short (even though his record at the masters is pretty special). I think Kim could do big things this week.

    No doubt I'll be eating my words and re-loading come the end of Friday but here's to an enjoyable 4 days!

  • Comment number 10.

    @jbwestwood
    Well i'll have to put up with it on Thursday down a pub that is showing it in 3-D on Sky so could be interesting. Don't think a pub on a Friday night is a good place to watch the Masters though.

  • Comment number 11.

    Loving the BBC coverage already, great work Iain.

    Please everyone and anyone go and read my Masters preview at http://teestacklesandtons.blogspot.com/ if you get a chance!

  • Comment number 12.

    Of the established big names, the following people will definitely NOT win:
    Woods, Mickelson, Kaymer (too much pressure)
    Luke, Westwood, Rose, Casey (notice a trend? That's right, too 'English'; Poulter not with that group I think)
    Els, Singh, Goosen (past it).

  • Comment number 13.

    Poulter must have a chance this year.

 

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