The 2017 Masters Tournament kicks off Thursday at Augusta National. All eyes will be on defending champion Danny Willett as he seeks to defend his title while there are compelling stories up and down the field.
Here’s a quick look at the best pairings for Thursday and Friday’s opening rounds at Augusta National:’
Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ceremonial First Shots: Significant because Arnold Palmer won’t be there. The Big Three had hit ceremonial first shots together from 2012-2015. Palmer was too ill to do it last year but was at the ceremony. He died last fall at age 87. He won the Masters four times and played in the tournament 50 times.
Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama, Russell Knox, 10:12 a.m. – Fowler was in contention in Houston until bombing out on Sunday. Matsuyama doesn’t get much run because of the language barrier, but he’s a live contender for the title here based on his strengths.
Jordan Spieth, Martin Kaymer, Matthew Fitzpatrick, 10:34 a.m. – With all due respect, Kaymer is the dullest two-time Major winner around. He’s feast or famine, while Spieth and Fitzpatrick are the brightest young players of their respective countries. Spieth will be highly scrutinized after last year’s collapse, particularly if he has another hot start.
Jason Day, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, 10:56 a.m. – Three completely legit title contenders. Day could springboard back to No. 1 with a victory here.
Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Hideto Taihara, 1:41 p.m. – This is where I’ll start playing hooky for work, a tremendous international trio. Rahm is the hottest player in the game right now outside of Dustin Johnson, Tanihara charmed the world at the WGC-Dell Match Play, and McIlroy is McIlroy.
Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Jimmy Walker, 2:03 p.m. – I kind of feel sorry for Walker since he’s admitted to suffering from mono. Watson makes this tournament his own every few years or so and Johnson is blasting through the the current season like a cannon ball.