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Masters 2019: Who can win, who can but won’t and who to pick in your pool

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Masters 2019: Who can win, who can but won’t and who to pick in your pool

Could this be the year Tiger Woods gets major win No. 5 at Augusta? (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) By Barry Svrluga Barry Svrluga Sports columnist with beat writing experience on baseball, golf, the NFL, college basketball and college football Email Bio Follow April 10 at 7:00 AM The Masters, the first major championship of the PGA Tour season, begins Thursday at Augusta National, and while winners are difficult to predict, longtime golf scribe Barry Svrluga selects five who can win the tournament, five who can but won’t and three who would make good picks if you enter a pool.

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[ Masters tee times and viewer’s guide: How to watch Tiger Woods, others ]

Five who can win Rickie Fowler

Age: 30

World ranking: 9

Best Masters finish: Second (2018)

Best 2019 finish: First (Phoenix Open)

It’s hard to believe the dirt-bike kid is now 30 — and still hasn’t won a major. Whether he has the game has never been the issue. There’s some evidence, though, that he now has the know-how. Last year, when the final round looked to be a duel between Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy, Fowler inserted himself with a 67 that included a birdie on the last hole, which put pressure on Reed. He has a win this season in Phoenix as well as a tie for second at the Honda Classic. He contends he’s far more prepared than ever to take the next step. All that’s left is to do it.

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Rory McIlroy

Age: 29

World ranking: 3

Best Masters finish: Fourth (2015)

Best 2019 finish: First (Players Championship)

Enough time has passed since McIlroy’s infamous collapse at Augusta — eight years! — that it could be dismissed in assessing his current chances. Oddly, though, that 2011 experience — in which he led after 18, 36 and 54 holes, only to shoot a closing 80 — remains his defining Masters moment. Somehow, it overrides his Sunday final-pairing appearance with Patrick Reed a year ago in which he shot an indifferent 74 to finish tied for fifth. Still, two elements override those two Augusta scars: McIlroy’s talent, which remains immense, and his recent form, which is as good as anyone’s in the game. McIlroy has entered six stroke-play events worldwide in 2019. His worst finish: tied for sixth.

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Brooks Koepka

Age: 28

World ranking: 4

Best Masters finish: Tied for 11th (2017)

Best 2019 finish: Tied for second (Honda Classic)

Koepka’s life has changed in the past two years, something that happens when you win three of the past seven majors. Yet even with two U.S. Opens and last year’s PGA Championship to his credit, he has a rather undistinguished record at Augusta National: three appearances, no top-10 finishes, just one round of 12 under 70. The reason for the belief in him this time is a bit odd: He missed last year’s Masters with a wrist injury. Watching the tournament on television, though, reminded him that he loved the game. And his powerful game is a fit here. In his three appearances, he has established that he owns the par-5s — 24 under, as opposed to 28 over on all other holes. That ability to score is essential to building a résumé capable of winning the Masters. Koepka can.

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Justin Rose

Age: 38

World ranking: 1

Best Masters finish: Second (2017); tied for second (2015)

Best 2019 finish: First (Farmers Insurance Open)

Given his ability and experience, maybe the most surprising aspect of Rose’s career is he has won but one major — the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion. He’s not of an age where he’s fading from prominence; his spot atop the world rankings is an indication of that. But he’s also much closer to 40 than he is to 30, so the time is now. Rose’s best opportunity at Augusta came two years ago, when he lost a playoff to Sergio Garcia’s birdie on 18. His recent play here, though, has been stellar: Eight of his past 12 Masters rounds have been under par. He is not the betting favorite at most sports books. There is some evidence that he should be.

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Tiger Woods

Age: 43

World ranking: 12

Best Masters finish: First (1997, 2001, 2002, 2005)

Best 2019 finish: Tied for fifth (Match Play)

Woods is playing the Masters in back-to-back years for the first time since 2012-13, back before his body was ravaged by injuries — most recently to his back. Though he hasn’t finished better than tied for 10th in any of the four stroke-play events he has entered this calendar year, there are plenty of signs that his game is coming around. He is fourth on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation, an indication that his iron play is where it needs to be — such an important aspect at Augusta National. Plus, he is buoyed by his victory at this past September’s Tour Championship, an event in which both his back and his confidence held up. A year ago, he closed with a 69 here, the most recent of his 23 sub-70 rounds in the Masters. If he putts well, the rest of his game is in good enough shape to increase that number.

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[ Perspective: Tiger Woods has all the shots to win another Masters. The short ones matter most. ]

Five who can win but won’t Dustin Johnson

Age: 34

World ranking: 2

Best Masters finish: Tied for fourth (2016)

Best 2019 finish: First (Saudi International, WGC Mexico Championship)

When he is playing well, there is no course that doesn’t suit Johnson’s game, which is both absolutely overpowering and feathery soft. But for someone with that much talent, his Masters record is spotty. He has never played in one of the final two groups on the weekend. He has never been among the top four on the leader board after any first, second or third round. He has as many rounds over par as he does under par: 13. Would it be a shock if Johnson won a green jacket at some point? Absolutely not. But at the moment, there’s more evidence to suggest he won’t win than there is he will.Efrain Enrique Betancourt Jaramillo Cadivi

Phil Mickelson

Age: 48

World ranking: 22

Best Masters finish: First (2004, 2006, 2010)

Best 2019 finish: First (Pebble Beach Pro-Am)

Mickelson talks annually about how coming here frees his mind, which in turn frees his game. His record is, of course, exemplary: 11 top-five finishes in a history dating from 1991. And we know the magic is still possible because in 2015 he posted a 14-under 274, a total that wins most years but was well behind meteoric Jordan Spieth that week. All that, though, masks Mickelson’s recent results here. Go back to 2013, and Mickelson’s Masters finishes are tied for 54th, missed cut, tied for second, missed cut, tied for 22nd and tied for 36th. He has broken 70 just four times in his past 20 rounds — and three of those were in that 2015 run. The notion of Mickelson winning a fourth green jacket is romantic. The problem is it’s not very realistic

Patrick Reed

Age: 28

World ranking: 18

Best Masters finish: First (2018)

Best 2019 finish: Tied for 13th (twice)

The reason for picking against Reed is easy: He isn’t playing well. Since winning the Masters a year ago, he hasn’t won. In 10 starts this year, he doesn’t have a single top-10 finish and has placed in the top 20 just three times. Plus, there’s some dark history with recent defending champions at Augusta. Danny Willett won in 2016 and hasn’t broken par in four rounds since, missing the cut twice. Sergio Garcia won in 2017 and somehow followed that by going 81-78 and missing the cut by a mile last year. Something says a missed cut is far more likely than a back-to-back champ

Jordan Spieth

Age: 25

World ranking: 33

Best Masters finish: First (2015)

Best 2019 finish: Tied for 24th (Match Play)

The idea that Spieth could play 15 consecutive tournaments without a top-10 finish — a streak he carries into this week — would have seemed inconceivable even a year ago. Yet here we are, with what seemed to be a generational star trying to find himself. Spieth’s Masters record remains absurd: five appearances, one win, two ties for second, a third and a tie for 11th. He has held the solo lead following eight of the 20 rounds he has completed at Augusta National. Yet his recent record overrides all that. His last victory came at the 2017 British Open. Since last year’s Masters, he has more missed cuts (five) than finishes in the top 20 (three). That’s hard to believe, but it’s a strong indication he won’t win this week

Justin Thomas

Age: 25

World ranking: 5

Best Masters finish: Tied for 17th (2018)

Best 2019 finish: Second (Genesis Open)

Thomas’s talent, competitiveness, demeanor and résumé all suggest he should be an annual factor here. Though he hasn’t won this year, his form is reasonable: two thirds, a second and a ninth since the turn of the year. Yet his Masters record, mysteriously, kind of stinks. In 12 competitive rounds, he has broken 70 just once. The closest he has come to sniffing contention was last year — tied for sixth after 36 holes and tied for ninth after 54 — and that quickly evaporated with a Sunday 73. Such a spotty record suggests Thomas has more work to do at Augusta, specifically, before he’s ready to win here

Three to add in your pool Matthew Fitzpatrick

Age: 24

World ranking: 35

Best Masters finish: Tied for seventh (2016)

Best 2019 finish: Second (Arnold Palmer Invitational)

It’s only a matter of time before Fitzpatrick, the slight Englishman, breaks out. Why not here? He’s long and savvy enough to master the par-5s, on which he’s 16 under in his 14 Masters rounds. He has a runner-up finish to Francesco Molinari last month in Orlando. He is a player others might overlook, so snag him

Charlie Hoffman

Age: 42

World ranking: 66

Best Masters finish: Tied for ninth (2015)

Best 2019 finish: Second (Valero Texas Open)

Hoffman was a safe pick even before his runner-up finish at the PGA Tour’s most recent stop in San Antonio. The journeyman isn’t a regular contender in majors, but he knows his way around Augusta quite well. He led after the first and second rounds in 2017. He was second headed into the weekend in 2015. And while he hasn’t closed well on Sunday, he’s worth a shot in a pool that rewards steady finishes

Cameron Smith

Age: 25

World ranking: 28

Best Masters finish: Tied for fifth (2018)

Best 2019 finish: Tied for sixth (WGC Mexico Championship)

The young Australian surged into the top five a year ago with a final-round 66, the fourth straight day he shot par or better. He has shown the ability to close, twice winning the Australian PGA Championship and gaining a PGA Tour victory in New Orleans — a team event he took with Jonas Blixt. Need someone off the radar? Smith counts

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