Willett be Spieth or DJ

Masters Eve is upon us. With the recent wave of parity in professional golf, this year’s tournament is shaping up to be one of the most wide-open in recent memory. The clear front runners are Dustin Johnson, who has won his last three events, and Jordan Spieth, who has finished 2nd-1st-2nd in his three starts at Augusta.

If you haven’t filled out an entry to the No Laying Up/Fried Egg Masters Pool, you should enter now. Some of the prizes include a Callaway GBB Epic Driver and 3 wood, an Odyssey O-Works Putter, Holderness & Bourne polos and much more. Entry here.

Willett’s Wild Win

Golf’s story of 2016 was Jordan Spieth’s Sunday back nine at Augusta, where he held a five-shot lead before going bogey-bogey-quadruple bogey to squander his lead in just a few minutes. England’s Danny Willett was there to benefit from Spieth’s collapse, playing mistake-free golf and claiming his first major championship, much to the dismay of Americans everywhere. Willett’s stock has fallen sharply entering this year’s event. The defending champion has just one worldwide top-10 in 2017.

Augusta National

The annual host of The Masters is one of the world’s most revered courses, Augusta National. The brainchild of Dr. Alister Mackenzie and Bobby Jones, over the years the course has undergone a number of changes to adapt for advances in technology as well as today’s professional game. While many of the changes have taken away from the vision of Mackenzie (the greatest architect of all time), the course still remains as one of golf’s most thrilling and memorable venues.

Augusta’s vexing green complexes drive strategy back to the tee, requiring players to hit to specific sides of the fairway in order to set up the proper angle to attack the flag. When approach shots are pulled off, the reward is great scoring opportunities, while average shots make for difficult pars and many times bogeys or worse. The back nine at Augusta sets up for thrilling closes to rounds because of its great variety – it possesses demanding holes such as the 11th and 12th, great risk-reward par 5’s at 13 and 15 and the closing stretch of 16 through 18 rewards solid play with birdies while penalizing loose shots and undeserving champions.

For more on the course, check out our Architect Roundtable from Monday or Golf Digest’s excellent review of all of the hole by hole changes Augusta has undergone over the years.

Rundown of Storylines

Rebound: Jordan Spieth looks to bounce back and win his second Green Jacket after his final round collapse last year. In three trips to Augusta, Spieth has yet to finish worse than second.

The Career Slam: Rory will look to make a big jump on the list of the greatest golfers of all time by winning the Masters and completing the career grand slam. McIlroy would be just the sixth player to complete the Slam, joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

DJ... So Hot Right Now: The reigning U.S. Open Champion and World No. 1 Dustin Johnson comes into Augusta simmering with three straight victories at top-notch events. The past two years DJ has found himself in contention on Sunday at The Masters, but his putter has let him down. Will this be the year he dons the Green Jacket?

The Lore of Phil: Fan-Favorite Phil Mickelson will look to join Jack Nicklaus as the oldest winners of the Masters at age 46. Mickelson has had mixed results this season but was terrific in his run to the final eight at the WGC-Dell Match Play.

Rookie Curse: No first-time Masters participant has won at Augusta since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. Enter Jon Rahm, who has arguably been the world’s second-best player in 2017. Rahm will look to snap the streak and add a major championship to his sparkling resume. Outside of Rahm some other Masters rookies to watch include Thomas Pieters, Tyrrell Hatton and Alex Noren.

The Majorless: Two generational players are still looking for their first major championship. Could this be the year for Sergio Garcia or Lee Westwood? Also, pressure is mounting on some talented younger players such as Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama to ascend to the upper echelon.

Weather: Augusta National was soaked with rain during Monday’s practice round, forcing officials to close the course. More rain is expected today. The rain turns into wind for the early-round action, which should make scoring conditions extremely tough and favor the world’s primo ball-strikers.

Early Round Tee-Times to watch

View all tee times here.

Tommy Fleetwood - Gary Woodland - J.B. Holmes - 9:17 AM EST
Sleeper city! I think all of these guys have a chance to contend come Sunday.

Russell Knox - Rickie Fowler - Hideki Matsuyama - 10:12 AM EST
Three players in their 20’s with multiple wins, looking for their first major championship.

Jordan Spieth - Martin Kaymer - Matt Fitzpatrick - 10:34 AM EST
As Spieth looks to bounce back, he’s paired with the two-time major champ Kaymer and a young European star Fitzpatrick.

Brandt Snedeker - Justin Rose - Jason Day - 10:56 AM EST
Three real contenders. Jason Day will make his first start since his short leave from golf to tend to his mother’s cancer treatment.

Sergio Garcia - Lee Westwood - Shane Lowry - 1:19 PM EST
The major heartbreakers and a guy who contended in last year’s Masters and U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy - Hideto Tanihara - Jon Rahm - 1:41 PM EST
Two serious contenders and the giant killer from the WGC-Dell Match Play.

Bubba Watson - Dustin Johnson - Jimmy Walker - 2:03 PM EST
The hottest player in the world, the most recent major winner and... putt-putt golf balls.

Larry Mize - Brian Stuard - Stewart Hagestad (a) - 8:33 AM EST
Just kidding, sorry Stew.

Who to pick…

Paulie notched added another win last week with Russell Henley. For the Masters he has a lot of strategic advice for both your Draftkings and One and Done leagues. Here are his picks.

Paulie and I also sat down to draft out the top 20 players in the field. Check out our banter and picks here.

Some fresh Masters pods...

NLU’s Tron Carter, Skratch’s D.J. Piehowski and I jumped on the Trap Draw podcast to discuss who we took in the Masters Pool, the architecture of Augusta National and D.J.’s misguided vendetta against Lee Westwood. Listen on the NLU Website or iTunes.

Soly is joined by Fox Sports’ Shane Bacon to make their annual picks and discuss their favorite moments in Masters history. Listen on the NLU Website or iTunes.

Masters Quick Hooks

Masters.com and ESPN have all of your Thursday Coverage needs..

Watch the original telecasts from Arnold Palmer’s four Masters wins on Masters.com.

Ginella investigates the friendship between Alister Mackenzie and Bobby Jones.

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Masters Mailbag

Soly gives the people what they want, a pre-Masters Mailbag, dive in here.

Warriors edition...