Masters rookies look to contend at Augusta

Harris English eyes his putt on the 18th hole during the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Harris English eyes his putt on the 18th hole during the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
The 2014 Masters’ will be missing a pair of legends that cast lengthy shadows at Augusta National Golf Club. Eisenhower’s tree, which shaped the 17th hole, causing concern of a wayward drive, was felled in February following an ice storm.  Tiger Woods will also be absent for the first time in a long time. The 2014 edition of the Masters will be the first he won’t tee it up in the season’s first major since 1994.

The powers that be at Augusta are searching for a permanent solution to the missing tree, whether that is a transplant, adding bunkers, or changing the location of the tee boxes. While they would likely love to plant another larger than life star atop the leaderboard that process will have to be more organic.

The Masters typically favors the stars, the veterans, those who have walked its hallowed fairways and battled its devilish greens for years. This year could be different though as warts have appeared on the games for many of the usual suspects whether it be injury, Phil Mickelson, inability to close, Adam Scott or just general inconsistency, Rory McIlroy.

You need look no further than the top five in the FedEx Cup standings to find some players of varying name recognition who could be slipping on the green jacket.  The top five currently is; Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Harris English, and Bubba Watson.  Johnson and Watson are established stars, if young ones, so lets focus on the other three.

The current Fedex leader Jimmy Walker has won three times and has four top ten finishes in twelve starts.  Working in Walker’s favor, he’s long off the tee driving the ball further than 300 yards per pop putting him 13th in the category. He can also use the flat stick. Walker ranks fifth in strokes gained putting.  As you might expect with a player who’s won three times, Walker is 14th in scoring average.

The biggest negatives for Walker are his relative inaccuracy off the tee, lack of experience at Augusta.  Losing a drive here and there at Augusta isn’t the end of the world as long as it doesn’t happen on the wrong hole.  As far as experience, you can’t have it until you do. Walker has never played the Master and has never finished better than tied for 21st in any major.

Since Walker claimed his third win, the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, he’s played four times, finishing no worse than 25th.

For as unassuming as Walker appears to be, the player who follows him on the FedEx list is just the opposite. Patrick Reed proclaimed after his win in the WGC Cadillac Championship that he was a top five player in the world, a lofty boast for a guy who’s played 50 PGA events.

Reed does have some serious game though. This season he’s won twice in eleven starts, although those two wins are his only top 10 finishes.

Checking out Reed’s stats, he average more than 295 yards per drive, good for 37th on tour, is 24th in strokes gained putting, and twenty-second in birdie average. While nothing jumps off the sheet, being 8th in the all-around ranking is impressive and shows an ability to play just about any course.

Reed’s ability to be around for the weekend is also important. You can’t win if you don’t make the cut. Reed’s made 9 of 10 cuts and withdrew once, although the two times he didn’t play the weekend were early in the season.

Reed has never played in ANY major championship, let alone the Masters, so experience or lack thereof comes into play again.

The third player and the one I feel is most likely to make noise on Sunday at Augusta is Harris English. The Valdosta native and former Georgia Bulldog could claim his first major in his home state.

English has played 13 events this season and made the cut in all 13.  He has 6 top ten finishes, 9 top 25’s and a victory to show for his efforts. His statistical rankings are also impressive.

English is long off the tee, driving the ball an average of 300 per poke, 20th best on tour while ranking 19th in total driving. He hits greens, ranking second in greens in regulation. He scores the ball. He’s fourth on tour in both birdies per round and scoring average.  Given the number above it should come as no surprise that English ranks third in the all-around category.

The only thing lacking for the 24 year old Georgian is experience. English has yet to play a Masters or U.S. Open in his career. English has played 66 tour events in his two plus seasons on tour while claiming a pair of victories.

There’s no doubt Tiger Woods won’t don the green jacket on Sunday at Augusta National as the Masters Champion but the same can’t be said about these three.