You’ll hear this fact a lot over the next few days, one player in the last 81 years has won the Masters in their first appearance.
Many believe that the challenge that Augusta presents favours those who’ve played there before. The greens, the slopes, the atmosphere and the danger areas are all aspects of the year’s first Major that players learn more and more about with each drive down Magnolia Lane. However, with one of the strongest rookie classes to ever tee it up at Augusta, we look at five first-timers with the potential to slip on the Green Jacket at this year’s Masters.
5. Tommy Fleetwood
Arriving at Augusta inside the top 35 in the world, Tommy Fleetwood is full of confidence ahead of his Masters debut. The Englishman finished 2016 in fine form, posting top 15 finishes in eight of his last ten events, before going on to win in his first start of 2017 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Those who know Abu Dhabi Golf Club will be aware of the speed and quality of the greens there and note that Fleetwood’s success on that layout should have prepared him well for the challenge of Augusta’s infamous putting surfaces. Less than two months after his win in the Middle East another strong final round saw him finish runner-up to Dustin Johnson at the WGC-Mexico Championship. As for the Masters, Fleetwood’s game should suit the challenge. He hits it long (averaging over 300 yards this season), he hits a lot of greens (ranked first on the European Tour this season), and has made considerable improvements in his putting in recent months. The 26 year old will certainly be keen to emulate his countryman Danny Willett’s success last year by building on his recent form to contend at the Majors.
4. Thomas Pieters
One of the biggest hurdles for rookies playing well at Augusta is the pressure and attention that Masters receives each year. One first-timer that has felt that type of pressure, and delivered, is Thomas Pieters. The Belgian played his first Ryder Cup six months ago and became the first European rookie in history to win four points. He arrives in Augusta ranked 34th in the world with three European Tour wins in the last two seasons. The easy-going 25 year old continues to perform on the biggest stages, finishing in the top five at last year’s Olympics and last month’s WGC-Mexico Championship. He is a former American collegiate champion, winning the NCAA Division I Championship in 2012 by three shots, beating the likes of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger. Pieters is one of the biggest hitters on Tour and, when on, can be one of the best putters around. On the PGA Tour this season, he ranks third in putting inside ten feet. Having made his mark in the Ryder Cup, is this the week he makes his mark in the Majors?
3. Tyrrell Hatton
Tyrrell Hatton is one of 11 Englishman in the Masters field this year, a record at the year’s first Major. The 25 year old has earned his debut through some impressive and consistent form. Following his win at the Old Course at last year’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, Hatton has played 11 events, finishing in the top 25 in every one, including seven top 10 finishes. Hatton was second only to Henrik Stenson in 2016 in Stroke Average of those who played more than 40 rounds and has continued that fine play in 2017. He has played three stroke play events in the US preparing for the Masters, finishing in the top five twice and T10th in the other. In 12 rounds on the PGA Tour this season, he ranked first in Strokes Gained Putting and poses one of the best all-round games of any up and coming player in the game. This might be his first Masters appearance but top ten finishes at last year’s Open Championship and PGA Championship prove he is not intimidated by the big stage.
2. Alex Noren
Alex Noren enters the week as just the second player in Masters history to make his debut as one of the top ten ranked golfers in the world. Webb Simpson ranked ninth on his debut in 2012 and Noren ranks tenth starting the week. That ranking and his invitation are both based on some incredible golf over the last 12 months. The Swede won four events in four different countries over four months. He led the Tour in par four scoring in 2016 (3.92) and ranked second in par three scoring (2.97). As for this season, he’s had a steady start to the year, making the quarter-finals of the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play in his last start before the Masters. His sharp short game suit suit Augusta and he currently leads the European Tour in scrambling, the same stat that Danny Willett led the Masters in last year, saving par over 77 percent of the time (no one else is averaging more than 70).
1. Jon Rahm
A year ago, few people would have known the name Jon Rahm. Now, entering the first Major of the year, he is the player on many people's radar. Since teeing it up at Torrey Pines in January, Rahm has played six events in the run up to Augusta, winning once, finishing in the top ten a further four times with a worst finish of tied 16th. He has risen from 137th in the Official Golf World Ranking at the start of the year to 12th entering this week. Rahm's short game has been incredible in 2017, leading all players in the Masters field in terms of Scrambling vs field average. He hits it long (303 yard average this season), hits a lot of greens (72 percent) and has holed some impressive, clutch putts in pressure situations already this year. The 22 year old has plenty of self-belief too, telling the media this week "If I didn't think I could win it, I wouldn't be here. Torrey Pines is not one of the places rookies usually win for the first time and I was able to do it. Obviously this is different - it's a major and my first time in Augusta. I'm going to tee it up believing that I can win, competing to win." In his first ever Major start at last year's US Open, Rahm finished in the top 25 and low amateur. Can he make an even bigger impact in his first Masters start?