Will Rory McIlroy dominate the golfing majors during 2015?
Any discussion of golf’s first major of the year has for the best part of two decades revolved around a certain Tiger Woods, but times are a changing.
The 14-time major winner, including four Masters titles, looks to be very much a fading force with injuries and personal problems taking their toll, and he’s not even certain to be in this year’s field, having limped out of the Farmer’s Insurance Open at the beginning of February. Besides, the big story this time around, and rightly so, will be on Rory McIlroy’s bid for a third consecutive major title and a career Grand Slam (all four major titles). Only five men – Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Sam Snead – have achieved that feat in the modern era.
It’s hard to imagine McIlroy not joining that elite group at some stage of his career, and it’s likely to come sooner rather than later given he undoubtedly has the game to tame Augusta National. The closest the Northern Irishman has got in six starts is tied-8th last year, although he was leading the field a merry dance after 54 holes in 2011, only to blow up fairly spectacularly. That’s forgivable as he was just a teenager then and seeking his first major title, not to mention that it usually takes several appearances to get the hang of the unique track. The next time he puts himself within touching distance of the green jacket, he’s likely to seize the opportunity. But the question for punters is: would you bet on that happening in 2015 at just 4/1?
That’s the price we’re currently being asked to take and while some wouldn’t bat an eyelid before steaming in, the more value-conscious amongst us might prefer to look elsewhere for alternatives. And it’s not as if they are in short supply, with Rory taking a large chunk out of the market. If you believe course form to be the main criteria, you’d quickly land on Bubba Watson (14/1 bet365), the winner of two of the last three Masters, and Jason Day (14/1 Betfred), who backed up his brilliant debut second in 2012 with third place a year later. The Aussie still managed a tie for 20th last year, despite carrying a thumb injury, and he’s come out this year fighting-fit with a victory at Torrey Pines. Both he and Bubba could run up a Masters CV to rival those of Woods and three-time champion Phil Mickelson (28/1 Paddy Power), who may be capable of one last hurrah at 44 and is rarely far away on Sunday.
It took 2013 champion Adam Scott (18/1 Coral) several attempts to master Augusta but he’s never far away in any major these days. Still only 34, he’s a relative veteran compared to Rickie Fowler at 26, who showed he was a player for the big occasion when finishing in the top-five in all 2014 majors: tied-5th Masters; tied-2nd US Open; tied-2nd Open Championship; tied-3rd PGA Championship. He’ll be hoping the adage “if you put yourself in a position to win enough times, you’ll bag one eventually” applies, although he’s not started 2015 very well. Not so 21-year-old Jordan Spieth (16/1 bet365) who has flown the blocks this season and will be itching to get back there having looked set to become the youngest Masters Champion last year, before Bubba turned it on.
We’ve not even mentioned several course specialists who turn up every year and contend, regardless of their form coming into it. Angel Cabrera is just one that springs to mind. Perhaps the biggest danger to Rory, though, will come from Dustin Johnson. The man from South Carolina recently returned from a six-month hiatus from golf to deal with “personal challenges” and has quickly found his A game in a handful of 2015 starts. Like Bubba, he has the power to overwhelm Augusta and, having exorcised his mental demons and become a father for the first time, he could well go on to fulfil his massive potential on the major stage after several near misses and mishaps. Mainly of his own doing, it has to be said. He’s certainly due one and, at 33/1, he’s one of the better value alternatives to Rory.
Dustin Johnson @ 33/1 Betfred (¼ odds, 126.96.36.199.5)