The No. 1 golfer in the world has not won the Masters since Tiger Woods did it in 2002. That is nearly a decade and a half of futility for the best player on the planet at Augusta National. Golf is the only sport in which this sort of nuance could occur and not be considered an oddity, but never has there been a better chance of ending that streak than this year when Dustin Johnson tees it up at the 2017 Masters.

To say D.J. is on fire is to say the grass at Augusta is green. Johnson has won his last three events -- the Genesis Open, WGC-Mexico Championship and WGC-Dell Match Play -- and became just the seventh golfer since 1980 to take home three consecutive PGA Tour trophies.

He is now looking at the Masters to become the first golfer not named Tiger Woods since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win four in a row. He is the 5-1 favorite, and the next closest (Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth) are 7-1.

We need to delineate the conversation here because there is a difference between the favorite and the person who I think the Masters runs through. Nobody on the PGA Tour would tell you right now that anyone but D.J. is the favorite at Augusta. Vegas thinks that. I think that. Everyone thinks that.

But I still believe to win Augusta you have to beat Jordan Spieth. I don’t know if you have to beat him on Sunday or Thursday or if he’ll beat himself, but his three top-two finishes there in three tries weigh too heavily on my mind to believe he won’t be in the mix at some point. Again, this is the difference between being the favorite and being the person through whom the tournament rolls.

Johnson’s game is the best in the world right now, but he has to overcome some hurdles to win a green jacket. Spieth knows what it feels like to do it (nearly twice).

“I think Dustin Johnson is the guy to beat in golf no matter where you are,” Spieth said at the Shell Houston Open on Wednesday. “Put him anywhere, I think just about anybody would agree with that. He’s the guy to beat. If I play my best golf, I believe that I can take down anybody, and you have to believe that. But I think that right now, he is the guy that everyone is saying he’s playing the best golf in the world.

“I mentioned this going back years. Dustin Johnson is probably the most talented player and it’s a matter of time. Once he gets that click and -- whether it was the U.S. Open or it was -- probably was the U.S. Open, looking back on it now. Just got over that hurdle. And whatever free-up he needed that we didn’t need him to have, he got. So I’m not in the least bit surprised that he is the guy to beat.”

Johnson has a modest history at Augusta considering his talent.

  • 2008: DNP
  • 2009: T30
  • 2010: T38
  • 2011: T38
  • 2012: DNP
  • 2013: T13
  • 2014: Cut
  • 2015: T6
  • 2016: T4

But he’s also never gone to this tournament playing the way he is currently playing. Johnson obviously has the goods to tear down a track like Augusta National. His length changes the four par 5s on the course into par 4s and par 4s into par 3.5s. If you look at his last eight scorecards, he has played the par 5s at 20 under par. That is ludicrous.

“Masters is always a tournament that I look forward to every year,” Johnson said last week. “I really like that golf course. I really like going to Augusta. It’s one of my favorite tournaments to play every year. I’ve actually played good there the last two years. I’m excited to go back when the game is in good form. I feel like everything is working pretty well.”

I’ll say.

So this is a perfect storm of sorts. The best player playing his best golf with a recent strong history at this tournament. This is certainly Johnson’s tournament to lose, but he’s going to have to take down Jordan Spieth to win it.