Since last year's Masters ended, every golf fan has been anticipating the start of next year's Masters. That's just simply how it works every year. Well, the good news is that it's finally here. The 2019 Masters begins Thursday from Augusta National, and this year's event features one of the strongest fields in history. For that reason, among others, this year's event is one of the most anticipated here in quite some time.
As is a tradition -- unlike any other in this space -- we have been piecing together a ranking of this year's field (which is smaller than most at just 87 men). It has changed in significant ways over the past few weeks (I had Bryson DeChambeau as high as No. 3 at one point), but this is where I'm landing as we look at all 87 golfers in the 2019 Masters. Below is my 1-87 ranking entering the 2019 Masters along with each golfer's best finish at Augusta National (listed in parenthesis).
1. Rory McIlroy (4th in 2015): Did you expect to find somebody else who has finished in the top 10 in five straight Masters and hasn't finished outside the top 10 in any event worldwide this calendar year? The question for me is how many chances does McIlroy have left. My head tells me 10 or more, but my heart knows better. He'll only get another couple of real shots, maybe two or three or four (Tiger was always going to win 10 of these, right?), and every April that slides away without him slipping on a green jacket only adds to the heaviest weight anyone in golf's upper class carries around.
2. Justin Rose (2nd in 2017): Even though he's never won this tournament, there's little risk of having him this high considering his world No. 1 status and two top-two finishes in the last four seasons at Augusta National. He'll contend again but won't win.
3. Justin Thomas (T17 in 2018): He was my pick to start the calendar year, and I'm going to ride it either into the bottom of Rae's Creek or into the jacket ceremony on Sunday evening. One of the things about J.T. that I'm not sure has gone mainstream yet is that he doesn't have weaknesses. He's not elite in any one category, but he ranked in the top 50 in every strokes gained number in 2018 and is on his way to replicating that in 2019. When you don't have holes, it's difficult to be exposed, even in high level championship golf.
4. Dustin Johnson (T4 in 2016): I've been saying it for five years now, but it's a par-68 course for him. His three eagles in 2015 were proof of that. It's hard to see him not winning one of these, but the problem for him is that there are 15 guys on this list about whom you could say the same thing.
5. Jon Rahm (4th in 2018): It's almost too easy to see. The Spanish tradition. The big, swooping ball flight. The touch. The power at Nos. 13 and 15. He played the par 5s in 11 under in 2018 and finished fourth behind Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth. Rahm also finished at 11 overall -- four back of Reed -- which means that if he'd played the rest of the course even close to under par, he could have won the event. Not to be overly reductive, but for guys like Rahm who are going to make 10-12 birdies on the par 5s for the week, sometimes it's just about making sure you're slightly better than average everywhere else.
6. Bryson DeChambeau (T21 in 2016): Am I embarrassed at having someone who has never finished in the top 10 at a major championship this high on my list? No, no I'm not. DeChambeau is singular in his mission, and he's won five times since last year's Masters. Five! The only way he doesn't play well this week is if the water spritzers aren't firing.
7. Jordan Spieth (Won in 2015): He could miss 28 cuts in a row leading up to the Masters and have caddie Michael Greller roll him to the first tee in a wheelchair, and I would still be convinced he's going to win the Masters. Last time we saw him here, Spieth was tying the lowest final round in tournament history (64).
8. Rickie Fowler (2nd in 2018): When I think about Fowler I think about that chip Patrick Reed hit on No. 17 last year, which could have easily run by the hole and given Fowler a shot in a playoff (or the outright win!). How much differently do we view Fowler's career if he wins last year's Masters with a 67 on Sunday including a birdie at the last? The obvious answer is "a lot," and I think last year proved he can get it done at this tournament.
9. Brooks Koepka (T11 in 2017): Since his T11 two years ago, Koepka has won three of six majors and has a T6 in one of the others. They might have to special order extra fabric on Saturday night if he leads just to fit his seemingly ever-increasing pipes.
10. Jason Day (T2 in 2011): Day only has one top 10 since 2013, but he's also never missed a cut here. With his towering ball flight and almost-always-on putting, he's always lurking. I just question whether the ball-striking (outside the top 100 each of the last two seasons) and allergy medicine will hold up.
11. Tony Finau (T10 in 2018): A sleeping giant here. He finished in the top 10 last season even though his ankle nearly detached from the rest of his body in last year's Par 3 Contest. It would be hilarious to me if Finau's two wins were Puerto Rico and Augusta National. Alternatively known as: The Koepka.
12. Bubba Watson (Won in 2012, 2014): As recently as 2017, I thought Watson was always going to be the favorite at Augusta. The actual reality is that he's only had three top-15 finishes at this tournament, but we definitely remember two of them. If Watson was a baseball player, he would be Giancarlo Stanton: might lead the league in home runs but might lead it in strikeouts as well.
13. Tiger Woods (Won in 1997, 2001, 2002, 2005): I feel the same about Tiger as I do about Phil Mickelson (see below). Something transcendent will happen with Woods at Augusta National in the next 10 years. Will it be in 2019 or 2020 or 2024? I don't know, but Woods is too big of a legend and Augusta is too magical of a place for us to not at least get a true inhalation of Tiger going eagle-par-eagle on 13-15 on a Saturday at some point to swipe Thomas' lead and melt down an entire sport's infrastructure. I don't know if the afterglow will be as thick as Jack Nicklaus' in 1986, but I can guarantee the coverage of it will dwarf whatever else happens in golf in whichever year this takes place.
14. Sergio Garcia (Won in 2017): Between the 13 on No. 15 last season and the mess in Saudi Arabia earlier this year, I'm not real sure how anybody could look at Sergio and think, "Yeah, that's my dude this week. Two jackets in three years for Sergio."
15. Phil Mickelson (Won in 2004, 2006, 2010): I've always thought Mickelson had one last magical run in him at Augusta deep into his 40s or 50s. A real one, too. A "leading D.J. by three on the 12th tee box and nobody else making a dent" type of shot. I don't know if that happens this year, but after the way he's started the season, it's definitely in play.
16. Adam Scott (Win in 2013): At the beginning of March, Scott was available at 40-1. Is he still one of the worst putters on the PGA Tour from 4-8 feet despite what everyone thinks about his flagstick-induced transformation? Yes, but 40-1 for a former champ who's striking it as well as he does was a steal at the times. I bet he contends this week, and at the very least he's a great pool play since he hasn't missed a cut since 2009.
17. Tommy Fleetwood (T17 in 2018): This will be just the third appearance for Tommy Lad. The Englishman ditched the draw he used to hit -- useful at Augusta, you may have heard -- which I suppose mitigates his chances slightly, but boy is it easy to see him catching a NBA Jam-level of fire on the second nine on Saturday or Sunday to take a jacket home to Southport.
18. Patrick Reed (Won in 2018): Reed going back to back at Augusta National would be amazing, and now I might be rooting for this if only for the behind-the-scenes reaction to two straight green jackets for him.
19. Hideki Matsuyama (5th in 2015): Four straight top 20s for Matsuyama, but like D.J., he's never truly been in contention on a Sunday. I like Matsuyama, but for some reason I'm not completely convinced he's ever going to win a major championship.
Who am I?— Jamie Kennedy (@jamierkennedy) March 27, 2019
• Under 30 years old
• Five-time winner
• 2nd SG Approach
• 2nd SG Tee-to-Green
• 9th SG Total
• Top 20 Driving Distance
• Top 20 Scoring
• Top 25 Greens in Regulation
• Four straight top 20s at Augusta
45/1 to win the Masters!
20. Paul Casey (T4 in 2016): Casey has -- ::double and triple checks:: -- yeah, Casey has three top 10s in his last four starts at Augusta, and the other one was a T15 in 2018. That doesn't make me super confident that he can actually win come Sunday, but if you're looking for a solid, low-key pool pick to round out your fantasy roster, he's a guy.
21. Xander Schauffele (T50 in 2018): I don't know why I remain unconvinced, OK?!?! I take no pride in it, and it's not even statistically smart.
22. Francesco Molinari (T19 in 2012): Two of Molinari's five top 10s at major championships have come in the last two majors he's played, so he's clearly finding his footing late in his career. And while I could certainly see him winning, the way Augusta National is set up actually hurts somebody like him who hits so many fairways. When you're not incentivized to hit fairways -- and at Augusta you aren't like you are at one of the Opens -- the probability of a Molinari winning the green jacket goes down.
23. Marc Leishman (T4 in 2013): Leishman is sort of the off-brand version of Thomas (which is still a very good brand) in that he does everything really well but isn't elite in any one category. His driving has suffered a bit over the last year and a half, but zero surprises if he's in one of the final four pairings come Sunday.
24. Webb Simpson (T20 in 2018): Could you argue that he's playing the best golf of his life? Sure. He has just two missed cuts since the 2018 Phoenix Open. His consistency at the four majors last year was phenomenal as he finished in the top 20 in all of them. I think Simpson can win the Masters -- it's hard to watch him at the 2018 Players and not think he could win anything -- but he'll likely only get a couple of chances over the course of his career (maybe just one). Better take advantage.
25. Patrick Cantlay (T47 in 2012): For myriad reasons, Cantlay probably hasn't lived up to the early hype surrounding his career, especially in terms of wins. Still, he's quietly been racking up top 10 after top 10 since last fall, and I think it's instructive to remember that this is just his sixth major championship as a professional (and second Masters). It feels like he's been around for a while (because he has been), but he really hasn't at this level.
26. Matt Kuchar (T3 in 2012): Kuchar has always been the guy everyone wants to win the Masters but you knew deep down probably never would. Nothing has changed about that except, well, maybe the first part.
27. Rafa Cabrera Bello (T17 in 2016): He's a win-place-show stud who just hasn't won on the PGA Tour in 80 starts. One interesting note, though, if you believe in corrections to the mean: He's struggled mightily with his iron play this season but was strong in that area last year. If he puts it together, it's not difficult to imagine an all-Spanish final pairing on Sunday.
28. Brandt Snedeker (T3 in 2008): Three top 10s for Sneds in just nine appearances. He's almost always strong here, but he would likely have to have the greatest putting week of his life to put on a Sunday jacket.
29. Cameron Smith (T5 in 2018): Here for it. He's the best player you've never heard of (or maybe barely heard of), and while I don't really think he'll win, you should consider him in as a below-the-radar choice in all your pools. Could go low Aussie, too.
30. Charley Hoffman (T9 in 2015): He's finished in the top 30 in the last four Masters, which is a feat achieved by only him, Casey, Matsuyama, Day, Spieth, Rose and McIlroy. That's some company.
31. Louis Oosthuizen (2nd in 2012): Since Watson broke him in a playoff in 2012, he hasn't finished in the top 10 at Augusta. It's always easy to envision with him, but the reality here is that he has just one top 10 overall at majors in his last 12 attempts.
32. Si Woo Kim (T24 in 2018): If an American named "Johnny," age 23, had already won the Players and put together the resume Kim has, the PGA Tour would have hired an entirely new marketing department to push this person on us. Alas, Si Woo did not attend Georgia or Texas A&M and does not give rich quotes full of wisdom and wit.
33. Keegan Bradley (T22 in 2015): He's not someone who has had a ton of success here, but he kept popping up when I looked at things like long iron play, proximity to the hole and lag putting. Bradley could be an intriguing semi-sleeper.
34. Henrik Stenson (T5 in 2018): It's not been a pleasant 2019 for Stenson so far after he opened with three straight missed cuts in Europe. It's not been a great marriage at Augusta either. Stenson's first-ever top 10 came last year when he finished six back of Reed.
35. Matthew Fitzpatrick (T7 in 2016): I actually really like him here. His final round 67 in 2016 was super impressive, and while I don't think he has the juice to roll in a weekend with guys like McIlroy and Day at a place like this for the actual win, he's a great pool play.
36. J.B. Holmes (T4 in 2016): It seems strange that Holmes has only played in four Masters ever, but it's true. He flirted with the 2016 lead for a bit as Spieth collapsed, but him winning this year's Masters would be a (much) bigger upset than taking down McIlroy, Thomas and Woods at Riviera earlier this year.
37. Gary Woodland (T24 in 2011): Last year's winner, Reed, was an anomaly. Before that, eight of the previous 10 Masters champs ranked in the top 40 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained off the tee. Woodland is currently in the top 10 and fits that profile nicely, although he also hasn't made a cut here since 2014.
38. Haotong Li (T32 in 2018): I love Li and think he might be a semi-dude. He's still just 23 and has had better showings at majors than maybe a lot of other players who find the majority of their success on the European Tour. I don't really think he's going to win the Masters this year, but he'll have a few shots at winning a major over the course of his career.
39. Emiliano Grillo (T17 in 2016): He's in the top five of highest ratio of talent to how much his talent is discussed. Others in that category include Smith, Molinari and Li.
40. Branden Grace (T18 in 2013): His ball flight doesn't scream "Augusta," and the results show. It's the only major where he hasn't notched a top-10 finish.
41. Ian Poulter (T6 in 2015): Can you imagine Reed putting the green jacket on Poulter?
42. Jimmy Walker (T8 in 2014): It feels like there are 30 Walkers in the field every year, and I don't really know how to sort them out. One interesting note for those of you playing fantasy pools: Walker is one of just eight golfers to make each of the last five cuts at Augusta.
43. Kiradech Aphibarnrat (T15 in 2016): Big Barn Rat doesn't have a top 10 at a major yet, but he's made his only two weekends at Augusta (2016, 2018) and has a pair of top 15s in his last eight majors played. Barn Rat vs. [literally any fit, young star on the PGA Tour] would be a delectable Sunday afternoon treat for viewers.
44. Martin Kaymer (T16 in 2017): Kaymer is a strange case in that I almost feel like guys I have ranked behind him have a better chance of winning, but he has a better chance of making the cut and finishing somewhere between T25 and T40. It feels like his most notable Masters moment will always be that Augusta convinced him to change his swing while he was No. 1 in the world.
45. Danny Willett (Won in 2016): Seems like he's on the other side of a really poor stretch.
46. Kevin Kisner (T28 in 2018): I think it might have to be a "Zach Johnson in 2007" situation here for him to win. Bitterly cold and wet where he can just short game folks into oblivion. Not impossible, but there's a reason he's outside the top 40.
47. Charl Schwartzel (Won in 2011): A solo third in 2017 is sandwiched by missed cuts in 2016 and 2018. In nine events in 2019, he has five missed cuts and a WD. ::Throws hands up in air:: I have no idea what to expect.
48. Charles Howell III (T13 in 2004): We're not supposed to root for individual golfers, but I will be camped at the first tee in an orange Tony Allen throwback jersey with my Swingin' Pete hat on if Howell is even within three of the lead going into Sunday.
49. Billy Horschel (T17 in 2016): He can get white hot at times, but he's not very good around the greens at a place where it's fairly beneficial to be very good around the greens.
50. Zach Johnson (Won in 2009): He's the lesser Bubba here. Only two top 10s but one of them was a win.
51. Matt Wallace (First appearance): I'm in! He could be a menace on the European Ryder Cup team (which could also be said about 20 other Euros right now).
52. Lucas Bjerregaard (First appearance): He would probably be a more popular winner than Reed.
53. Thorbjorn Olesen (T6 in 2013): Technically, he's never missed a cut here (also finishing T44 in 2014), but he's not coming in with loads of momentum. The best scores from that final round in 2013 (when Olesen finished T6) are incredible, by the way (David Toms and Michael Thompson shot 67 while John Huh, Ryan Moore, Ryo Ishikawa and Olesen shot 68).
54. Keith Mitchell (First appearance): This does not feel like the era in which a string of names like Garcia, Spieth, and Watson is interrupted by Mitchell. But maybe he's American Danny Willett.
55. Kevin Na (T12 in 2015): I just want him paired with Tiger for all four rounds.
56. Tyrrell Hatton (T44 in 2018): I mean, if Willett won a Masters …
57. Alex Noren (MC in 2018): Low Scandanavian would be an interesting race between Noren, Olesen, Stenson, Lucas Bjerregaard and amateur Viktor Hovland (more on him later). There would actually be some value in backing the amateur, I think, given Stenson and Noren's history (or lack thereof) here.
58. Eddie Pepperell (First appearance): I don't know if he has a shot to win, but I think he (and his family) might be the most excited to be there.
59. Satoshi Kodaira (T28 in 2018): Where were you when Kodaira beat Mickelson and Woods at the 2018 Masters?
60. Shane Lowry (T39 in 2016): I like him as a player. I just don't like him this week.
61. Kyle Stanley (52nd in 2018): Stanley has missed four of his last six cuts at majors and doesn't have a top-30 finish in 16 major appearances.
62. Kevin Tway (First appearance): He comes in having missed six straight cuts. His dad, Bob, finished T8 behind Jack Nicklaus in 1986.
63. Aaron Wise (First appearance): There's this weird tier of golfers in this tournament that includes guys like Wise, Tway and Michael Kim (see below) where you're like, Well yeah, they're really good -- obviously -- but do I really expect them to perform here? But then again, you're scared to put them too low because the talent and youth is there. It makes for a pretty clear-cut tiering thought. You have your first 25 that the winner will most likely come from, your next 30 that have to have the week of their lives, then 20s young, inexperienced guys that includes Wise and Co. and then the bottom 15 that have no chance.
64. Corey Conners (Cut in 2015): Eight days ago, he wasn't in the Valero Texas Open field. Now he's having a press conference at Augusta National. Golf.
65. Justin Harding (First appearance): Won't be the latest in a long line of South African success here, but I'd love to have a camera on Ernie Els if Harding was somehow able to win his first one here.
66. Fred Couples (Won in 1992): Everyone is going to do the thing where they're like, "Yo, this could really be Fred's year!" but the reality is that he doesn't have a top 10 since 2010, and a win for him at the age of 59 is making another cut and dragging his oversized calves around Augusta National for another weekend.
67. Stewart Cink (T3 in 2008): Big Stew! He hasn't played here since 2014 when he finished in the top 15, but he qualified by finishing top five at last year's PGA Championship. Problem is he doesn't have any top 10s since then.
68. Bernhard Langer (Won in 1985 and 1993): Here's Langer in Golf Digest recently: "Could I still win the Masters? We all say we can, but I confess it is doubtful. I average 282 yards with my driver -- pretty impressive, except when I play against guys who drive it 330. I could have a great week and wedge the par 5s to death like Zach Johnson did, but while I'm putting for birdie, the kids are putting for eagle. I also have much longer clubs into the par 4s. We should change the subject, because I'm beginning to talk myself out of it."
69. Patton Kizzie (Cut in 2018): Kizzire went 76-76 last year and got beat by Jose Maria Olazabal.
70. Andrew Landry (First appearance): Two Texas Opens have been played since the last Masters, and Landry won one of them. Unfortunately for him, he also has nine MCs and just one other top 10 finish since that win last year.
71. Vijay Singh (Won in 2000): Singh has made five of his last seven cuts here, which is a stunner but maybe not as stunning as the fact that he nearly won the Honda Classic earlier this year. Reed putting the jacket on Singh would be chef's-kiss perfect.
72. Adam Long (First appearance): He's a great story, but Francis Ouimet is not walking through those doors.
73. Michael Kim (First appearance): I wonder how many of you know how Kim got into this field (I didn't remember). If you guessed "defeated Molinari (!), Bronson Burgoon, Sam Ryder, and Joel Dahmen at the 2018 John Deere Classic," then please collect your prize.
74. Shugo Imahara (First appearance): He's the lone special invite into the field, but he's no joke. In the WGC-Mexico Championship, he finished top 40 and beat Spieth, Rahm and Stenson. He also opened 68-80 at the 2016 Open (the full Camilo!).
75. Viktor Hovland (First appearance): He's one of the best amateurs in the world, and trust me, nothing would delight me more than an amateur Poke winning Augusta, but the only realistic success for him this week is making the cut and enjoying his first weekend at the Masters (but probably not his last).
76. Trevor Immelman (Won in 2008): Since winning in 2008, he's +57 in 10 appearances.
77. Takumi Kanaya (First appearance): He comes in as a top-10 ranked amateur in the world and the reigning Asia-Pacific Amateur champ. "It's simply like a dream come true to me," said Tanaya after winning the event last October to get to Augusta. "I always dreamed of playing in The Masters and The Open Championship… I received a call from Hideki Matsuyama when I walked off the course and that was amazing. He won this title twice and I'd love to come close to playing as well as he did." (Matsuyama finished T27 and low am at the 2011 Masters, T54 at the 2012 Masters.)
78. Jovan Rebula (First appearance): Ernie Els' nephew got in after winning The Amateur last year.
79. Mike Weir (Won in 2003): I respect the hell out of a former Masters winner grinding on the Web.com Tour, but Weir has only made one cut here since 2010. You can probably get interesting "low lefty" odds on him.
80. Angel Cabrera (Won in 2009): After finishing second in 2013 in a playoff he lost to Adam Scott, Cabrera has three missed cuts and no top-20 finishes. Even worse? His last made cut at a full field PGA Tour event was a T41 at the 2017 (!) Charles Schwab Challenge (Colonial).
81. Kevin O'Connell (First appearance): I'm guessing the list of reinstated amateurs who have competed in the Masters is not particularly long. O'Connell is on it after a good career at UNC but failed initial pro career. He was considering another run at it but had to put that on hold.
82. Alvaro Ortiz (First appearance): Speaking of putting things on hold, Ortiz hit pause on turning pro for one last shot at the Latin America Amateur. It was a good decision. Ortiz is the first Mexican to play this event in 40 years.
83. Larry Mize (Won in 1987): Since 2014, Mize has made more cuts (3) at Augusta than Tiger Woods (2).
84. Jose Maria Olazabal (Won in 1994, 1999): After playing 20 events in 2014, Olazabal has played just 23 total worldwide in the last five years. Not coincidentally, his last made cut here was in 2014.
85. Devon Bling (First appearance): He's a fun talent, but he has just one top 10 at good amateur events since finishing second to Viktor Hovland at Pebble Beach. Let's just say that the right guy won that Am.
86. Sandy Lyle (Won in 1988): Did you know that Lyle has one of the all-time most contrasting scoring feats in Masters history? He opened 69-86 in 2010 to miss the cut. Again, 68 ... 86!
87. Ian Woosnam (Won in 1991): Poor Woosie has made just one cut (a 44th in 2008) since 2000. He's also retired and un-retired from the event at different points. Can't blame him there. If I'm a former champ, I'm hitting driver off the deck until they physically carry me off the property or I am unable to walk from the clubhouse to the first tee.