Rory McIlroy(L) and Rickie Fowler stand on the first tee during the final round of the 2018 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club on May 6, 2018, in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
By Christopher Powers
While Thursday morning still feels like it’s years away (seriously, let’s get this thing going already!), Tuesday morning’s tee times reveal always reminds you that the first tee shot of the Masters is near. As the pairings come out, golf fans begin rearranging their work schedules around a two-hour brunch, lunch or early exit from the office based on which group goes off when. Thursday of the 2019 Masters will be a particularly unproductive day for many, as there are a large number of so-called “supergroups” that will be appointment television. Here are nine of our favourites that we’ll be keeping an eye on over the first two rounds.
Sergio Garcia, Tony Finau, Henrik Stenson (9:58 a.m., Thursday)
Amidst the self-inflicted chaos that seems to follow him, Sergio Garcia has put together a fine 2019 campaign on the PGA Tour. He’s finished in the top 10 three times in six starts, ranks eighth on tour in strokes-gained/approach-the-green and fifth in scoring. And yet his odds are currently 60-to-1 to win a second green jacket, which you could argue is right where he wants to be. Flying under the radar served Garcia well in 2017, and as we saw a year ago, he struggled with everything that comes with being the defending champion at Augusta National. That won’t be the case this time around, and he should be in a good frame of mind along fellow European Henrik Stenson, who is also looking to capture his second major and also 60-to-1 to win.
Rounding out this group is Tony Finau, who surprisingly has much lower odds (35-to-1) than the pair of major champs he’s playing with. As long as Finau doesn’t get injured during the Par 3 Contest, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be in the mix heading into the weekend. Then again, he rolled his ankle a year ago and still tied for 10th. So maybe another little bump or bruise on Wednesday could be a good thing.
Charley Hoffman, Marc Leishman, Louis Oosthuizen (10:42 a.m., Thursday)
This group cracking our top nine over a few others may come as a surprise, but it shouldn’t. It’s got two of the smoothest swingers in the sport in Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen, plus the guaranteed first-round leader in Charley Hoffman. Don’t believe us? Check out this Justin Ray stat that show’s Hoffman’s first-round prowess at Augusta:
Since 2015, Charley Hoffman is -16 in round 1 (rank: 2nd)…. He is +11 in rounds 2-4 (rank: 151st). Charley is 2nd in Masters history in strokes gained per round on Thursdays. https://t.co/DgglblIvuM
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) April 9, 2019
Chuck Hoff is rounding into form just in time, finishing T-18 at the Valspar Championship and solo second at the Valero Texas Open. Expect something between 66 and 69 from him on Thursday.
Tommy Fleetwood, Xander Schauffele, Gary Woodland (10:53 a.m., Thursday)
If we’re not careful, we may declare every player in the field as “under the radar” coming into Masters week, but we must add both Xander Schauffele and Gary Woodland to that discussion. These two were arguably the hottest players on the planet in the early portion of this season, most notably at the Tournament of Champions, where Schauffele carded a scintillating final-round 11-under 62 to come from behind and edge Woodland by a stroke. They’ve each cooled off since, giving them both juicy odds, with Schauffele at 40-to-1 and Woodland at 60-to-1. They’ll play alongside Tommy Fleetwood, who is one of the nine favourites at 20-to-1. While he’s yet to win one, Fleetwood has been a menace at the majors, finishing T-17 or better in four of his last seven. The T-17 came at Augusta last year when he vaulted into contention with an electric third-round 66 that featured five consecutive birdies beginning at the par-3 12th. We’d be surprised if at least one of these guys wasn’t near the top of the leader board on Sunday.
Tiger Woods, HaoTong Li, Jon Rahm (11:04 a.m., Thursday)
Don’t think we need to do much explaining on this one. All eyes will be on HaoTong Li, the 23-year-old rising star from China who made some early noise at Augusta a year ago and played well recently at the WGC-Match Play.
Those other two guys will be fun to watch too.
Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Cameron Smith (11:15 a.m., Thursday)
If you noticed, the last four groups we’ve mentioned are one after the other, so that two-hour “brunch” we talked about is definitely something you should consider. Perhaps the two biggest non-Tiger storylines are Rory McIlroy looking to complete the career Grand Slam and Rickie Fowler looking to get over that major hump. They both had a chance to check off each of their boxes here last year, but McIlroy faded and Fowler came up one shot shy. Now, they’ll play together the first two rounds, and it’ll be a lot of fun to watch them battle for position heading into the weekend. And don’t discount the third member of this group, Cameron Smith, who had the sneakiest T-5 finish ever at Augusta last year thanks to a final-round 66. This kid can ball, and it’s only a matter of time before he starts winning as regularly as fellow countrymen Jason Day, Marc Leishman and Adam Scott.
Francesco Molinari, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Tyrrell Hatton (1:16 p.m., Thursday)
As the kids say, this is “low key” the best group on the golf course on Thursday and Friday. All three of these guys can strike the ball, and Tyrrell Hatton by himself is often worth the price of admission. The juxtaposition between he and Francesco Molinari will be fascinating to watch, as Molinari is as even-keeled as they come while Hatton is as emotional as it gets. Meanwhile, over in the corner, Rafa Cabrera Bello will be smashing the hell out of the golf ball with his irons. Seriously, make this a featured group on Masters.com and you won’t hear complaints from anyone.
Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Jason Day (1:38 p.m., Thursday)
Speaking of interesting juxtapositions, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau playing together falls squarely in that category. DJ just wants to get the ball, get a number and swing away, while Bryson will be dissecting every blade of grass on the property before even deciding what club to pull. Add in the, um, deliberate Jason Day and this could actually be a tough group for Johnson, who moves at a brisk pace. We’ll see how he handles it in what is one of the bigger weeks of his career. As for Day, it’d be a welcome sight to see him fully healthy and in the hunt on Sunday. It’s still somewhat baffling that he and Johnson have just two majors between them.
Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Justin Thomas (1:49 p.m., Thursday)
Does Phil Mickelson have one (or more) majors left in him? Can Justin Rose finally capitalize on his remarkable play at the Masters (four top 10s in the last seven years)? Will Justin Thomas finally figure out Augusta National (three made cuts, but no top 15 finishes in three tries)? A lot of intriguing questions for this group, the second-to-last off the tee on Thursday.
Jordan Spieth, Paul Casey, Brooks Koepka (2 p.m., Thursday)
All of a sudden that two-hour brunch seems like it could turn into a five-hour siesta (you should probably just take the day off instead). What a way to round out the coverage with these final few groups, the last of which features 2015 Masters winner Jordan Spieth, three-time major winner Brooks Koepka and arguably the BPWOAM (best player without a major) right now in Paul Casey. Spieth has shown recently that he’s seen the light at the end of the tunnel, and there would be no place better to snap out of his slump than Augusta. With the way he’s played here (third or better in four of his five starts), it certainly feels like it’s going to happen.
Koepka will be playing in the Masters as a major champion for the first time, a strange revelation he came to during his Tuesday press conference. But it’s true, as he missed the Masters a year ago with a wrist injury as the reigning U.S. Open winner. He added two more since, and is still somehow only 25-to-1 to win, furthering his “nobody believes in me” theory. If he still feels that way this week, he might be a lock to win, though his best finish here is a T-11, which came in 2017.
For Casey, this would seem like a prime opportunity to finally get it done, as he’s playing some of the best golf of his career. He has nine top 10s in his career in the majors, five of which have come at Augusta National. If Casey were to win, he’d become just the third Englishman to do so.