Defending champion Jordan Spieth, left, helps 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett, of England, put on his green jacket. File Photo: Chris Carlson/AP
JOHANNESBURG – It’s time for the Masters. From Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club the 81st edition of the tournament, and this year’s first major, tees off.

South Africa will be represented by five players, all of whom will be looking to don the famous green jacket come Sunday evening. So what are their chances of toppling the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, asks Jacques van der Westhuyzen.

Louis Oosthuizen

At 55/1 the former British Open champion (2010) and runner-up at Augusta (after losing to Bubba Watson in the 2012 playoff) is South Africa’s best hope of going all the way. He’ll still be kicking himself for not finishing the job five years ago, but his game suits the Augusta layout and if he can start well there’s every chance he’ll be up there challenging on Sunday. He goes into the tournament in reasonable shape, with his best finish on the PGA Tour this year being a third place in February’s Phoenix Open. Now 34, Oosthuizen needs to win more regularly on tour and there’ll be no better place than at Augusta.

Charl Schwartzel

The 32-year-old, like Oosthuizen, just hasn’t lived up to his promise, but at least he can say he’s a Masters champion. The winner in 2011 hasn’t kicked on and dominated in Europe and America as he would have liked, but he remains a strong player – and winner – in South Africa. Schwartzel has the game to succeed at Augusta, but it’s going to take something special. He played well at last week’s matchplay in Austin, without being a threat for the title, with his best finish on the US Tour a sixth place at the Valspar Championship, where he was defending.

Branden Grace

He’s been talked about as a potential major champion for years now and he’s backed it up with a third-place finish at the 2015 PGA Championship and a fourth at the US Open, also in 2015, but his best showing at the Masters has been a tied-18th in 2013. The 28-year-old certainly has the game to be a real contender, but 2017 hasn’t been his best season on the PGA Tour and he’ll do well to make the cut. This year Grace hasn’t finished higher than a tied-13th at the Sony Open. However, if he gets a taste that he’s in with a sniff he could just be a surprise front-runner.

Trevor Immelman

Well, one thing the 37-year-old doesn’t ever have to worry about is being invited to the Masters, or qualifying, for that matter. As the winner in 2008 he’ll be able to play the tournament each year for the rest of his life. Injuries since that magical triumph nine years ago have robbed the one-time superstar of more victories around the world and a serious dip in form has cost him his playing privileges on the PGA and European Tours. He’s played twice in the Americas this year and missed the cut on both occasions, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and at last week’s Puerto Rico Open. If he makes the cut this week it’ll be a miracle.

Ernie Els

South Africa’s favourite golfer has one last chance of winning the green jacket... this being his 24th Masters. His exemption runs out this year following his British Open win in 2012 and it’s unlikely he’ll get another crack at Amen Corner after this weekend. Here’s hoping he at least makes the cut. Els has been runner-up at the tournament twice, in 2000 and 2004 and in between also finished tied-6th (2001), tied-5th (2002) and tied-6th (2003). He, however, hasn’t finished in the top 10 in 11 years and goes into this year’s event with no form to speak of – going back to November last year on the PGA Tour he’s played seven events and made just one cut. He won’t win it this week.

And the ones to keep an eye on:

Hot favourite: Dustin Johnson

The 32-year-old American is in the form of his life and few would bet against him winning his second major, after capturing the US Open title last year. Johnson has been in scintillating form, winning all three of his last tournaments played, the WGC Matchplay, the WGC Mexico Championship and the Genesis Open at Riviera. In February he also finished third at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. There is not a part of his game that is not functioning well right now.

Never-write-me-off: Rory McIlroy

The one thing going for the Northern Irishman is that he’s still very fresh, having not played very much golf this year. A rib injury picked up while playing in the South African Open in January put him out of the game for six weeks, but he has shown promising form since returning to action. Augusta suits his game perfectly... and he’s got unfinished business. How can we forget the four-shot lead he carried into the final round in 2011, only for Schwartzel to win.

Got-my-mind-set-on-you: Jordan Spieth

At 7/1 the young American is the second favourite behind Johnson. Spieth knows what it takes to win at Augusta having done so in spectacular fashion in 2015. It should have been a repeat last year... except he blew his chances of back-to-back wins in Amen Corner. He’d opened up a five-shot lead at the turn, was cruising without a worry in the world, but 50 minutes later he had given up six shots in three holes, including the quadruple bogey 7 at the par 3 12th. He’ll be desperate to make up for it.

Sunday Independent