AUGUSTA – There's a major hole on the career accomplishments list for the world's 10 top-ranked golfers this week at Augusta National - none of them owns a Masters champion's green jacket.
It's the first time since the global rankings began in 1986 that the entire top 10 arrived at the year's first major tournament and none of them had ever won the Masters, including new world number one Justin Rose of England.
“If you look at the skill sets of the guys at the top of the world rankings, Augusta really should suit most of us,” Rose said. “So I would say that this year there's probably a very good probability that one of those guys will get it done.”
Third-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, a four-time major winner, needs a Masters win to become only the sixth golfer to complete a career Grand Slam.
There's a trio of top-10 Americans with major wins lacking one at Augusta National, including second-ranked Dustin Johnson, three-time major winner Brooks Koepka (fourth) and 2017 PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas (fifth).
“I think it's just a coincidence that nobody in the top 10 has won the Masters,” Thomas said. “It definitely speaks to the new wave of players.”
Three more US players seek their first major title: Bryson DeChambeau (sixth), Rickie Fowler (ninth) and Xander Schauffele (10th).
Mix in reigning seventh-ranked reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari of Italy and sixth-ranked Spaniard Jon Rahm, who shared fourth last year in only his second Masters start, and there's an element of extra hunger under the Georgia pines this week.
"The most important thing I learned last year is that Augusta National, expect for the par-5s, plays over par,” Rahm said. “So if you make par, don't get frustrated. That's just the way it is around this course.”
Rahm, 24, could not claw back from an opening 75 last year despite firing the lowest Masters third-round score of 65, but won the Spanish Open the following week.
“I hope my putting is a lot better than it was last year,” Rahm said. “I feel strong in every part of my game. I just want to make a few more putts than I did last year.”
The only golfer among the world's top 16 who has won the Masters is 14-time major winner Tiger Woods. And the 12th-ranked American, now 43, won his most recent of four Masters crowns in 2005.
Thunderstorms closed the course Monday afternoon with more severe weather forecast Tuesday, but most players in the field of 87 - matching the smallest since Woods won in 1997 - practiced before the rain struck.
Rose, the 2013 US Open winner, uses his ranking to motivate not pressure, especially after winning as world number one at Torrey Pines in January.
“I use it as maybe a little inspiration, certainly not as an expectation,” Rose said. “Clearly to win a major as number one would be even more fantastic.
“Confidence is up there for sure. I've had enough good golf to give me confidence and I've had enough poor golf to keep me working hard, which is sometimes a good place to be.”
The only Masters wins for players who topped the rankings that week were by Ian Woosnam in 1991, Fred Couples in 1992 and Tiger Woods in 2001 and 2002.
No. 5 could be toughest
Players examined the revamped fifth hole, now a 495-yard par-4 test after the tee was moved back 40 yards.
“Number five is probably going to play the toughest hole now for sure,” Rose said. “If you can get it through six holes even par, it's a great start.”
“It's great,” Woods said. “I love it.”
“It's still between a 3-wood and a driver off the green,” Thomas added. “The difference is having a longer club into the tee. That's going to be a tougher shot.”
Agence France-Presse (AFP)