Golf’s Major Prospects for 2017

With The Masters almost upon us to welcome in the 2017 Majors season, Emabis takes a look through this year's fields and offers his predictions via a headline tip and value tip for each.  

THE MASTERS

The Masters is the only major to be played at the same course every year - Augusta National, Georgia. Originally designed by Bobby Jones and Alistair McKenzie, Augusta was subject to four separate modifications between 1999 and 2006 in an effort to combat the increased distance players were generating off the tee. The course now measures 7,435 yards and continues to play to a Par of 72. Driving distance is traditionally an advantage and, although the tree-lined fairways appear tight, there is plenty of room off the tee which leaves driving accuracy less critical. As for rough; there is none really.

So what's Augusta's main defense? It's greens. Accurate approach play and strong putting are a must to win a Green Jacket.

Our Headline Tip

Jordan Spieth (8/1)

Spieth is second favourite for The Masters, at single odds, but that should come as absolutely no surprise.

Of all the leading contenders for the 2017 Masters, Spieth has the best pedigree with two Tied Seconds (2014 and 2016) and one Win (2015) in his last three starts. And it's worth bearing in mind that last year's second place finish could easily have been a back-to-back win if the Texan had not taken an extraordinary 8 shots on the Par 3 twelfth hole. Something I venture to say he will never repeat.

So whilst others such as DJ, McIlroy and Scott will surely challenge, in my view Spieth remains the man they have to beat.

Our Value Tip

Matthew Fitzpatrick (70/1)

Ben Coley penned an excellent piece earlier this year on his leading 2017 Major interests (click here to read) which referenced Matthew Fitzpatrick as an outside tip for The Masters. In my view, it's a superb call.

Some players are suited to Augusta (Bubba, Scott, Spieth) and some aren't (Stenson). Fitzpatrick's 2015 debut (as an amateur) saw him miss the cut by one shot and he earned a share of seventh in last year's tournament. Such form suggests Fitzpatrick belongs in the former grouping.

At the price, he's well worth an each-way punt.

US OPEN

This year's edition of the gruelling US Open (my favourite of all Majors) comes from Erin Hills in Wisconsin.  Opened in 2004 and designed by Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten, Erin Hills bears a passing resemblance to Oakmont (2016's course where Dustin Johnson claimed victory). Both are nearly treeless — Erin Hills has only six trees — and feature good variety in their designs. However Erin Hills has fine fescue fairways, wispy fescue rough and A-4 bentgrass greens whereas Oakmont has bentgrass fairways, poa annua greens and thick bluegrass / rye grass rough. Erin Hills is also more of a rolling golf course.

Erin Hills officially measured 7,760 yards for the 2011 U.S. Amateur. With similar yardage expected for the U.S. Open, it is likely to be the longest course in US Open history (ahead of Chambers Bay measured 7,695 yards in Round 2). Furthermore, all four Par-5 holes at Erin Hills will play in excess of 600 yards and Par will be 72 (par at Oakmont was 70).

Although wind is an ever-present factor at Erin Hills, the option exists to soften the course if the wind really blows and it should therefore no be a determining factor.

Our Headline Tip

Dustin Johnson (8/1)

When I read the course description - similar to Oakmont; long and rolling with a little wind to take account of - one name springs to mind: Dustin Johnson. Assuming he can handle the mantle of defending champion, and turns up in any semblance of decent form, he looks like the man to beat.

Our Value Tip

Brooks Koepka (80/1)

Again this is a selection mainly driven by the expected course set-up and length. Koepka ranked 19th last season for Driving Distance and 13th for Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.  Coupled with his US Open record of fourth in 2014 (Pinehurst), eighteenth in 2015 (Chambers Bay) and thirteenth in 2016 (Oakmont), Koepka's definitely one to have as an each-way play come summer.

THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP

Oirignally designed by Fred Hawtree and J.H. Taylor, Royal Birkdale is threaded through deep natural valleys between sandhills in order to avoid any blind play, bumpy fairways or unfair bounces. Hawtree’s son, Fred Jr, added several hundred yards length to the course during the 1960s whilst a third generation Hawtree, Martin, later helped reshape, resurface and redesign all eighteen greens after the 1991 Open.

Berkdale holds few surprises with the holes fair and hazards generally located to the sides of playing areas and laid out in full view. However, that doesn't necessarily mean it is easy with the course well protected by its length, ever-present winds, savage roughs and wild willow scrubs.

Our Headline Tip

Henrik Stenson (16/1)

Berkdale last hosted the Open Championship in 2008 when the event was won by Padraig Harrington. Other current player names on the leaderboard included Ian Poulter (second); Henrik Stenson (third); Jim Furyk (fifth); Chris Wood (fifth); Paul Casey (seventh); Ernie Els (seventh); Adam Scott (sixteenth) and Alex Noren (nineteenth).

Whilst I normally avoid defending champions for Majors, I can't look past Stenson at the price on offer as my (unusual) second 2017 selection of a defending champion. And both on a rotating course. Not only does Stenson hold course form, I expect him to relish defending his title if in any type of form.

Our Value Tip

Alex Noren (80/1)

Looking back to the 2008 Open Leaderboard from Berkdale, another name interests me - namely that of Alex Noren. Arguably the best European golfer of  2016 - with 4 wins (Scottish Open, European Masters, British Masters and Nedbank Golf Challenge) - Noren is a proven links player with better credentials to win the Claret Jug than many ahead of him in the betting.

US PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Originally designed by George Cobb in 1961, and subject to an extensive renovation by Tom Fazio in 1997, Quail Hollow is scheduled for a complete facelift in advance of this year's PGA Championship. The first hole is to be lengthened which will necessitate the removal of the current Par-3 second hole. As a result, the Par-5 fifth will be cut into two holes - a Par-4 and a Par-3. There will also be added length to the 426-yard Par-4 11th hole. In addition, the much maligned greens are being reseeded.

The last three holes, collectively known as the Green Mile, are particularly tough and consistently rank as the three hardest on the course.

Our Headline Tip

Rory McIlroy (8/1)

However they remodel Quail Hollow, Rory McIlroy will start firm favourite for the US PGA given his record there: 1-MC-2-10-8-1-4. It's here that McIlroy won his first PGA tournament in 2010, with a course record 62 in Round 4, and here where he led the field by seven shots in 2015. It's also worth noting that Fowler pipped McIlroy via a playoff in 2012 and he led after Round 1 in 2013 before drifting out of contention on unplayable greens.

Our Value Tip

Hideki Matsuyama (20/1)

Our lowest priced outside tip but having developed into one of the best players on the PGA Tour, Matsuyama is clearly a Major winner in the making.

Although currently suffering a dip in form after a purple patch earlier this year which saw him win the Phoenix Open, Matsuyama has form in both this Major (4th last year) and this course (11th in the Wells Fargo last year).

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