The Masters: Five players to watch this week at Augusta National

One Masters rookie and the world number one are all in the mix for the year's first major

BY Newstalk 17:47 Wednesday 5 April 2017, 17:47 5 Apr 2017

Image: USA TODAY Network/SIPA USA/PA Images

The first golf major of the year gets underway this week as the world's best golfers descend on Augusta National. 

Last year saw Danny Willett become the first European since José María Olazábal to win The Masters and this year we enter the action with a brand new world number one.

Here's a couple of the players to keep an eye out for ahead of the action tomorrow.

Dustin Johnson*

The brand new world number one has been in stunning form this year. The American has won three of his four outings this season - Genesis Open, the WGC-Mexico Championship and the WGC Match Play.

Johnson appears to be the man to beat this year and has less pressure on him to win a major after his maiden win at the US Open last season. He triumphed, even with the threat of a stroke penalty, and has since climbed to the top of the world rankings.

Whatever has held him back over the last number of years seems to be gone and he's pursued Tour wins with an almost unshakable focus. A deserved favourite.

Dustin Johnson hits his sand shot from the bunker to the second green during his practice round for the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. Image: © Curtis Compton/TNS via ZUMA Wire

*Serious fall puts Dustin Johnson Masters participation in doubt

Jon Rahm

The Spaniard on everybody's lips. Aiming to be the first rookie since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to be crowned Masters champion.

His is as anticipated a debut as Rory McIlroy's in 2009 and the 22-year-old has shot up the world rankings this year. His win at the Farmers Insurance Open in January garnered many admirers. 

Rahm has secured six top 10 finishes in his last eight outings and sits 14th in the world rankings. In the FedEx Cup leaderboard, he is behind only Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama and Justin Thomas.

A promising start to this season and plenty of momentum sees him come to Augusta with nothing to prove and everything to gain.

Jon Rahm hits out of the bunker on the seventh hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament. Image: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Phil Mickleson 

Competing in his 25th Masters event, Phil Mickelson looks to add to wins in 2004, 2006 and 2010.

The American will challenge to become the oldest player to ever win The Masters and Augusta National is a course that suits the 46-year-old.

Four top 20 finishes this season, including two top 10 finishes at the WGC Match Play and the WGC-Mexico, sees him come into the tournament in good form.

'Lefty' says that the course favours ball strikers of his disposition: "One of the things about Augusta that really suits left-handed players is that the holes that require accuracy like No. 10 and No. 13, it’s so much easier to hit a big, rounded cut than it is to flip a hook," he said this week.

"So those critical shots are a lot easier to hit."

Phil Mickelson appears in good form ahead of The Masters this week, he's looking to add a fourth title to his list of major wins. Image:  Chris Carlson/AP/Press Association Images

Hideki Matsuyama

Hideki Matsuyama is looking to become the first Japanese player to ever win a major championship this week at Augusta.

His victory at the Phoenix Open turned heads, but his form since has deserted him slightly. He followed that result up with a missed cut at the Genesis Open, as well as finishing T25 at the WGC-Mexico Championship.

"Compared to last November and December, my game isn't at that same level right now," he admitted on Tuesday afternoon. 

"However, since the Match Play Championship in Austin, I've been working hard and seeing some improvement."

Last year's run from October to the start of January this year saw him notch two wins and two runners-up positions. 

In his last two outings at The Masters he has finished 5th (2015) and T7th (2016). Can he take the next step this year?

Hideki Matsuyama reacts to his drive on the 18th hole during a practice round at the Masters golf tournament. Image: Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth lined out at the Sony Open in February to ease himself back into action before turning his full attention to the majors.

At the time he was asked what would constitute a successful season and he quipped: "A Grand Slam."

The Texan has set high targets for himself and admitted his plan was to simply "win more" when it comes to the year ahead.

"Yeah, I mean, on the PGA TOUR, I'd certainly like to grab a few wins this year and definitely have a chance and close out a major championship. That's ultimately the goal, is to peak for those events.

"[I] have the firepower and the mind to close the deal, so it's just about getting back, wherever it may be. Certainly the focus is on the Masters right now."

The big issue will be whether he can overcome last year's meltdown at Augusta.

Leading heading into the final straight, Spieth relinquished a five-shot lead to lose to Danny Willett and missed his chance to become the first defending champion at the Masters since Tiger Woods in 2002.

His nightmare on the 12th is going to be the one which all eyes will be on when he returns on Thursday. 

Should he overcome his mind after last year's final year performance, Spieth is likely to once again fight to wrestle back to title.

Jordan Spieth gathers his thoughts on the 18th green in front of the leaderboard after his final round performance at The Masters. Image:  TNS/SIPA USA/PA Images

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