In ten days’ time we’ll know who is having to make room in the wardrobe for a jacket of a particular shade of green and we’ll no doubt be oohing and aahing over the towering tee shots, the laser-like irons, the deft chips and the nerveless putting of the latest Masters champion.  I’d like it to be a close affair (unless, of course, Rory or Shane are leading the pack) because that’s when the drama is intensified and magical things can happen.

I’ve been reading up on lots of Masters stuff ahead of travelling to Augusta in a couple of days and, call me reckless in my old age, this year I’ve decided to nominate three whom I think will be in the mix come April 14th.  I am selecting a new winner of this year’s tournament as opposed to a repeat winner.  Please do not wager your house on my picks – that is unlikely to go well.  My choices are based on a wee bit of this and that – a smidgeon on statistics (though no algorithms nor current unhelpful world rankings have been employed), a little bit on background knowledge and a whole lot on feel.  They are, therefore, totally unreliable – a bit like golf itself.  Here goes.

Let’s start with Viktor Hovland.  A favourite of mine ever since he called Suzann Pettersen the Queen of Norwegian golf, he is the most likely candidate to take another major title back to that country.  Time is flying by and Viktor is already 26 years old and building an impressive resume.  His middle name could easily be “First”.  Take a look at this list.

He is the first Norwegian to win the US Amateur;  the first Norwegian to play in the Masters and the first to win the sterling silver cup for low amateur.  He is also the first to have ascended to the top of the amateur world rankings.  Turning professional didn’t cause him to break stride either.  He’s the first Norwegian to win on both the DPW (European) tour and the PGA tours and the first to play on the Ryder Cup team.  His stunning end to his 2023 campaign resulted in wins at the Tour Championship as well as the BMW Championship and he was subsequently crowned the Fedex Cup champion – another first for Norway.

Viktor Hovland on the final green of the 2023 PGA Championship with eventual winner, Brooks Koepka.

So, it makes total sense that a major is the next item to be added to his resume.  He’s learning to play golf like poker, knowing when to be bold and when to bide his time and, as he puts it, “wear out the centre of the green”.  That’s a pre-requisite for doing well at Augusta and with four Masters appearances already under his belt his bank of knowledge and practical experience of the Georgia venue are growing.

He’s no stranger to the sharp end of a major either, playing with Brooks Koepka in the final pairing of last year’s PGA and holding the 54-hole lead in the Open at St Andrews two years ago.  Those experiences resulted in second and fourth place finishes respectively and when you add in being seventh at last year’s Masters it’s easy to make a case for him.  The old question marks over his chipping are no longer relevant as he has turned himself into a fine, fine short game exponent.

For  all of these reasons Viktor is my first pick.

Next is Xander Schauffele, the American Ryder Cup player and Olympic gold medallist from the Tokyo games.  Xander is an interesting multi-cultural mix with a mother born in Chinese Taipei but raised in Japan, while his Dad, Stefan, an elite athlete himself, is half French and half German.  Until recently Stefan has been the only coach Xander has ever had but, with his Dad’s blessing, he has recently started working with Chris Como.  You can be sure Stefan is still keeping a weather eye on things though.

From left to right the medal winners in Tokyo – C T Pan, bronze, (Chinese Taipei); Xander Schauffele, gold, (USA); Rory Sabbatini, silver, (Slovakia). [PGA Tour]

Xander is a complete player, according to Paul McGinley, and despite having no majors to his name so far he actually does have a healthy record on the big stage.  He has six top six finishes under his belt including a joint second in the 2019 Masters and a joint third in 2021.  He was winless in 2023 and remains so this year but don’t let that fool you.  He’s due a big win and his consistency is legendary – he’s currently made 41 consecutive cuts, the longest current streak on tour.  I’m sure the Augusta National Golf Club will already have his measurements…..just in case.

And thirdly, step forward another 26-year old American, Cameron Young, who, amazingly, is yet to open his tournament-winning account on the PGA tour.  This will be his third Masters and he will have taken a lot of confidence from his tied seventh place finish last year.  The 2022 PGA tour rookie of the year has notched four top tens in majors and his game certainly has all the qualities required by a major winner.  Cameron has all the shots – he can move it both ways and hit it high and low, but perhaps his two greatest assets are his creative mind and a certain degree of fearlessness.  If the occasion demands he won’t be afraid to step up and have a go.  He’ll not die wondering.

This is what Cam Young is capable of – sublime play and amazing scoring. He eventually lost in the final of the matchplay to Sam Burns. [Golf News on X]

I seem to have written considerably more in making my case for Viktor rather than the other two but who knows what will unfold over the next number of days?

As for me, I have a couple of transatlantic flights to endure and, sandwiched in between them, seven consecutive, glorious days of walking the Augusta National golf course.  As you will understand, I’m sure, I certainly won’t have any time to think about blogging – so I’ll see you in a fortnight.