By Ann Liguori
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (CBSNewYork) — Who will win the 2016 Masters? Take your pick. There are a bundle of story lines this year, loads of depth and players peaking at just the right time.
Will the winner be a player who’s already won the green jacket and is able to rekindle the magic? Or will one of the very talented players who should have won a major by now but has yet to close it out finally do just that? Or will an unexpected winner emerge?
The obvious pick is Jason Day. The 28-year-old is as hot as can be, with back-to-back wins this year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Dell Match Play Championship. He won five tournaments last year, including his first major, the PGA Championship, and he won four of his final six starts.
He’s come close twice here at the Masters, with leads on the final Sunday. Both times, those leads evaporated. In 2013, Day led heading to the 16th hole when disaster struck and he bogeyed holes 16 and 17 to finish third. In 2011, he was one of eight players who held the lead on the final Sunday before losing to Charl Schwartzel.
Day had a touch of the flu last week and had to work through back spasms in the last several weeks, but after seeing his superb shot-making at Chambers Bay during the 2015 U.S. Open despite battling vertigo, I’m convinced that Day can do anything and win anywhere.
Will defending champ Jordan Spieth regain his touch on the greens? The stroke that propelled him to last year’s Masters win and a U.S. Open victory has been missing in action of late. He’s 134th on the PGA Tour in putting inside of 10 feet. Since winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in mid-January, Spieth’s best finish is a ninth-place tie at the World Golf Championship-Dell Match Play. The 22-year-old has not putt, as of late, like the Jordan Spieth who dominated the 2015 calendar.
Blame it on distractions and the increased fame, fortune, travel and obligations, perhaps. But I’m convinced Spieth will get back on track soon because he absolutely hates anything but perfection and winning.
Bubba Watson, a two-time winner here, in 2012 and 2014, is oh so dangerous at Augusta National with his creative game, long drives and sharp iron play. He won the Northern Trust Open earlier this year and was runner-up at the WGC Cadillac Championship. He’s sharp coming into this Masters. And now that more people, thanks to the “60 Minutes” segment about him, which aired this past Sunday, know about his fears and anxieties, perhaps he’ll have even more patrons pulling for him.
Adam Scott knows what it takes to win here. The 2013 Masters champ arrives in Augusta having won both the Honda Classic and the WGC Cadillac Championship.
Can four-time major winner Rory McIlroy win here and complete a career grand slam? He’s been inconsistent leading up to the Masters. His best finish at Augusta was fourth place last year. Perhaps his ace on the par-3 16th hole in Monday’s practice round is a good omen. And hopefully he’s erased the memory of his 2011 meltdown when his four-shot lead in the final round crumbled when he dropped seven shots in 12 holes.
Never count Phil Mickelson out. The three-time Masters champ could rekindle the glory of old. The 45-year-old would have to maintain magical play for four straight days, continue to impress with his short game and putt like the experienced champion he is.
Perhaps it’s Rickie Fowler’s time. He won at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship earlier this year and was runner-up in Phoenix. It’s time he closes out a major championship. Working with Butch Harmon has helped him considerably.
Henrik Stenson is considered the best player yet to have won a major. His best finish here was a 14-place tie two years ago, but he always seems to be in the hunt. Last season, Stenson finished as a runner-up four times in 16 starts.
You can never count out Louis Oosthuizen. I picked the South African to win a major last year, and he finished tied for second in both the U.S. Open and British Open. His best finish in Augusta is second, in 2012.
Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka — the list goes on and on.
But this year, I’ll go with Day, the world’s top-ranked player. Even if he’s not 100 percent, based on battling the flu last week and tweaking his back recently, the Aussie can overcome anything to win here. Clutch iron play and putting and nerves of steel are key. Day has shown this past year that he has all of that and then some.
Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori