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Ranking the 2015 Masters rookies

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A first-time Masters participant has not won the event since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, and experience at the course has been oft-cited ever since as a necessary tool to victory at Augusta National.

The 2015 group of rookies arriving at Augusta National is not quite as formidable as last year’s bunch, with only 20 in tow versus 24 in 2014 and a group lacking the immense attention last year’s bunch received beforehand.

Still, there are some key names from this group, and it’s important to keep an eye on them in case any of them make noise in the initial effort at Augusta.

Below, I’ve ranked the rookies No. 1-20 based on their chances at this year’s Masters. This is not necessarily a ranking of how good the players are, although certainly that played a large factor in the ordering.

I grouped them into separate categories as well to give an idea of where each set stands against the rest of the field.

Anyway, the rankings…

Most Likely Contenders

1. Brooks Koepka

2. Shane Lowry

3. Morgan Hoffmann

4. Seung-Yul Noh

5. Brendon Todd

In this category we have the rookies I feel have the best chance to be in the mix for that famous back nine at Augusta on Sunday.

BrooksKoepka

Koepka comes in first by a mile, even if he’s not fully healthy heading into the event, and that should be no surprise. The 24 year-old American is the highest ranked among this group at No. 19 in the world, the best player of the set and has performed quite well this season with a win already.

The Augusta National layout also fits his game to perfection, as he hits the ball extremely long and high and possesses a nice all-around game with that excellent putter and exquisite approach play. His great mid-iron play is a valuable asset at this course as well.

Behind Koepka, Lowry has my attention because he also profiles pretty well for Augusta, with his enviable length and a great approach game from mid- to long-iron ranges, as Rich Hunt noted here. Lowry also had an affinity for showing up at big events last year, with a runner-up at the BMW PGA Championship, a top-five at the DP World Tour Championship and a top-10 at the Open Championship.

SeungYulNoh

Hoffman and Noh are both wildcards in that they are talented young players that aren’t very reliable yet. They both possess that killer long-ball, high-ball combo that works so well at Augusta, which is why I have them up here.

Todd may currently be the second best golfer on this list overall and has played well of late with five consecutive top-30s. But his short-hitting, low-ball game that also features poorly from longer approach shot distances is horrible for Augusta. Actually keeping him on this top list speaks to my belief in his ability and recent performance.

Intriguing Prospects

6. Cameron Tringale

7. Danny Willett

8. James Hahn

9. Robert Streb

10. Erik Compton

11. Anirban Lahiri

A pretty eclectic group here, all up and comers but some in different ways.

Tringale

Tringale played quite well last week on a Golf Club of Houston layout similar to that of Augusta National, and he has a pretty solid all around game and decent ball flight height that bode well for this course. I would only say he’s a moderate fit here, though, and he’s still far off from being a great player.

Lahiri and Willett both fall under the category of long-time foreign golfers adjusting to play in the United States. They each competed in PGA Tour events in the run up to the Masters with pretty lackluster results.

I’ve split them kind of apart, though, because Willett’s U.S. results have shown significantly more promise, and the Englishman is more accustomed to higher level competition with his lengthy European Tour career versus Lahiri’s mainstay on the Asian Tour until this season. In addition, the Race to Dubai leader appears to possess more length than Lahiri (who has won twice this year, to be fair).

RobertStreb

Streb has fallen on hard times of late with consecutive missed cuts, but it wasn’t long ago that he produced a win and six top-20s in seven events (albeit against a weaker set of fields). His all around game comes out solid and he hits it long. If he didn’t flight it so low, he would be at the top of this category, and if his play were better of late, he would be in the contenders section.

Hahn has genuinely improved as a player in 2015 regardless of his win at Riviera and he’s also a long, high-hitter. But I still trust Hoffmann and Noh’s talents significantly more.

Compton, of course, would be a great story and he did tie for second at last year’s U.S. Open, but that doesn’t mean he will contend at Augusta. He was a pretty long driver in 2012, but has oddly lost significant club head speed and distance and has become below average in driving distance in the process (it has nothing to do with his heart transplant, as he actually regained his lost clubhead speed from that experience by 2012).

His game just screams “meh” for Augusta and he missed five straight cuts earlier in 2015. He’s barely hanging on in this category.

Happy to Make the Cut

12. Brian Harman

13. Bernd Wiesberger

14. Corey Conners

15. Bradley Neil

Despite his small stature, Harman is historically average in driving distance on the PGA Tour. And he’s displayed a really good all around game that bodes well for Augusta.

BrianHarman

That being said, he’s here because his form of late has been abysmal. Harman has missed four straight cuts and looks nowhere near ready to compete at Augusta. Stranger things have happened, but he’s in a deep hole.

Wiesberger’s game has been in great form in Europe in 2015 and he had that little star run at the PGA last year, but he hasn’t performed well in the U.S. this year and I don’t think he’ll be up for the rigors of Augusta.

Conners and Neil are great amateur players, both around top 20 in the world, but you need to be pretty much at the top in those rankings to be expected to make the Masters cut.

Pretenders

16. Gunn Yang

17. Antonio Murdaca

18. Matias Dominguez

19. Byron Meth

20. Scott Harvey

Pretty much a crapshoot here. Yes, I know Yang is the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, but until he proves otherwise, that was a total fluke. He has nowhere near the game to compete at Augusta.

gunn_yang

Dominguez won the first ever Latin American Amateur Championship, which, while great, is not really a victory that prepares him for Augusta. Ditto for Murdaca, although the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship is a little more established.

The U.S. Amateur Public Links champion (Byron Meth) and the Mid-Amateur Champion (Scott Harvey) are generally not Tour quality players despite their high-profile amateur win, and that is the case this year as well.

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Kevin's fascination with the game goes back as long as he can remember. He has written about the sport on the junior, college and professional levels and hopes to cover its proceedings in some capacity for as long as possible. His main area of expertise is the PGA Tour, which is his primary focus for GolfWRX. Kevin is currently a student at Northwestern University, but he will be out into the workforce soon enough. You can find his golf tidbits and other sports-related babble on Twitter @KevinCasey19. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: September 2014

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Nostradamus

    Apr 9, 2015 at 3:30 am

    Yes, Murdaca is an amateur and there for the experience, but you seem to have neglected to mention he won by 7 shots in shooting -13 at Royal Melbourne. Granted, it was an amateur field (which included the young Chinese fellow who made the cut at Augusta in 2013) but anyone who knows abt RM knows the greens are like glass, you need to place all your shots in the right place or you’re stuffed and it shares a common architect with Augusta in Alastair McKenzie. And in shooting -13, the guy demonstrated he can play. Agree with you that Koepka is top of the list…..amazing talent.

    • Kevin Casey

      Apr 9, 2015 at 9:22 am

      To be fair, a seven shot lead is always impressive and it’s a good point about the course. But no matter the margin of victory, it still only represents one performance from Murdaca (his best one for sure). On the average, he’s a real good amateur player but nowhere near elite (he’s barely top 80 in the WAGR and that’s with the win). He’ll still need to have an epic performance to make the weekend. He can make the cut, but I think his odds are pretty slim there. I mean a 14-year-old Asian Pacific Amateur winner in Guan made the cut last year, but he did play unbelievably well to do so.

      I did underestimate Hideki Matsuyama at the Masters when he won his APAs though, so we’ll see.

      Still, it’ll be really tough for Murdaca. But it is a great accomplishment though, and nobody can ever taken his first Masters experience away from him.

  2. Golfraven

    Apr 8, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    Matias Dominguez will be right there on weekend sfter seeing him playing the par 3 contest. If he putts as good as his wedge game is, he has good chance for the medal.

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