Only a few weeks of the new golfing year have passed but big name players are already talking about honing their games in order to peak for The Masters at Augusta in April.
Justin Rose spoke recently about April through to August being prime time on the golfing calendar and he already has his sights set on peaking for the year's first major championship, which remains one of the highlights of the sporting year.
Out of the blocks
Jimmy Walker is a big fancy of mine this year for the Masters and he's started the season faster than most. It was the same last season for Jimmy who amassed three victories in a short space of time. One of these was the Sony Open which he successfully defended the other week after a near miss at the Tournament Of Champions. The most impressive thing about the title defence was the way in which Jimmy bounced back after the disappointment of Kapalua and this mental toughness will be vital if he wants to start targeting the major championships. Rookies don't usually do well at the Masters but Jimmy recorded a top 10 on his Augusta debut in 2014.
Walker has the game and all the attributes required for the major championships and now under the guidance of Butch Harmon, he also has the back room team in place. Equipped with excellent driving ability, a power draw and a magnificent high ball flight are all in the armoury and arguably there isn't a better putter around at the moment. This is the perfect concoction for success at Augusta National and Jimmy Walker has been backed in across the board to take down the Masters, now trading at a general 40/1.
The man Walker will have to beat at Augusta is world number one Rory McIlroy who is the current 9/2 favourite. Despite a court case looming, Rory has also started the season fast. A narrow miss in Abu Dhabi added his fourth runner up spot there to the record books. The Northern Irish man will be looking to complete the major grand slam at the tender age of just 25 after winning the Open Championship at a canter in 2014 at Royal Liverpool. This added to the US Open win in 2011 and the PGA Championship victories in 2012 and 2014. Rory has a set of goals listed on a boarding pass this year and top of the lot is finally taming Augusta National.
Patrick Reed is another man earmarked for major success and again, Augusta may be the track most suited to his game. The confident Reed announced that he should be a top five player in the world and he's well on the way to being just that - officially - after a fourth PGA Tour victory in Hawaii. Reed was the man to pip Walker at the season opener in Kapalua and he's the type of player that will take the chance if it comes along. Again, equipped with that power draw and superb flat stick ability, Augusta may suit the feisty 24 year old Texan despite a missed cut on his debut last year. Unfortunately Reed couldn't join the likes of Jordan Spieth and Jonas Blixt - who both finished tied second - as rookies to break the mould and put in a strong challenge last year, but don't discount him at 50/1 in 2015.
Man in form
Bill Haas is the latest winner on the PGA Tour and he found his shooting boots at the Humana Challenge following a phone call to his wife in which he said he felt he wasn't going to be able to score. Haas' second child is due next month and two wins now have corresponded with the timing of the births of both children. This will add a lot of fuel to the fire of the "nappy factor" theory and indeed, for me it was Bill's previous win at the AT&T National which made me a believer. Haas is definitely a stronger player mentally for me now and that may give him an edge in the major events.
I witnessed a changed man close out for victory at Congressional in 2013 and later Bill talked about his new found perspective with the 'family man' life looking. This initiated credence to the Nappy Factor theory for me - a theory that suggests those players with a recent new born or one on the way play a more relaxed game brought on by a new found perspective. Again, at Humana, Haas seemed completely unfazed down the stretch, beating a packed leaderboard including playing partner Justin Thomas - a youngster with huge potential who may have big designs on Augusta himself this year.
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