Tommy Hicks: Picking winners for the masters

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Armed with confidence on the heels of the Final Four — yes, if you recall, I picked Virginia, the first No. 1 seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament to lose to a No. 16 seed, to win the national championship — I am not poised to pick the winner of this year’s Masters.

I ain’t scared.

I ain’t good at this either, which is why I don’t gamble, but I definitely ain’t scared. Having publicly demonstrated in the past that no one from the Vegas bookmaking outfits will be calling for my suggestions, I step back into the prediction arena to give it another try.

What’s the old saying? If at first you don’t succeed, try, try not to mess up the second time.

I’ll try.

So this week I’m presenting my top 18 picks to win the Masters. I know what you’re thinking — 18? Really? Going out on a limb? — but considering there are more than 80 golfers who will start Thursday’s first round seeking the Green Jacket, that’s really not a bad number. And it falls in line with the game itself: 18 holes per round, 18 choices.

If it’s any consolation, I’ll go all Virginia on you and actually pick one player out of the group as my favorite to win. Considering how I fared in picking the NCAA Tournament bracket, I don’t feel it is really necessary that I point out these picks are made purely for entertainment purposes. Anyone who would copy these selections would likely be taking a huge risk.

Let’s start at the top: the winner of the 2018 Masters will be … Justin Rose.

He’s playing well, he has proven he can play Augusta National and he is having a solid season thus far. What’s not to like? He certainly has the game for Augusta National and it just feels like it is his time there. So the No. 1 pick here is Justin Rose.

That leaves 17 more offerings. We’ll make this as painless as possible.

Yep, I’m going with Tiger Woods. This is a home game for him based on his past success, his previous victories and how the “patrons,” as Augusta National officials refer to those in attendance, will be cheering him on every step of the way, even if he doesn’t play well. But if he’s playing well, the patrons become as big a plus for Woods as making a 20-foot birdie putt somewhere along Amen Corner.

Each golfer in the next group of picks has a legitimate chance to win the Green Jacket. I’ll take Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson, Jordan Speith and Sergio Garcia, all for the same reasons: they can all play, they all have games that are suited for Augusta National, they have all played well recently and they can all move the ball off the tee for a more than respectable distance.

In other words, they can each play the game. Many of you have them on your pool of picks as well, and for good reason.

That leaves another 10 picks.

Here are some players who have shown promise, either of late for an extended time, and have demonstrated the ability to handle pressure situations that arise in competition. Again, as with some of the previous picks, most of these golfers hit the ball a long way off the tee and know their way around fast greens, both key factors at the Masters.

In this group let’s include Paul Casey, Matt Kuchar and Jon Rahm. Solid players with solid chances to win or fare well this week.

Next, let’s consider some players who have the game but maybe not as much experience at Augusta National as those who play in the event say is necessary to win. Still, these players will be guys to watch this week. The list includes Brian Harman, Alex Noren, Daniel Berger, Gary Woodland and Kevin Chappell.

Check ‘em out. They have a chance.

That leaves me with two sentimental picks. These are players you root for and hope that things go their way and they can at least be in the hunt on Sunday. My picks for these spots go to Fred Couples and Rickie Fowler. Freddy has won here before; it would be great to see Rickie wearing a Green Jacket.

So before you go back over the above list for those who were not included, let me offer a little help. You won’t find Phil Mickelson or Charl Schwartzel. You won’t find Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Henrik Stenson, Martin Kaymer, Ryan Moore (though I gave him strong consideration), Jason Day (ditto), Bernhard Langer, Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, Shubhankar Sharma, Kevin Kisner or Bryson DeChambeau.

I stand by my selections; less confidently, thanks to the Virginia factor, but nonetheless, I stand by them.

I ain’t scared.

Tommy Hicks, a Phenix City native, has covered sports in Alabama for more than 40 years. Contact him at