What chances does Bubba Watson have of winning his third green jacket at Augusta?
Every week, SI.com will be answering the four biggest questions from the week in golf.
Bubba Watson was dominant this week en route to winning the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, his second win of the young season. How good are his chances to win his third green jacket at Augusta?
It's hard to remember a year when more players will enter Augusta brimming with confidence.
Two-time Masters champ Phil Mickelson is hitting it longer than he has in quite a while and put together four-straight top-6's before losing the group stage at the match play, including his first victory in five years at the WGC-Mexico Championship.
Rory McIlroy overcame a disappointing start to his American season to pick up a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, a performance that included a final-round 64. It was the type of round that reminds us just how special McIlroy can be when he's at his best, and a win at Augusta would complete his career grand slam. He's had chances to win before—he famously shot 80 in 2011 after entering Sunday with a four-shot lead—and his game suits the course, at least on paper.
Justin Thomas is the world's best player at the moment and already has two wins on the season. Dustin Johnson had three top-6 finishes in a row at Augusta before missing last year's tournament with that bizarre back injury situation. Don't forget about Jon Rahm, who had a chance to get to World No. 1. Oh yeah, there's also that Tiger fellow.
Watson's impressive win in Austin adds yet another name to an already stout list of potential contenders. Bubba was at his creative best all week at the match play, shaping every single shot based on what the course called for and, perhaps most importantly, looking rock-solid on his putts inside 10 feet. It appears Bubba's span of subpar play is over, whether that's because he switched back to Titleist from that colorful Volvik ball or for whatever other reason. He's a dangerous player when he's full of confidence and he has a full bank of positive memories from Augusta. I would be surprised if he doesn't have a chance to win come Sunday, and he's got as good a chance as anyone to capture the year's first major.
Justin Thomas had a chance to get to world No. 1 on Sunday with a win over Bubba in the semis, but he was well beaten. Is it just a matter of time before JT gets to number one, or might this be the closest he gets for a while?
Predicting future world rankings is a pretty difficult exercise if for no other reason than the formula is distinctly imperfect. Thomas, of course, should already be the top ranked golfer in the world. He's won seven times in the past 18 months including the most recent major championship, he's the reigning FedEx Cup champion and he hasn't missed a cut since last year's British Open.
If we're to extrapolate Thomas' recent form and project the future, then yes, he will become the world No. 1 soon enough. But that might overlook the two players ranked first and third, in Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm. Dustin has a real chance to win at Augusta National and would give his points average (this is how the ranking is determined) a significant boost in doing so. Rahm, too, could get to the top spot and nearly did at Torrey Pines earlier this year. At number four is Spieth, one of Thomas' best friends who has one green jacket already and probably should have two.
All this goes to say, there is no guarantee that Thomas gets there, and that's not a knock on his game in the slightest. It's a testament to the sheer number of top-class players capable of reeling off the type of streaks that you need to get to number one.
Tony Romo was the latest non-golfer to get a start in a professional tournament. His PGA Tour debut didn't go as planned, as he shot 77-82 and finished dead last in the event. Should we have a problem with guys like Romo taking the spots of other, perhaps more deserving players in these tournaments?
No. No, no, no, no, no.
I'm not here to argue that Romo "deserved" a spot in this tournament based on his golf game. He's around a scratch player, probably a bit better than that, but PGA Tour pros would probably play to something like a +7 or +8 handicap if they were forced to keep an accurate one. Romo is one of the best celebrity golfers out there, but as his performance in the Dominican Republic showed, making cuts on the PGA Tour is a whole other level of good.
Let's also not kid ourselves by suggesting that Romo's sponsor exemption was anything but a ploy for viewership. No disrespect to the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, but all eyes in the golf world this week were focused on the match play. With that knowledge, Corales' tournament organizers invited Romo to add a level of buzz and media attention to the tournament. And it worked—this and a number of other sites live-blogged Romo's opening rounds.
This is the whole point of sponsor's exemptions—to get players who attract attention into the field. There is no stipulation that the invitee should have Tour experience or even that he be a professional player at all; the choice is left up to the organizers' discretion. Romo's presence this week was the single most valuable one of any in the field. Outside of hardcore golf nuts, few casual sports fans would have known that there was another PGA Tour event this week at all. Romo made the event relevant, plain and simple, and for that reason alone he was the perfect sponsor's invite.
Also, it's not like he made a complete fool of himself. Shooting 77-82 is far from what the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback would have wanted, but he didn't slow down his playing partners or make a scene on the course or anything like that. He just didn't play well. That's all.
The Ryder Cup is headed back to Hazeltine for 2028. Good move?
Definitely. In 2016, when the U.S. won its first Ryder Cup since 2008, Hazletine proved to be an ideal site for the American team. It's in Minnesota, which isn't the most accessible destination for European fans. The course is also long and the 2016 setup, in which tees were pushed back as far as possible and the rough was mowed to cater to the U.S.' big-hitters, should serve as a template for future Ryder Cups on American soil.
Some European players had an issue with the fans' conduct at the event two years ago, but from all indications it appears their trash-talk straddled the proverbial line at best and crossed it at worst. To that I say: that's what the Ryder Cup is for. It's the one golf event where home-field advantage is a real thing, and players should expect to have their feathers ruffled a bit. It happens every two years, and some Americans will surely talk about how European fans went too far in a few months in France. Just par for the course.