The Masters Augusta National, April 5-8
US Open Shinnecock Hills, June 14-17
Open Championship Carnoustie, July 14-17
USPGA Bellerive Country Club, August 9-12
Danny Willett became the first Yorkshireman to win one of golf’s coveted Majors when triumphed in the 2016 Masters, but what are the chances of another win for one of our White Rose boys this year? Willett’s form has slumped since he pulled on the green jacket and he’s currently recovering from a rotator cuff injury that affected his swing throughout 2017, so the baton may now be handed to fellow Lindrick GC member Matt Fitzpatrick.
Since its inauguration in 1934, the Masters has been played at Augusta National, designed by Normanton born course architect Dr Alister MacKenzie. It is a course that requires supreme iron play and a deft short game which potentially suits former US Amateur champion Fitzpatrick, but former Yorkshire President Jonathan Plaxton believes Fitz may feel more at home at the US Open at Shinnecock Hills.
Plaxton, a former England captain and Walker Cup selector (pictured below) believes the work of England Golf in developing future champions through Yorkshire based coaches like Graham Walker and Steve Robinson, will pay off.
He said: “In a Ryder Cup year I’m going all European and hoping for an English hat trick with an Irishman, but no place for a Scot.
“Based on his recent results at Augusta National my head says Justin Rose and my heart certainly says Justin Rose.
“He’s turned into the ultimate professional and having closed out 2017 in some style and with a Ryder Cup in sight he’ll be especially keen to win a green jacket.
“Having seen Matt Fitzpatrick play the 2013 Walker Cup at nearby National Golf Links, and graduate to an established member of The European Tour and Ryder Cup golf, I’m sure he’ll feel at home when returning to Long Island.
“His 2013 U.S. Amateur win took many by surprise but, given his course management skills, putting talent and his work ethic I believe he’s now ready to, and absolutely capable of, winning this major and making it a US double."
And he’s backing another young English player to follow in the footsteps of Tony Jacklin and Nick Faldo to claim the Claret Jug. “On the way to winning The Dunhill Links Trophy, in both 2016 and 2017, Tyrell Hatton showed his maturity and ability to play Carnoustie. “Having consistently improved his competitiveness since turning professional, and with his best mate now on the bag, he looks a good prospect to become The Champion Golfer of the year in 2018.
Irishman Shane Lowry is his last pick. Plaxton added: “He has won before in the States and has huge talent but as yet no major to his name. A move across ‘The Pond’ is apparently in the offing and by the time The USPGA is played I expect him to be in winning form again. He’s part of an Irish generation that wins Majors (McDowell/ McIlroy/Harrington) and I can’t see him being on the list of best players never to win one for much longer.”
The PGA in Yorkshire secretary Aran Wainwright believes Irish eyes will be smiling at the start of the year. “I think Rory will complete his Major grand slam. After a quiet year last year, I think 2018 will be one to remember for him.”
And the former English amateur champion thinks Sergio could add another Major in the US after winning at Augusta last year. “Sergio could add to his Major success at the 2017 Masters. Shinnecock Hills requires a straight driver and great ball striking, Sergio definitely fits this description.”
Like Plaxton, Wainwright believes English golfers will be at the forefront this year. “It is a fantastic period again for English golfers. With Nick Faldo in 1992 being the last winner, I’m split between Tommy Fleetwood, Matt Fitzpatrick and Danny Willett. Any of these guys winning would be a great result.
“The venue for the USPGA Bellerive Country Club is not a course I know much about, but a year without Jordan Spieth winning another major does not seem possible.”
Former European Tour player Ben Mason is another in the Spieth camp, but fancies him to make amends at the ‘Cathedral of Pines.’
“Jordan always seems to play well at Augusta. He looks at home there and the tournament owes him one from a couple of years ago.
“As for the other Majors, in the past US Opens at Shinnecock Hills have been high scoring affairs which in my opinion plays in to Justin Rose’s hands perfectly. He finished 2017 very strongly and his confidence will be very high.
“I think the Open this year will be Rickie Fowler’s breakthrough Major. Carnoustie is a golf course that requires a golfer to drive the ball well and Ricky’s driving has improved year by year. I also believe that because the Open is not an’ American Major’ the weight of expectation on him will not be as high and he’ll be able to relax and play his game.
“My heart is ruling my head in the USPGA as I have gone for Tiger and I would just love to see it happen. He looked good in his comeback tournament and had his power back. If he can stay healthy and play a reasonable schedule I don’t think there is any reason why he could not show us all how great, he is once again.”
YORKSHIRE Golfer publisher Danny Lockwood saw a sentimental tip come in last year when Sergio Garcia broke his duck in majors, but doesn’t foresee more of the same in 2018. “The talent pool in golf has never been greater so on any given week someone can come through on the rails. That said, so many of the top players are red hot week in, week out, while others like Jason Day and Henrik Stenson are due a return to top form.
“I enjoyed watching Tiger’s return to action in the Hero Challenge but I hoped to see a more rhythmic, ‘contained’ swing that might lengthen his career if not his driving.
“The fact is, he was still powering the ball and I just don’t think his body can take that type of punishment consistently. Unless he’s had some bionic work done on his back I can’t see him contending.
“The Masters needs a hot putter and a good track record so I’m going for Justin Rose at Augusta, Justin Thomas at the US Open, Jordan Spieth repeating his 2017 Open victory this time at Carnoustie and a ‘left field’ pick for the USPGA in Xander Schauffele.”
JORDAN SPIETH – A POPULAR PICK
Our regular columnist and European Tour player Chris Hanson also thinks Spieth can put his Augusta demons to rest and pull on the green jacket in April.
“He just loves it there, has proved he can win and is one of the best clutch golfers in the world. “
I’m not sure on the course for the US Open, but sure someone who drives it as long and straight as DJ (Dustin Johnson) will contend.”
Hanson believes it may be horses for courses at Carnoustie and is looking at the 2007 champion. “I would love to see a blast from the past like Padraig Harrington win, he’s still so competitive, works so hard and if he’s in form going into it you never know?
“But it always amazes me how well the Americans do at the Open, so someone like Rickie Fowler who putts so well may be a good shout.
“Again, I’m not sure on the course, but Brooks Koepka surely will run close for another major so let’s give him the USPGA.”
An inside word goes to the punters’ friend Peter Fenton, who is coming off another successful year with his Yorkshire based Swingform tipping service.
“To get our 2018 Major campaign off to a positive start I’m going to choose Matt Kuchar, who is available at a big 80/1 with some bookmakers.
“The easy going ‘Smilin Matt’ has a long track record of 11 appearances at Augusta, dating back to the nineties, only ever missing the cut once, in 2002.
“However, it is only in recent years that his record has started to show promise, with four top 10s in his last six starts here. This includes a 4th last year, and his price is about right for taking home the green jacket, but the value comes to the fore when considering each way interest.
“Following a recent lengthening and narrowing renovation, Shinnecock Hills should prove a brutal test at this year’s US Open.
“A more typical championship par of 70 will apply this year, which will include a 519-yard par 4 and a 616-yard par 5. There are a few players in the world capable of bringing such a layout to its knees, but I have one in mind in Justin Thomas.
“Despite all his titles last year, for me his record breaking 9 under par 63 in the third round of the US Open was one of his biggest statements. His US Open record is short, but undeniably on the up with 101st, 32nd and 9th. Currently 22/1, and is likely to be shorter by June.
A player who is accumulating a very nice Open Championship record is Aussie Marc Leishman with a second, fifth and sixth in recent years.”
In supporting his claims Fenton added: “On top of this, 2017 was a real coming of age season, with two PGA Tour wins, including blitzing a top field with a five shot victory in The BMW Championship. He also started his 2018 PGA Tour campaign positively, tying for first in the CJ Cup, only to lose out in a playoff to the recently crowned 2017 Player of the Year Justin Thomas. Currently a massive 80/1 with some bookmakers, take him each way at this price while you can!
“Based on recent form alone, it would be very hard not to see Justin Rose adding to his Major tally in 2018. Bellerive CC is a long course, with large undulating greens, characteristics that often go hand in hand with Rose’s best Major performances. Clearly, it’s a long time off yet, but the likeable Englishman is currently a very favourable 33/1.”
YORKSHIRE POST Night Editor (Sport) and golf writer Chris Stratford, a member at Fixby, figures it’s an Augusta dream for Rickie Fowler. It’s as much a wish as a prediction for Chris, regarding the talented and likeable American.
“For the US Open bank on Justin Rose claiming it for the second time because his play from tee to green is second to none and there should be less of a premium placed on putting which can be his Achilles heel,” said Chris. Dustin Johnson is tipped to get back to Major-winning ways at Carnoustie simply because he’s too good not to be back among the big titles. His tip for the USPGA is Hideki Matsuyama, providing he gets off to a good start. Once ahead he’s a tough character to catch.