The Masters 2014: Sky Sports looks at the leading rookie contenders at Augusta
By Paul Higham Twitter: @SkySportsPaulH. Last Updated: 07/04/14 11:12pm
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Could one of the 24 first-timers lining up at this week's Masters actually go all the way and pick up a new green jacket for his wardrobe?
It's one of the most demanding and famed golf courses in the world, and Augusta National can turn even the most hardened pro golfer's legs to jelly - but this could be a rare year when a Masters rookie prevails.
With the Masters being the only major held at the same venue every year, course knowledge is a distinct advantage, as despite the pristine look of the most manicured course in the world - Augusta National is a brute.
Deciphering the mystery of the lightning quick greens in particular is key to victory at Augusta, and that can take years, but the new breed of Masters rookies are a fearsome bunch and that aggression can yield dividends.
There's a bumper crop of 24 Augusta first-timers in the field this year as well, which is more than every year bar the inaugural tournament in 1934, but only three times has a champion won on his first visit.
Horton Smith and Gene Sarazen won in the first two years of the tournament, and Fuzzy Zoeller was the last Masters rookie to slip on a green jacket in 1979, but with such strength in depth, the absence of Tiger Woods and question marks over some of the leading pack, this could be the year for another rookie to taste success. Especially as most of them these days have already won on Tour.
Jordan Spieth has the world at his feet, but can he win at Augusta?
The PGA Tour Rookie of the Year last year could just be the one with the best chance of success despite being just 20. At world No 13 he's the top-ranked Masters rookie in the field after winning as a teenager in 2013. Hugely talented and seems to have a temperament to survive in the big events - this will be a real test though.
Has attracted criticism for claiming to be a top-five player after winning at Doral last month, despite this being just his second full year on Tour, but at 23 in the rankings and second currently on the money list he's heading in the right direction. Surroundings will be familiar to the Augusta State graduate so that will help, and his seemingly endless self-belief could be a real asset in this most testing of major debuts.
He's had to wait until he's 39 but Gallacher has finally made it to Augusta after a strong start to the year, which included successfully defending his Dubai Desert Classic title and a sixth-placed finish at Doral last month. A practice round with fellow Scott and 1988 Masters winner Sandy Lyle will give him some clues on how to negotiate Augusta.
Just on bare form Walker has to be in the mix as he's been sparkling in 2014 with three wins in a spell of just eight starts - something only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval have achieved. The 35-year-old has been on and off the Tour for years, playing in five majors, but things finally clicked for him this year.
Another young gun, the 24-year-old is already a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, and he's certainly got the game for Augusta as he's a big hitter off the tee, a high, accurate iron player with solid short game skills. English is also a Georgia native from just 20 miles south of Augusta, and has played in three majors with a tied-15th in last year's Open as the highlight.
Victor Dubuisson in the desert
The 22-year-old Frenchman made his name last year when he beat a stellar field to win the Turkish Airlines Open, which also booked his trip to the Masters by finishing the year inside the world's Top 50. He added to his growing reputation at the WGC Match Play in Arizona with a couple of miracle shots out of the desert in his final defeat to Jason Day.
The Canadian produced a powerful end-of-season showing last year when finishing in the top three in back-to-back FedEx Cup playoff events at the Barclays and Deutsche Bank. He also impressed in the International Team during the Presidents Cup, and has made many a list of players to watch in 2014, so it'll be interesting to see how he goes at Augusta.
The Dutchman found the winning touch in 2013 by collecting two victories on the European Tour - booking his Masters berth by finishing the year in the Top 50 in the world. He's certainly in the European Ryder Cup shake-up going forward but will need to improve his early major form and what better way to start than at Augusta.
Henrik Stenson will be the Swede everyone is watching at Augusta, but Blixt could well catch an eye or two if he can find his best form on his Masters debut. He won his maiden PGA Tour title in just his 19th start back in 2012 and added to that by winning the Greenbrier Classic in 2013. He finished fourth in last year's USPGA Championship in just his second major so has already proved he can handle the big stage.
A great character on the golf course, Horschel starred at Merion in last year's US Open when finishing tied fourth - as well as attracting attention for his colourful choice of trousers. He also hit all 18 greens in regulation during one round on a course that proved far too tough for many bigger name players. His one win on the PGA Tour came in New Orleans.