Day six of our countdown and if you are not getting more excited for the Masters by the day, then….. I am doing something wrong.
Tommy Fleetwood is the man in the spotlight today, as we profile the Englishman’s chances of replicating countryman, Danny Willett’s success from two years ago.
If Fleetwood were to win a Green Jacket he would become just the third Englishman to do so, with Nick Faldo and Willett the only two to prosper at Augusta so far. Faldo was one of just three (Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods the others) to win back-to-back Green Jackets and is a three time winner of this event.
Justin Rose has been and still is England’s best hope of adding to his country’s haul, but Fleetwood will give the country another solid chance. Fleetwood would love to be the one to get England to five wins in this event, and become the third consecutive European to don the famous jacket.
Fleetwood is another on the list who has only played here on one occasion, missing the cut on his only start twelve months ago.
It was a difficult debut for him, shooting 78-74 over his first two rounds but that can always be forgiven once, but what he does this year will be of great interest and significance.
Fleetwood could not have asked for much of a better start to 2017, with a win in Abu Dhabi, a 2nd place finish at the WGC in Mexico and top-12 finishes at Bay Hill and the Maybank Championship so he had put together a strong bank of form ahead of his first Masters appearance.
In his final start before Augusta, Fleetwood finished dead last in his WGC Match Play group, winning just one of three group matches and maybe that wasn’t the ideal preparation for him.
He plays in the Match Play again this week and at time of writing is battling it out with Ian Poulter on Day One.
Why he can win the 2018 Masters
It has been a meteoric rise for the lad from Southport, who has now won three times in the last two seasons, including two since his debut here last year.
Beyond his wins, Fleetwood has impressed on numerous occasions over the last two seasons, notably winning the 2017 Race to Dubai. Fleetwood added his name to an illustrious list of players, including most recently, Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlroy who had won the last five between them(Stenson twice and Rory three times) from 2012-2016. Winning such a big title has to be respected and given he has now gone close in a major and a WGC, the next step is to win one or the other.
Tommy secured his first and so far only top-10 in a major, when finishing 4th at last year’s U.S. Open and that experience will give him the belief that he can go on and contend at further championships.
Whether Augusta is suited to his game remains to be seen, given he only has two tournament rounds under his belt around there. What is clear though is that Fleetwood has enough ability to mix it with the very best players, something he has continued to prove in recent years and he will look to do that again in couple of weeks time.
A fine short game when on form and an elite ball-striker, Fleetwood has two important tools he needs to win round here, and he can get away off the tee as far and as well as he needs to, so there are no concerns there.
What any player needs to learn is where you can and can’t hit it around here, and also where you can get creative around the greens. Fine wedge play is key as you are going to miss greens around Augusta, due to the difficult to hit greens and run-off areas.
So far in limited starts on the PGA Tour this season, Fleetwood ranks inside the top-4 in Strokes-Gained: Tee-to-Green (3rd) and Strokes-Gained: Off-the-Tee (4th) as well as 11th in Strokes-Gained: Around-the-Green, so a large part of his game is in fine fettle indeed.
What Fleetwood hasn’t been doing on a regular basis this year is hitting his approaches well enough when playing in PGA Tour events (57th in SG: Approach) and his putting especially (107th in SG: Putting) is what is really letting him down.
If Fleetwood can improve his putting stroke before the Masters rolls around and learn more about the greens from his fellow Tour pros and the practice rounds, he will of course be a force to be reckoned with in the year’s first major.
Whilst the jury still remains out on Fleetwood and his Augusta credentials, it speaks volumes about his ability that it wouldn’t be a complete shock, should he be presented the Green Jacket by fellow Ryder Cup teammate, Sergio Garcia in a fortnight.