Romilly Evans examines the fleet of fresh-faced first-timers assembled for a baptism of fire at Augusta, and asks if any could pull off a major shock...
"Possessed of a towering trajectory, Tringale could be the surprise package among those making their debuts"
Conventional wisdom holds that there are few more shocking wastes of human energy than letting a first-timer tackle Augusta National in Masters week. As for claiming the Green Jacket, well, you'd have more luck giving a toddler a Fender Stratocaster and asking them to strike a winning chord.
Nevertheless, Horton Smith in 1934, Gene Sarazen in 1935, and Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 all proved that it's not an out-of-bounds notion. Augusta may be a unique examination through capricious winds, over linoleum-like greens and down rapier run-off areas, but sometimes it's better not to be carrying any scar tissue from previous collisions.
Indeed, although debutants have largely been put through 36 years of hurt since Fuzz last caused a buzz, that didn't stop Jordan Spieth and Jonas Blixt chasing home Bubba Watson for joint-second position in 2014. Twenty Masters maidens run the gauntlet this week. And while a third of them are wide-eyed amateurs, the remainder of this young contingent houses some fearless players with talent to burn and flags to hunt.
So here's a look at some of the likelier lads who could make a stunning debutant's bow. It's the ultimate initiation ceremony for the uninitiated. But in this cathedral of thrills and spills, anything's possible:-
Brooks Koepka - Top Debutant Odds 5.69/2, Winner Odds 100.099/1
If Spieth is the most exciting prodigy since McIlroy, Koepka isn't far behind. A purer striker and a longer hitter, he may even prove the better prospect once his mind matures to a level approaching the eerily composed Spieth. For now, though, BK is more in the mercurial Mickelson mould. And old Phil took to this corner of Georgia pretty effortlessly. Closed with 64-66 to claim his first PGA Tour win in Phoenix, a breakthrough which sits neatly alongside his recent victory in the Turkish Airlines Open. Now restored to full health following a rib-injury scare (which has seen his price attractively drift) Koepka is relaxed and ready to raise the bar again for the majors. When the likes of Lefty's caddie, Jim McKay, is left with his jaw in the fairway at this kid's ball-striking, while Adam Scott wonders out loud "how does he ever miss a shot?", expectations should be high.
Bernd Wiesberger - Top Debutant Odds 8.415/2, Winner Odds 420.0419/1
The forgotten man of last season's USPGA (mired in the maelstrom of Messrs McIlroy, Mickelson, Fowler and Stenson throwing down) but that experience of playing in the final pairing alongside WeeMac means Wiesberger knows he belongs at golf's high table. The finest golfer Austria has ever produced can now set his sights set on broader geographical conquests, and The Masters isn't a bad place to begin. Currently enjoying a hot, consistent run (four top-six finishes in his past four outings on European Tour soil) the big-hitting Wiesberger could make an impression on his bow.
Danny Willett - Top Debutant Odds 12.011/1, Winner Odds 470.0469/1
Highly streaky and highly skilled, this should be Willett's breakout year (heads The Race To Dubai) if his dodgy back holds up to the repeated reps of competition in the highest echelon. Having established himself inside the game's Top 50 and secured his second win Tour at the Nedbank, Willett can start cracking the code for major contention. Sniffed it at the 2014 USPGA, and is starting to believe in his ability. His lower trajectory ball-flight isn't suited to Augusta either, though, so it may pay to wait till The Open before taking a flier at huge odds.
Morgan Hoffman - Top Debutant Odds 13.012/1, Winner Odds 440.0439/1
Blazed from obscurity to the PGA consciousness with some dazzling displays during last year's Play-offs, a streak Hoffman rode all the way to East Lake for the Tour Championship. Led the API a few weeks back, and plugged on pluckily from some early weekend stumbles for fourth place. Seems a little out of his depth on aptitude alone, but a hot putter can make up for all manner of sins at The Masters.
Cameron Tringale - Top Debutant Odds 14.013/1, Winner Odds 420.0419/1
Possessed of a towering trajectory and some dead-eye putting, Tringale could be the surprise package among those making their debuts. Still to win on Tour, this 27-year-old regularly mixes it with best bud Rickie Fowler in practice rounds and money games, so will feel inspired by his friend's recent major success. Tuned up nicely with a tie for fifth at the SHO, and could shine with the spotlight on more fashionable names.
Seung-Yul Noh - Top Debutant Odds 20.019/1, Winner Odds 750.0749/1
Has now won on all the major tours and completed his set at the 2014 Zurich Classic. Still only 23, Noh is a pure-striking bomber whose erratic putter is tougher to tie down. Never outside the Top 30 in his three major outings to date, however, so he can certainly breathe this rarefied air.
Brian Harman - Top Debutant Odds 20.019/1, Winner Odds 970.0969/1
This three-time All-American is one of the good guys, and finally got the monkey off his back nine with victory at last year's John Deere. Yet the diminutive Harmon is too short off the tee to bustle up the big names here, I'm afraid.
Eric Compton - Top Debutant Odds 25.024/1, Winner Odds 1000.0
One of the most inspiring stories in sport, let alone golf, the persistent regurgitation of Compton's recovery from two heart transplants still bears repeating. It has, however, defined him, somewhat detracting from his sublime play (notably second at last year's US Open). Unfortunately, this 35-year-old is one whose boring ball-flight will struggle to hold the hard-access tiers and shelves of Augusta. Compton struggles on Sundays, too.
Back B Koepka to be Top Debutant @ 5.69/2 or better
Back C Tringale to be Top Debutant @ 14.013/1 or better
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