1 Red Flag for Each of World's Top 10 Players at 2014 Masters

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistApril 8, 2014

1 Red Flag for Each of World's Top 10 Players at 2014 Masters

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    The players on this list will be hoping these red flags don't get in the way of a green jacket this week.

    Tiger Woods isn't included in this breakdown of top golfers' red flags entering the Masters, as his flag in 2014 (back issues) has indeed cost him a chance at the green jacket, and he won't be playing in the tournament.

    As for the rest of the world's best according to the Official World Golf Ranking? They're hoping that what's identified in the following slides doesn't keep them from a post-final-round conversation with Jim Nantz this Sunday.

    Let's have a look at one red flag for each of the world's top 10 (or Nos. 11 through 2, as the case may be) at Augusta National this week.

No. 11: Dustin Johnson

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    Chris Carlson

    The Red Flag

    In a performance he'd surely like to forget, Dustin Johnson fired an opening-round 80 at the Shell Houston Open and withdrew following the round, offering nothing in the way of explanation. Later, and likely in damage-control mode, Johnson's agent indicated that his client was suffering from tightness in his back.

    Thus, Johnson is either injured or acting imprudently. Either way, the 80 and what happened (or didn't happen) in its aftermath are troubling.

     

    How Costly Will It Be?

    DJ will tee it up this week at Augusta. He does so on the heels of his worst round of the year and a prompt withdrawal from his last tournament. He may also be stepping inside the ropes in Georgia with back issues or worse: trouble between his ears.

    Bonus red flag: The distraction associated with his fiance appearing half-naked on the cover of Golf Digest.

No. 10: Zach Johnson

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    Lynne Sladky

    The Red Flag

    Zach Johnson won the 2007 Masters. Since then, he hasn't threatened at Augusta, finishing outside the top 20 four times and missing the cut twice.

     

    How Costly Will It Be?

    Johnson is definitely on the "Why hasn't he played better at the Masters?" short list. He's having a very solid 2013-14 season and is above average in almost every significant statistical category. However, it seems when he returns to the scene of his past glories, he's simply not up to the task for whatever reason.

    Even though he enters the Masters off a top-10 finish at the Valero Texas Open, there's no reason to assume he'll put things together this week.

No. 9: Rory McIlroy

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    Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    The Red Flag

    Since his meltdown at Augusta in 2011, Rory McIlroy hasn't impressed in his starts at Augusta.

     

    How Costly Will It Be?

    While it's unlikely McIlroy will be overwhelmed by bad memories every time he makes the turn at Augusta, it seems the scars of three years ago haven't fully healed. This, coupled with the vulnerability and fragility he displayed last year, makes it unlikely he'll return to major-winning form this week.

No. 8: Justin Rose

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    Chris O'Meara

    The Red Flag

    Justin Rose's putting numbers present a flag of the rouge-colored variety for the golfer. The Englishman was 133rd in strokes gained-putting last season, according to PGATour.com. His sample size thus far (14 rounds) this season is too small to draw any meaningful conclusions. 

     

    How Costly Will It Be?

    Rose won the U.S. Open last year with an uncharacteristically brilliant week with the flatstick. If he has a similar streak, he can win this week. (Of course, that's true for almost everyone in the field.) Hoping for the stars to align isn't the best bet entering a major, however, and Rose has failed to show the consistency with a putter one would like to see from a consistent major contender.

No. 7: Matt Kuchar

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    Patric Schneider

    The Red Flag

    Matt Kuchar was brilliant for 71 holes last week. The 72nd holeor, more specifically, his approach shot to the 72nd greenwas indicative of a case of clutch-moment nerves. Suggestions of such a malady have to give prognosticators pause.

     

    How Costly Will It Be?

    Although Kuchar can't be upset by Matt Jones' ridiculous hole out for birdie during their playoff last week, he may be haunted by his pathetic pull into the water on his last hole of regulation play. That sort of unsteadiness down the stretch doesn't smack of major championship-winning mettle.

No. 6: Sergio Garcia

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    The Red Flag

    Sergio Garcia's bad romance with Augusta National is a significant red flag for the golfer.

     

    How Costly Will It Be?

    Given his behavior in the past and his inconsistent performances at the cathedral of golf, it's really impossible to think Garcia will win a green jacket. Plus, his steep swing doesn't translate well to Augusta National's extreme downhill and uphill holes.

No. 5: Phil Mickelson

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The Red Flag

    Phil Mickelson withdrew earlier this year with a back injury. In addition, he withdrew from the Valero Texas Open with a muscle strain. However, he returned to action last week at the Shell Houston Open.

     

    How Costly Will It Be?

    Since he tied for 12th at the Shell Houston Open without incident, it doesn't seem like the strain is any cause for concern. While it may not be a red flag this week, the injury is still the Mickelson-related wild card for the week.

No. 4: Jason Day

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The Red Flag

    Jason Day's thumb injury is a significant red flag for the golfer. Day, who was rounding into form prior to his thumb-related issues, hasn't played or practiced in the immediate lead-up to the Masters.

     

    How Costly Will It Be?

    Although Day has been great at Augusta National in his two finishes (third last year, T2 in 2011), the thumb injury is a legitimate cause for concern. Even assuming the golfer is fully healed, he's certainly going to be rusty. Augusta National isn't a course that takes kindly to players who are slightly off with their distances or lack precision around the greens, both of which are hallmarks of a rusty player.

No. 3: Henrik Stenson

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    The Red Flag

    After his world-beating 2013 season, you can't fault Henrik Stenson for easing his way into this campaign. However, the Swede hasn't been playing a ton of golf lately and could be rusty heading into the season's first major. He's played just six events and only finished inside the top 10 once.

     

    How Costly Will It Be?

    Stenson's pedestrian tie for 54th at last week's Shell Houston Open is more concerning than the overall volume of his play. It's difficult to imagine him playing terribly well at Augusta coming off such a mediocre showing in his tune-up event.

No. 2: Adam Scott

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    The Red Flag

    It's not so much a red flag as a statistical reality that is troubling in relation to last year's winner, Adam Scott: Only three players have won the Masters back to back in the tournament's history.

     

    How Costly Will It Be?

    Scott said the right things in his Tuesday press conference leading up to the Masters. He was candid about how the Masters victory changed his world but seemed confident he can win the tournament again this year. This is good. However, the relative improbability of back-to-back green jackets will still be a significant headwind for the Australian.