Five players to watch at the 2016 Masters

(Reuters) - Five players to watch at the Masters, which starts on Thursday at Augusta National:


The 28-year-old Australian will arrive at Augusta National as the hottest player in the game having followed his victory at last month's Arnold Palmer Invitational with a win at the WGC-Dell Match Play event seven days later.

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Day, whose best Masters finish was a tie for second in 2011, will likely be under less pressure than previous appearances having already secured his long-awaited first major title at last year's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

That maiden major triumph for the current world number one came during a remarkable stretch that included four tournament wins in six starts on the PGA Tour last season.

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Like fellow Americans Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, Watson is one of a handful of players who can head into the Masters without playing their best golf but still find a way to get into contention.

Watson, who won at Augusta in 2012 and 2014, sent an early-season reminder that he remains a threat when he triumphed at February's Northern Trust Open over a field that included Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott.

The 37-year-old American left-hander enjoys a huge comfort factor on the heavily contoured Augusta National layout and he can count on plenty of support as his do-or-die approach has made him a perennial fan favorite at the Masters.

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At 35, the Australian may be in the advanced stage of his career but Scott has been historically good at Augusta National and as a former Masters champion knows what it takes to handle the pressure of a major.

Scott, the only Australian to clinch the Masters following his triumph in 2013, this season emulated Tiger Woods by becoming just the second player to win back-to-back events on the PGA Tour's Florida swing, despite having his anchored putter technique banned at the start of the year.

If history is any indication then Scott, who finished inside the top 10 in three of the other seven events he has entered this season, will be a force to be reckoned with as he is one of only five golfers to have made nine of the last 10 Masters cuts.

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The 31-year-old South African, who made birdies on each of the last four holes to win the Masters by two shots in 2011, has struggled in his last four starts at Augusta National but is enjoying a resurgence this season.

Schwartzel has enjoyed a brilliant campaign so far, having won a pair of tournaments on the European Tour and one on the PGA Tour during a red-hot stretch that gave him three victories in six starts.

His playoff victory over Bill Haas at last month's Valspar Championship could not have come at a better time as it marked the South African's first triumph in the United States since his 2011 Masters triumph.

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Matsuyama, 24, may be considered a longshot heading into the year's first major but he will surely beg to differ having shot up the world rankings after successful seasons in 2014 and 2015, the latter highlighted by a fifth-place finish at the Masters.

The rising Japanese talent displayed supreme poise in the clutch earlier this year when he earned a playoff victory over Rickie Fowler at the Phoenix Open in February to claim his second PGA Tour victory.

Matsuyama, who has made no secret that he yearns to be the first Asian golfer to win at Augusta National, posted all four rounds under par at last year's Masters, including a 66 that tied Rory McIlroy for the lowest score in the final round.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)

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