There are 87 players in this year’s Masters field, and you can bet that all 87 want to win a green jacket. But “wanting” is a child’s emotion, ephemeral and shallow. Simply wanting to win the Masters is a thing even I can accomplish, sitting here at my computer. I’ve never broken 80 at my easy municipal course, but do I want to walk up the 18th fairway at Augusta knowing I’m about to be a Masters champ? Sure! Sounds great!
Any fool can want. But who really needs it? Among the 87, which of them will have the most trouble living without a green jacket when the dust has settled on Sunday? The need is the true measure of the man—that’s where real desperation lies, and in desperation is the churning heart of desire. So let’s establish a desperation scale, from 0 to 10, with each tier defined by a specific player, based on how much they need to win this year’s green jacket. And just for the hell of it, let’s put all 87 players in their appropriate tier … even if we have to force it, here and there.
0.0—The Jovan Rebula/Devon Bling Tier
The “just happy to be there” group. These two are both amateurs, and though I wanted to choose the one with the most delightful name, which was clearly Rebula (a South African who, it turns out, is Ernie Els’ nephew), it’s very difficult to ignore someone with the last name Bling. So they share the naming honors for the lowest tier, and head into their first Masters with absolutely no expectations and no desperation. See also: Takumi Kanaya, Kevin O’Connell, Alvaro Ortiz, Viktor Hovland.
1.0—The Fred Couples Tier
That’s right! An entire tier for the old boys who are just cruising along in life, coming to the Masters dinner, and enjoying their status as a former champ. Their greatest ambition in life is to live long enough to hit the ceremonial tee shots. See also: Adam Scott (harsh, I know), Charl Schwartzel, Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer, Vijay Singh, Mike Weir, Ian Woosnam, Angel Cabrera, Jose Maria Olazabal, Larry Mize, Trevor Immelman.
2.0—The Shugo Imahira Tier
This tier is named for a player who is not an amateur, and has put together some solid international or even American results, but probably wouldn’t be at the Masters this year if he had to compete against PGA Tour-caliber competition. Maybe he got an invitation, like Imahira, maybe he sneaked into the top 50 based on international results. Which isn’t to say he couldn’t do some damage! That’s the difference between the Desperation Tier and the mythical Contender Tier, in which the Imahira class would be much higher. But in terms of needing to win? Nope—the c.v. isn’t quite there yet. Simply making the weekend is the only triumph he can truly need. See also: Justin Harding, Haotong Li.
3.0—The Henrik Stenson Tier
For players who have won a different major, can absolutely contend at Augusta (to greater and lesser extents), but who won’t be crying themselves to sleep if they don’t win—they’ve already bagged a significant trophy. See also: Jimmy Walker, Webb Simpson, Louis Oosthuizen, Francesco Molinari, Brooks Koepka, Martin Kaymer, Zach Johnson, Dustin Johnson, Stewart Cink.
4.0—The Patton Kizzire Tier
Sure, “Kizzire” rhymes with “desire,” but as the ancients remind us, but “Patton” rhymes with “Latin,” which is a dead language, just like Kizzire’s … um … I’ve got nothing, so I’m going to stop. This stretch hurts. The important thing to know is that Kizzire belongs to a tier defined by moderately talented Americans who have done legitimate damage on the PGA Tour (he’s here because he made the Tour Championship), but haven’t shown the chops needed to rightfully expect anything this weekend. See also: Aaron Wise, Gary Woodland, Patrick Cantlay, Kevin Tway, Kyle Stanley, Kevin Na, Keith Mitchell, Adam Long, Andrew Landry, Kevin Kisner, Michael Kim, Charles Howell III, Billy Horschel, Charley Hoffman, Corey Conners. Special inclusions to honorary mid-tier Americans Emiliano Grillo, Si-Woo Kim, and Satoshi Kodaira.
5.0—The Lucas Bjerregaard Tier
This tier is reserved for European players who are good, and who may even play in America, but who may not even covet the Masters above all majors. It is exceedingly rare for these kinds of players to win—before Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia won back-to-back, no European had won since Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999, and Willett was a singular anomaly: the non-superstar Euro champ. Here were the European winners before him: Olazabal, Langer, Woosnam, Faldo, Lyle, Ballesteros … and that’s it. Not a no-name among them! It may not happen again for decades, so the Bjerregaard tier is for all the mid-level Euros who would probably rather win the British Open. See also: Eddie Pepperell, Matt Wallace, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton, Shane Lowry, Thorbjorn Olesen, Alex Noren.
6.0—The Sergio Garcia Tier
The tier for players who don’t really need a green jacket due to a past victory, but would love one to distract from what they’ve become known for since. See also: Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson (behavior division), Jordan Spieth and Danny Willett and Keegan Bradley (quality-of-play division), Tiger Woods (larger-than-life fall from grace + missed opportunities + glorious-comeback and second-life division), Phil Mickelson (Phil being Phil being Phil being Phil).
7.0— The Justin Thomas Tier
Budding or already-budded superstars still in their 20s who have either never won a green jacket, or never won a major at all, and can rightfully expect to win one eventually. They don’t need one now, technically, but they want one bad enough that it’s beginning to encroach on “need.” See also: Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau, Cameron Smith, Xander Schauffele.
8.0—The Rickie Fowler Tier
For players of a very high profile who hover around their 30th birthday, should have won a major by now, and are starting to eye a future in which their full names change from “Rickie Fowler” to “Rickie Fowler, the greatest active player who has never won a major.” These are recent graduates of the Justin Thomas Tier. See also: Tommy Fleetwood, Hideki Matsuyama, Branden Grace (ish).
9.0—The Ian Poulter Tier
For very-good-to-great players who have never won a major, are approaching or have passed their 40th birthdays, and for whom it is getting extremely late in the day. (Previously named “The Sergio Garcia Tier”). See also: Paul Casey, Brandt Snedeker, Marc Leishman, Matt Kuchar.
10.0— The Justin Rose Tier
For players who really, really should have won a Masters by now, who have been very good, very often at Augusta, and who, should they retire without a green jacket, will look back with a sharp, aching regret. See also: Jason Day.
11.0—The Rory McIlroy Tier
Nothing to see here, folks—a win would only complete the career Grand Slam, get golf’s largest monkey off his back and cement his legacy as the greatest player of his generation. No pressure! See also: Nobody, God help him.