Masters 2017 contender or pretender: Can Justin Thomas continue rise to stardom?

Obvious favorites Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy are expected contend, but there are plenty of others who pose a threat.

A tradition unlike any other is set to take place this week as golf's brightest stars return to Augusta National's hallowed grounds.

Every year, the term "dark horse" is on pundits' lips, trying to uncover a sleeper to slip on the green jacket at week's end. Obvious favorites Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy are expected to contend this week, but there are a number of players trying to win a major championship for the first time.

Justin Thomas emerged as one of the game's best players with a startling start to the PGA Tour season.

Though Thomasmay not be recognized on the same level as Spieth, Rickie Fowler or Hideki Matsuyama, he is ranked No. 7 in the world entering the Masters.

Current form

Thomas, like Matsuyama, was on fire over the winter. Both have cooled off since racking up wins (Thomas has three on the PGA Tour already this season), yetThomas did finish T-5 at theWGCMexico Championship last month.

Since winning both tournaments in Hawaii to kick off 2017, including shooting a 59 at the Sony Open, Thomas has three missed cuts, recorded two T-39s and the aforementioned T-5 in Mexico. That's not a lot to write home about, but he has been a bit of an enigma since earning his Tour card.

Recent form doesn't always mean much for Thomas' prospects on a weekly basis.

Masters history

It seems like Thomas has been on Tour forever because of his success in a short amount of time — he already has four PGA Tour wins. Thomas, however, made his Masters debut last year, when he finished T-39 at 10-over par.

To be fair, Augusta was especially difficult last year with firm, crisp greens forcing players to play more conservatively. Thomas should be able to take advantage of his length more often this year.

Style of play

Thomas is a fierce competitor who makes birdies in bunches. Unfortunately for him, Augusta doesn't lend itself to a ton of early birdies. That means he has to be patient through the first 11 holes, so that he can take advantage of the par 3s and 5s on the back nine.

Like many of the young stars on Tour, Thomas excels tee-to-green. His putting has improved over the last couple of seasons, but it is still the weakest part of his game. That could be a problem this week at Augusta, where course knowledge and putting are crucial to success.

Verdict

Pretender — Thomas, 23, will contend for a Masters somedayjust not this week. Having played in only one Mastersand losing a bit of form over the last couple months, Thomas ultimately will have to use this year's event as a learning experience.

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