Is it Tiger and then everybody else? Not exactly. Here are 15 players with a legitimate shot at slipping into the Green Jacket.
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty)
The old Tiger is back, drilling irons with absurd power and accuracy and putting better than he has since pre-crackup. The man has dominated strong fields at Torrey Pines and Doral. Also, he made some peace with Elin and went public with Lindsey Vonn, so clearly his mojo is risin’.
Handicap: He’s still spraying the driver to the point that it can be a big liability in critical situations. Augusta will punish that.
Don’t let the silly grin fool you; this hayseed is a competitor. He’s relentless, and if guys above him on the leaderboard slip up, he will pounce. And Sneds always seems loose; he just steps up, waggles and hits it, usually right on the button. Leads the PGA in greens in regulation, all-around ranking, and money.
Handicap: He's missed some time with a rib injury, which will hinder his swing if he’s not 100 percent.
For Lefty, the first three months of the season are just a tune-up for the Masters; still he usually notches a win or two along the way. We can’t imagine there’s anything he wants more in golf right now than to win his fourth green jacket to match Arnold Palmer (oh, and also Tiger). His game, right now, is somewhere between good and spectacular.
Handicap: Can be a little wobbly on short putts, which is bad, especially when his aggressive play forces him to scramble.
Who can’t get behind a chant of “Kooch, Kooch, Kooch!”? Like Snedeker, Kuchar has a sweet face that belies a fierce competitive spirit. Nothing in his statistics pops out at you…except, of course, his stacks of cash. Also, he ran the gauntlet to win the Accenture match play event, showing he can triumph on the big stage.
Handicap: Does he have enough birdies to climb back from the mistakes Augusta extracts from all players?
We have Rory slated for eight majors over the next decade, so we’re patient if he occasionally wants to enjoy being a 23-year-old mega-baller for a while. Flashed a little John Daly and walked off the course after dunking a few at the Honda? No biggie. He came back and served notice with a 64 on Sunday at Doral the next week. The Irish phenom can turn it on like nobody’s business.
Handicap: Augusta demands focus, and sometimes 71 holes of great golf isn’t enough, as he found out two years ago.
The slight South African may be unassuming and soft-spoken, but make no mistake: Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen can smoke it. The 2010 British Open champ averaged 300 a pop last year. And his swing - probably the smoothest in the game - holds up under pressure. That’s why he was good enough to finish second to Bubba Watson last year. He’s also a clutch short putter.
Handicap: Oosty hasn’t really cranked up his game yet this year like a lot of his competitors.
His win at the U.S. Open last year was no fluke. He finished 68-68 on the brutal Olympic course (Tiger finished 75-73; Phil, 71-78). He’s a steady, methodical player and a great putter. Also, he studied religion at Wake Forest; maybe that will help him negotiate Amen Corner.
Handicap: Average length off tee could make it hard to keep up if the scores go low.
Like his pal Jim Nantz, Freddie loves the NCAA tournament, but when “One Shining Moment” is done, he packs up for Augusta. Some guys have all the luck, right? Well, until we stop seeing his name on the leaderboard every Masters Sunday, we’re going to give Couples a nod as a contender. And he still has the boom to keep up with the ever-lengthening course.
Handicap: The wily veteran has seven years on next oldest champ, Jack Nicklaus, who was 46 in 1986.
The most striking Spaniard to stride the fairways since Seve Ballesteros was torching Augusta in the 1980s. Muñoz is a rising star on tour, breaking through last year at the Sybase Match Play Championship. Hits fairways and greens with great consistency and doesn’t make too many mistakes.
Handicap: Nothing comes to mind, except that whole "women don’t play the Masters" thing. So for now you’ll have to find her on the LPGA.
He’s got a sweet goatee and one of the steadiest games out there, finishing no worse than 16th in any full-field events this year and nearly repeating at the Accenture match play event. Hasn’t missed a green from 75-100 yards all season.
We hate this guy. He’s more debonair than the goddamn Dos Equis pitchman, and he walks every course like he owns it. His game is solid, too: second in driving accuracy and fifth in scoring. That’s how the Northern Irishman won the 2010 U.S. Open.
Bubba’s a certified bomber (303.4 off the tee), and he has the crazy skills to recover when his drives find the trees. Still, it’s pretty hard to win twice in a row.
When we look at the snarky, fiery Brit, we always think, What happened to the Union Jack pants? Even though he dresses more conservatively now, he still brings the bug-eyed intensity. If he can get paired up with an American on Sunday and pretend he’s playing in the Ryder Cup, he’s got a shot.
If you’re a betting man, O’Hair’s a live longshot (200-1 last we checked). He hits it long, and is great with long irons. But he’ll have to get the putter going if he wants to be in the picture on Sunday.
And the winner is:
2nd: Graeme McDowell