Tiger Woods (EVEN): Yeah, I know. Its a real shock that Tigers the favorite, right? Well, here are some reasons NOT to pick Mr. No. 1 at Augusta. Hes an ordinary 1 for his last 5 at Augusta, including over-par efforts in three of those appearances. He hasnt cracked 70 in his last nine rounds. And if youre banking on streaks, well, chew on this ' if he wins the Masters, hell tie Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan AND Arnold Palmer. Granted, itll be a tie pretty far down the list on the All-Time Win Streak list. Of course, I didnt mention that hed also tie the likes of J.C. Snead, Bobby Nichols, Ben Curtis, and Ryan Palmer who also at one time in their PGA TOUR careers had a one-tournament win streak. Choose at your own risk!!
Phil Mickelson (3-1): Its an even-numbered year so expect Lefty to be near the top. In his career, hes averaged a fourth-place finish in even-numbered years, including his wins in 04 and 06. But heres my question ' if Phil can pull it off again at Augusta, will his now 5-year-old son, Evan take laps around the 18th green like he did at Baltusrol after the 2005 PGA? Id like to see the look on the greenjackets faces when someone shows pure joyful emotion.
Zach Johnson (5-1): Its only right that Zach gets the 5-1 odds since he ruled the par-5s in his breakthrough 2007 performance. If he should pull off the double, hed be the first player not named Tiger Woods to repeat since Nick Faldo pulled it off in 1990. Georgians refer to him by another name ' General Sherman. Hes burned his way through the state in his last three tournaments there -- a win at both the Masters and the AT&T Classic, followed by a third-round 60 at the TOUR Championship.
Ernie Els (10-1): Lets run down the Big Easys performance chart since he won the Honda at the beginning of March ' a missed cut at PODS, a withdrawal from Arnold Palmer due to fatigue (reports of him being tired of getting his butt kicked by Tiger were unfoundedthus far), and a 75th-place finish out of 77 golfers who completed the WGC-CA Championship, which sent him scurrying to an impromptu lesson with Butch Harmon, with whom he has now aligned forces. If this were horse racing, Ernie would get sent back to a claiming race to regain his confidence. So why is he amongst the contenders? Because I still remember his five straight top-6s at the beginning of this decade and maybe he can recall that past success rather than the fact that he hasnt broken 70 in any of his last 10 Augusta rounds.
Retief Goosen (15-1): The Goose is in this section only because hes slept through most of the past year. But at this number, he could be the steal of the century. He has three straight top-3s and hes closed with sub-70 rounds in all of those. But the key to Retief at Augusta is that he plays from behind. In 2002, he was tied for the lead after three rounds with Tiger Woods and that usually doesnt end too well for the other guy in major championships. He shot 74. Tiger doesnt shoot over par in final rounds when in the lead in major championships.
Vijay Singh (15-1): THE BIG FIJIAN (cmon, say it like the kids) cant like the way hes performed when hes ascended to the top of the leaderboard. He yakked away Pebble Beach in February and then had pretty good control over Arnies event until he decided to go swimming on Saturday. He still hasnt won in the U.S. since last March and these two setbacks cant bode too well under major pressure.
Rory Sabbatini (20-1): I would think Rory will be near the top of the leaderboard once we get to the weekend. The only question will be whether or not he mentions the name of a certain golfer who hes had a bit of a feud with recently. No, Ben Crane is not in the field this year. If Tiger and Rory are linked in the same sentence anytime after 7 p.m. on Friday, all bets are off.
Sergio Garcia (20-1): Sonic Restaurants claim they have 168,894 different possible drink combinations to choose from on their menu. Id say at this point that Sergio is about halfway there with his putting options. Lets see, do I go with the cross-handed grip on the conventional putter, the split grip on the belly putter, or maybe just for Augustas slick greens, Ill put the fat grip on the belly putter and go with that claw grip I see everyone using. Yeah, with that large number of options, hes an easy pick to tame these greens.
Argentine Combo (25-1): Both Andres Romero and Angel Cabrera can bomb the ball off the tee and both have tested well on major championship venues (Romero getting a hard-luck 3rd at Carnoustie; Cabrera winning at Oakmont). But, please learn from your elders and triple-check your scorecard on Sunday so you dont end up calling yourself a stupid.
Justin Rose (30-1): He was very close to winning this tournament until he realized that very fact and started spraying tee shots into trouble. If this was Jeopardy and Alex Trebek posed that answer to you, wed accept any of a number of questions ' What is the 2007 Masters? What is the 2007 Bob Hope? What is the 2006 Disney? You get the idea.
Any Australian (50-1): No Australian has ever won the Masters. Stuart Appleby flirted with the idea last year before history and Zach Johnson stepped in. There are eight Aussies in the field and I think Geoff Ogilvy probably has the best shot. But listen, if the Masters wouldnt let Greg Norman win just one green jacket, they probably wont let anyone else from his country win one either.
The Special Invitees (150-1): The Masters Committee elected to bring Prayad Marksaeng, Liang Wen-Chong, and Jeev Milkha Singh to Augusta to help grow the game internationally. Wouldnt it just be the sugar in Colin Montgomeries tea (see below) if one of these guys won?
OFF THE BOARD
Colin Montgomerie: The weather forecast calls for sunshine most of the week. Mother Nature must know Mr. Black Cloud wont be anywhere to be found. Monty has been a subject of ridicule in the U.S. for a number of years and just when he was beginning to get on everyones good side, he insults Asian golfers after being passed over for a Masters invite in favor of the three players listed above. I wonder how this is going to play if Monty again represents Scotland in the World Cup which will be played inwait for itChina.
John Daly: The big lug wont be able to duck into a Hooters tent during any rain delays that the Masters may endure. Instead, hell likely be hanging out at the Hooters on Washington Road signing just about everything you could ever want. Just dont ask him to stoop over too much. You know, he does have a bad back. Thats what drove him out of Houston last week and not that pesky 9-over he had going before the rains hit on Friday.
Richard Johnson: If Daly is Mr. Hooters, Johnson is Mr. Waffle House. The leading money winner on the 2007 Nationwide Tour punched his ticket to THE PLAYERS next month but couldnt get anything going to work his way into Augusta. Thats a shame because after graduating Augusta State, he was the manager at the Washington Road Waffle House when Tiger won his first green jacket in 1997. That would have been a juicy prop matchup if he and Daly were in the tournament ' a dozen hot wings vs. a stack of pancakes and sausage links.
TRADITION! TRADITION! (Fiddler on the Roof DVD sold separately)
HIGHEST SCORE DOES WIN
Trip Kuehne +105
Colt KnostOFF ' oops, he turned pro and gave up his invitation.
FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME
PARTY LIKE ITS1989?
You are now properly armed with all the necessary information to make a winning pick in the 72nd Masters Tournament. Choose wiselyas in, take that guy who wears the red shirt on Sunday and has 64 other PGA TOUR victories. This feature will return for THE PLAYERS on May 8.