Expert picks: The Masters


The focus of the golf world now descends upon Magnolia Lane and Augusta National for the season's first major. Each week a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel consists of: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin;'s Rob Bolton; 'Morning Drive' hosts Gary Williams and Erik Kuselias; and Golf Talk Central contributor Ryan Ballengee.

Gary Williams

Group 1: Rory McIlroy: After 2011, McIlroy returns to Augusta with something to prove. With the way he has been playing in 2012, I'm excited to see what he will do. In 1952, Sam Snead returned to Augusta National after shooting 80 in the final round and won. We may be hearing more about that story.

Group 2: Bill Haas: Already a winner this year at Riviera, Haas is making his third Masters appearance and I think he will improve on his best finish of T-26 in 2010. The Masters runs in his family as his great uncle Bob Goalby won the green jacket in 1968.

Group 3: Zach Johnson: Johnson won the Masters in 2007 in incredibly challenging conditions by playing his own game and never going for a par-5 in two. While he has not had another great finish here since '07, he has shown that he is tough. If the weather gets challenging, watch out.

Group 4: Fred Couples: The 1992 Masters champion has shown repeatedly that age is but a number, and many of those moments have come at Augusta. He has consecutive top-15 finishes here and was T-3 at the age of 46. When he is healthy, don't bet against this guy.

Erik Kuselias

Group 1: Phil Mickelson: The three-time champ has shown over and over again what he is capable of in big moments. He may be one behind Tiger in terms of green jackets, but in the ten years since the last significant changes to Augusta he has the edge, winning three times to Tiger's two.

Group 2: Keegan Bradley: Yes, I know he is making his first Masters appearance but I like his chances. Prior to Masters Week none other than Phil Mickelson showed him around Augusta and he has not been out of the top 25 in nine starts in 2012.

Group 3: Geoff Ogilvy: Amazing to think that an Australian's never won here, but that drought could be coming to an end. Ogilvy has never missed the cut in six starts at Augusta and was T-4 here last year.

Group 4: Angel Cabrera: When I saw Cabrera's name in Group 4, I was shocked! The 2009 champion tends to raise his game in the majors and he is exceptionally comfortable at Augusta. Along with his win, he has four other top-10 finishes including 7th in 2011. 

Win McMurry

Group 1: Tiger Woods: Top picks this week include Phil and Rory, but neither have the history that Tiger does at the Masters. After his win at Bay Hill, the multiple-victory years are ready to return and so is the hunt to beat Jack's record.

Group 2: Bo Van Pelt: He's had a solid year that includes four top-10s in his last five starts and he leads the Tour in strokes gained putting. Always be wary of the ailing golfer, and this one tied for eighth here last year.

Group 3: Jim Furyk: He's been working his way back up the leaderboards lately with three T-11 or better finishes in the last two months. Finished inside the top 25 at the Masters two of the last three years.

Group 4: Henrik Stenson: He's finished inside the top 25 in all four starts on Tour this year, currently stands sixth in scoring average and is first in scrambling. Of the guys in Group 4, you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who is entering the first major of the year in better form.

Ryan Ballengee

Group 1: Tiger Woods: He's a four-time winner, won at Bay Hill and was T-4 here the last two years - almost on sheer will.

Group 2: K.J. Choi: Top 10s in the last two years here are a good sign, as well as no missed cuts on the PGA Tour this year.

Group 3: Geoff Ogilvy: In the hunt last year, Ogilvy loves this MacKenzie test and arranging its puzzle pieces.

Group 4: Angel Cabrera: The forgotten member of the final group last year. Coming on strong now and a past champion here.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Rory McIlroy: Through 3 1/2 rounds last year he was dominant and whatever lingering ghosts he had following last year's meltdown on No. 10 have been long vanquished.

Group 2: Brandt Snedeker: After cracking his driver earlier this season, he's finally found a new 'gamer' and few know the course as well or putt better than Sneds.

Group 3: Charles Howell III: It's a home game for CH3, but don't expect him to become overwhelmed by the additional pressure. He's been as consistent as anyone this season and has dreamed of this his entire life.

Group 4: Angel Cabrera: Former champion showed signs of life last week at the Shell Houston Open and his record at Augusta is Tiger-like. He's ranked outside the top 10 just once in his last nine rounds at the Masters.

Jason Sobel

Group 1: Luke Donald: After last year's T-4 result, the world's No.1-ranked player is ready to be No. 1 at a major, too.

Group 2: Brandt Snedeker: Underrated putter who has shown a proficiency on these greens in the past.

Group 3: Johnson Wagner: The 'stache is raking in the cash this year - and there's no reason to think he'll stop now.

Group 4: Henrik Stenson: Big sleeper pick here, as the Swede has finished 21st or better in all four appearances this season.

Randall Mell

Group 1: Rory McIlroy: Command with the driver gives him a slight edge on Tiger.

Group 2: Bill Haas: The win at Riviera showed us he's ready for the next step.

Group 3: Geoff Ogilvy: He was right in the mix on Sunday a year ago, and has the experience and nerve to close the deal.

Group 4: Angel Cabrera: His form doesn't seem to matter; Augusta National will bring out his best.

Rob Bolton

Group 1: Tiger Woods: Four-time champion coming off a five-stroke victory at Bay Hill, where he's won seven times. Yeah, good enough for me.

Group 2: Keegan Bradley: Firing on all cylinders. The first-timer at the Masters is shattering the mold for the traditional learning curve. Reigning PGA champion.

Group 3: Gary Woodland: Without a clear go-to here, I'll take my chances with the long hitter who placed T-24 in his debut last year. At some point, his swing modifications will click and he'll contend.

Group 4: Angel Cabrera: Superb value in this group. The 2009 champ has five top-10 finishes in 12 starts at Augusta National, including last year's solo seventh. Top-25s in two of his last three starts entering the week.

Tune in to Golf Channel all week long for comprehensive Live From: The Masters coverage.