AUGUSTA, Ga. – I despise going chalk.
Give me a sneaky underdog over a prohibitive favorite anytime. Give me an under-the-radar guy instead of a headline-maker.
Perhaps that’s why I’m currently DFL and dropping in the GolfChannel.com fantasy standings, but it also speaks to why I feel so badly about myself right now.
In proffering my annual Masters ranking of the entire field, my desire to avoid chalk has finally dissolved, leaving only a chalk outline in its place.
That doesn’t mean I’ll be right, of course. With all of the anticipation leading into the opening round, I see two possible scenarios.
The first is that the tournament is ripe for an undervalued player – not an unknown, since there really aren’t any unknowns at this event – to swoop in and claim the green jacket, much like Charl Schwartzel a year ago.
The second is that this could be an epic Masters. All of the prominent superstars are converging on Augusta National playing their best golf and the leaderboard on Sunday afternoon could read like a who’s who of top-10 talent.
I’m taking a chance on the latter scenario.
The following ranking isn’t based on oddsmaker favorites, but how I think the final leaderboard will shake out. At least, that’s what I think I think.
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.
2. Tiger Woods: Could win by double digits or MC, all of which continues to make him the game’s most compelling player.
3. Rory McIlroy: Claims he’s no longer haunted by those demons on the 10th teebox, but actions speak louder than words.
4. Phil Mickelson: Maintains that no matter his recent form, he always feels comfortable making the journey down Magnolia Lane.
5. Brandt Snedeker: Underrated putter who has shown proficiency on these greens in the past.
6. Justin Rose: Recent victory at Doral launched him into world’s top 10 and should likewise be a top-10 favorite here.
7. Adam Scott: Led this tournament late in the game last year before Charl Schwartzel cruised past him on the leaderboard.
8. Bill Haas: Reigning FedEx Cup champion can’t be considered a darkhorse, but keep an eye on a guy most people aren’t talking about.
9. Henrik Stenson: Big sleeper pick here, as the Swede has finished 21st or better in all four appearances this season.
10. Keegan Bradley: No first-timer has won here since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, but the reigning PGA champ could change that.
11. Nick Watney: Has shown the stuff to contend in majors; can he display the proper nerve down the stretch?
12. K.J. Choi: Who says a fade can’t find success at Augusta? Certainly not Choi, who has seen his share over the years.
13. Johnson Wagner: The ‘stache is raking in the cash this year – and there’s no reason to think he’ll stop now.
14. Charl Schwartzel: Defending champion is coming into the week under the radar – just the way he likes it.
15. Angel Cabrera: Always a strong candidate to contend here because he owns one of the highest ball flights in the game.
16. Geoff Ogilvy: Four consecutive birdies on Sunday’s back nine last year were overshadowed by same feat from Schwartzel later on.
17. Graeme McDowell: Lost in Woods’ winning performance at Bay Hill was that GMac also appears ready to win again.
18. Sang-Moon Bae: At 30th in the world, won’t be intimidated playing with Tiger Woods in the first two rounds.
19. Aaron Baddeley: Leads the field in alphabetical order by both first name and last name.
20. Jason Dufner: What happens when a player arrives to Augusta eight days before the tourney starts? We’re about to find out.
21. John Senden: Ball-striker supreme owns an impressive record so far this season; putting remains an issue.
22. Robert Garrigus: Ultra-long hitter is in the field based on a T-3 finish at last year’s U.S. Open.
23. Padraig Harrington: Posting a good number hasn’t been a problem; it’s stringing together a few of ‘em that has been the issue.
24. Trevor Immelman: One-hit wonder? Not so fast. In three appearances since his win, he’s finished top 20 every time.
25. Matt Kuchar: Best finish in this tournament remains a T-21 back when he was a 19-year-old amateur.
26. Steve Stricker: Never count out a guy who rolls his rock, but you’ve got to wonder whether the 45-year-old will ever win a major.
27. Rickie Fowler: If twenty-somethings McIlroy and Bradley can win majors, you’ve got to wonder whether Fowler is far behind.
28. Charles Howell III: There are few people who understand what winning this would mean to him. Maybe just one: Larry Mize.
29. Bo Van Pelt: In the mix last year because he does everything well, as evidenced by high standing in the all-around category.
30. Hunter Mahan: Two wins in last four starts proves he’s in good form, but have to wonder if the tank is near empty.
31. Lee Westwood: Questions remain as to whether he’ll ever claim a major; if he does, it won’t be this one.
32. Paul Casey: Still trying to come back from injury, but his game suits this course when he’s hitting it well.
33. Zach Johnson: Dispelled the notion five years ago that there are only a handful of players who can win this tournament.
34.Vijay Singh: Now healthy and playing better, look for the 2000 champion to climb the leaderboard early before fading on the weekend.
35. Webb Simpson: Masters rookie once posted an 80 on this course … when he was 12.
36. Fred Couples: There aren’t many 52-year-olds who can contend here, but Freddie certainly fits the bill.
37. Martin Laird: If you’re looking for a Schwartzel-ish young player who could make a big name for himself, this could be your man.
38. Lucas Glover: Since winning the 2009 U.S. Open, he’s made the cut in six of 10 major starts with just one top-10.
39. Ian Poulter: Dogged competitor who would definitely bring some energy to the proceedings if he was in the mix come Sunday.
40. Sergio Garcia: One of the world’s best tee to green, but questions linger about his putting under pressure. Rinse and repeat.
41. Brendan Steele: First-time competitor plays well in big ballparks – and this course certainly qualifies.
42. Miguel Angel Jimenez: Too old? Too “interesting”? Maybe not. He’s made the cut in seven straight Masters starts.
43. Ben Crane: Just wondering how a green jacket would look when paired with a helmet and unitard.
44. Jim Furyk: One top-10 in his last seven Masters starts is underwhelming for a player with his talent.
45. Alvaro Quiros: The longer and soggier this course plays, the better the chances for pro golf’s longest hitter.
46. Kyle Stanley: When asked if Augusta suits his power game, his eyes lit up as he nodded his head vigorously. Good sign.
47. Jason Day: Tough to gauge where his game is right now, with three top-20s but in only four starts this season.
48. Peter Hanson: Perhaps the most underrated player from the other side of the pond, he has some major game.
49. Mark Wilson: Perhaps the most underrated player from this side of the pond, he has some major game.
50. Robert Karlsson: Quietly one of the best major performers around, with seven top-20s in his last 13 starts, dating back to 2008.
51. Bubba Watson: Proof that it takes more than distance at Augusta? He’s never finished better than T-20 in three starts.
52. Martin Kaymer: After three MCs, changed his game to suit this course last year. The result? Another MC.
53. Francesco Molinari: One of the better ball-strikers around, if he gets hot, expect plenty of greens in regulation.
54. Ross Fisher: Where art thou, Ross? In three Euro Tour starts this year, he has yet to finish in the top 40.
55. Kyung-Tae Kim: Proved he has some big-time game during a losing effort at the Presidents Cup.
56. Thomas Bjorn: Once saddled with “demons” that forced him to walk away, he’s enjoying a second-half career rejuvenation.
57. Louis Oosthuizen: The 2010 Open Championship winner was in the mix on Sunday in Houston .
58. Sean O’Hair: Steadily, sneakily regaining his form, with seven made cuts in eight starts this season.
59. Rory Sabbatini: Runner-up finish in 2007 may have been an anomaly; has made cut only two other times in nine Masters starts.
60. Gary Woodland: Claims that swing changes with new instructor Butch Harmon are close to reaping full benefits.
61. Patrick Cantlay: U.S. Amateur runner-up had a magical summer last year, even posting 60 in a PGA Tour event.
62. David Toms: Played well at Augusta the last two years, with T-24 and T-14 finishes in his last two starts.
63. Ryo Ishikawa: There must be plenty of pressure not only playing with a nation watching, but on a special exemption this week.
64. Jonathan Byrd: Best week ever? Could be, with a new baby followed by a green jacket.
65. Stewart Cink: Last season’s struggles have bled into this year, with only one top 25 in eight starts.
66. Paul Lawrie: One of the last men to automatically qualify for the tournament based on current top-50 world ranking.
67. Anders Hansen: Perfect career record at the Masters. Three starts, three MCs.
68. Kevin Na: Last year, missed the cut in each of the first three majors before pulling a T-10 in the PGA.
69. Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano: Might be the longest last name to fit onto a caddie bib in quite a while.
70. Y.E. Yang: Remains the answer to an all-time trivia question as only man to chase down Tiger Woods when he was 54-hole leader at a major.
71. Ryan Palmer: Smooth-swinging Texan is back in the field this year after a 10th-place result a year ago.
72. Kevin Chappell: After a strong rookie season, he’s struggled as a sophomore, with no finish better than 24th in nine starts.
73. Fredrik Jacobson: Poor Freddie Yock. Playing with Crane and Na, might want to pack a Snickers. Not going anywhere for a while?
74. Hideki Matsuyama: The only amateur to make the cut last year, he’s since added a pro victory to his resume while remaining an amateur.
75. Harrison Frazar: After 16 long years as a professional, he’ll finally make his first Masters start this week.
76. Tom Watson: Former champion hasn’t been quiet about his distaste for the stretched-out Augusta track.
77. Darren Clarke: Caddie bib numbers are based on the order of when the player registered; he holds the last number in the field this week.
78. Edoardo Molinari: Battling injury, he’s fared well lately, with results of 11th or better in his last two Euro Tour starts.
79. Scott Verplank: Coming off injury, he’s missed the cut in both starts this year, playing a total of just four rounds all season.
80. Scott Stallings: Missed the cut in his only previous major appearance at last year’s PGA Championship.
81. Chez Reavie: Timing is everything. In the field based on a runner-up finish at TPC-Boston last year, which got him into the Tour Championship.
82. Simon Dyson: Middling results in Europe so far this year; five made cuts in six starts, but no results better than T-17.
83. Tim Clark: Still attempting to come back from last year’s elbow surgery, but hasn’t quite found his best stuff yet.
84. Kelly Kraft: Reigning U.S. Amateur champion will turn professional as soon as this tournament is completed.
85. Bernhard Langer: Still one of the best Champions Tour players, he owns two seconds and a third in five starts this year.
86. Jose Maria Olazabal: Two-time Masters champion has missed the cut in each of his last three appearances.
87. Mike Weir: In four starts this season, has yet to make a cut and owns only one round under par in nine tries.
88. Mark O’Meara: Former champion joked this week that he likes his chances at 2,000-to-1 odds.
89. Larry Mize: Augusta native has made the cut in just two of his previous 11 Masters starts.
90. Corbin Mills: Clemson junior was last year U.S. Publinks champion; has never attended the Masters before.
91. Ben Crenshaw: It’s been five years since his last made cut, but you know Gentle Ben will roll in a few impressive putts.
92. Bryden Macpherson: Reigning British Amateur champion recently won the Georgia Cup over Kelly Kraft.
93. Craig Stadler: Will have the honor of hitting the first shot of this year’s tournament – after the official starters, of course.
94. Randal Lewis: Cool story, as the 54-year-old U.S. MidAm champ will make his first career Masters start.
95. Sandy Lyle: Actually had a decent little run here, making the cut in each year from 2007-09.
96. Ian Woosnam: Well, someone’s gotta be last – but at least Woosie will have fun doing it.