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Group thoughts: Breaking down the Masters field

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The wait is almost over.

Yes, the first three days of Masters week can border on excruciatingly slow. The field is already set, the groupings have been announced and the Par 3 Contest will soon be won by some brave soul willing to tempt fate.

The Masters offered 19 categories by which players could qualify for this week’s event. In turn, let’s break the field of 97 into 19 categories before play begins. If the number works for Augusta National, then …

1. Winner: Bubba Watson

Watson is going for three green jackets in four years, and signs are pointing toward the southpaw entering rarified Masters air. His advantage off the tee, touch around the greens and strong results this year all show that he’s ready to serve some more grilled chicken at next year’s dinner.

2. Jacket measurements, please: Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker, Jason DayDustin Johnson

These guys will be close enough to the lead heading into Sunday that the club will ask if they’re a 40 regular or a 42 long. Unfortunately for them, they won’t have a starring role in this year’s green jacket ceremony.

3. Weekend contenders: Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Matt Kuchar, Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Hideki MatsuyamaJ.B. Holmes

All guys that will appear around the first page of the leaderboard at some point over the final 36 holes. It will make for a solid week and a nice paycheck, but not quite what some in this group – especially those chasing the career Grand Slam – had hoped for.

4. Please come back next year: Paul Casey, Chris Kirk, Brooks Koepka, Shane LowryRyan Palmer

The top 12 plus ties earn invitations back for the 2016 Masters, a select group that included the likes of John Senden, Jonas Blixt and Kevin Stadler a year ago. These guys all have the game to put together a sneaky-good result, and can perhaps get a head start on booking next year’s travel.

5. Silently solid: Bill Haas, Jim Furyk, Jamie Donaldson, Billy Horschel, Martin Kaymer, Hunter Mahan, Senden

These are the players who will finish about T-28; you’ll see their name on the final leaderboard scroll and realize you never actually watched them hit a shot. Some consistent golf on a tough track, but not anything that will warrant the attention of the leaders.

6. Please pass the OWGR points: Thomas Bjorn, Thongchai Jaidee, Branden Grace, Anirban Lahiri, Joost Luiten, Bernd Wiesberger, Victor Dubuisson

The world rankings are the gift that keeps on giving: crack the top 50 and you receive more chances to earn points to remain inside the top 50, and the beat goes on. These internationals will look to pad their point total, with a few eyeing a potential jump in the early Presidents Cup standings.

7. Might want to confirm the hotel’s cancellation policy: Sangmoon Bae, Blixt, Luke Donald, Jason Dufner, Matt Every, Rickie Fowler, Stephen Gallacher, Morgan Hoffmann, Graeme McDowell, Stadler, Kevin Streelman, Steve Stricker

This motley crew includes players with mediocre records at Augusta National, questionable form entering this week, or both. They might play their way past the 36-hole cut, but … to be on the safe side, it’s still good to double check the hotel’s policy. Last thing you want is to get stuck with an extra night on the bill after going 78-74.

8. Players named Tiger: Tiger Woods

The guy gets his own category, because your guess is as good as mine.

9. Glad to be back: Ben Crane, Padraig Harrington, Mikko Ilonen, Ben Martin, Geoff Ogilvy, Camilo Villegas

All players making return trips after Masters absences short (one year for Harrington) and long (14 years for Ilonen). It must be a little extra rewarding to reach the summit of the game, slip back down and then find a way to get back to the top.

10. Frame that invitation: Erik Compton, James Hahn, Brian Harman, Seung-Yul Noh, Robert Streb, Brendon Todd, Cameron Tringale, Danny Willett

All first-time participants in this year’s Masters. Inevitably, some will play their way back into the field at Augusta National – perhaps as soon as next year. But just in case … don’t be afraid to splurge on a nice frame.

11. First-round leader: Miguel Angel Jimenez

Admittedly, some wishful thinking. But a boy can dream, just like the Most Interesting Man in Golf can open with a tidy 66 on a course where he finished fourth a year ago. Right?

12. Flashes of brilliance: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson

Five men who are fully capable of putting up a 31 for nine holes at any time, but likely won’t sustain a run. For Stenson, Bradley and Simpson, any title chances will be defined by their work on the greens – although that’s hardly a revelation at Augusta National.

13. Solid sleeper picks: Russell Henley, Charley Hoffman, Ryan Moore, Kevin Na, Brandt Snedeker, Gary Woodland

Every good office pool entry (for entertainment purposes only) needs a quality sleeper pick to round out the roster. These are guys who have been playing well this year, have played well at Augusta National before, and have the ability to make an unexpected run up the leaderboard this weekend.

14. Hope you enjoyed the Champions Dinner: Angel Cabrera, Trevor Immelman, Zach Johnson, Larry Mize, Mark O’Meara, Jose Maria Olazabal, Charl Schwartzel, Vijay Singh, Tom Watson, Mike Weir, Ian Woosnam

All deserving winners who have earned their way into the most exclusive fraternity in golf. But for the majority of this list, the week’s biggest highlights will be made before the final putt drops on Friday – and perhaps even before the first shot is struck on Thursday.

15. Good enough to warrant flashback highlights: Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle

For Couples and Langer, this is old hat: play well for a couple of rounds and force the folks in the TV trucks to cue up footage from your Masters victories. It makes for a heartwarming story, even if the level of play drops off a bit over the weekend. Lyle gets a promotion into this category after making two consecutive Masters cuts.

16. Claret jug crew: Darren Clarke, Ernie Els

Two worthy champions who have qualified based on their recent Open Championship wins. They’ll both play with the reassurance that they’ll be back in 2016 regardless of their finish this week.

17. See you in Butler Cabin on Sunday: Corey Conners

The low amateur always gets a front-row seat for the green jacket ceremony in Butler Cabin, and this week that distinction will go to Conners, a runner-up at last year’s U.S. Amateur who will play the first two rounds alongside fellow Canadian Weir.

18. Take plenty of pictures: Antonio Murdaca, Matias Dominguez, Scott Harvey, Byron Meth, Gunn Yang, Bradley Neil

The rest of the amateurs will likely enjoy 36 holes of memorable golf, a few hours of restless sleep in the Crow’s Nest and the experience of a lifetime. Soak it in, because chances are you won’t be back inside these ropes again.

19. Once more, with feeling: Ben Crenshaw

Crenshaw will take his 44th and final competitive lap around Augusta National this week. A two-time winner, few players have a better understanding of the tournament’s tradition and history than does Crenshaw. He’ll be missed, but not before he gets one final send-off.