A wise man once said there are only three certainties in life: death, taxes and ... nobody will ever correctly predict an entire golf tournament.
And yet, here I am. Again.
In what’s become an annual rite of foolishness, I have once again attempted to prognosticate the entire Masters field – from the man who will claim the green jacket to the unfortunate soul who finishes dead last.
If this list isn’t 100 percent correct on Sunday evening, I’ll guarantee your money back. (But here’s a thought: Maybe you’re reading it upside-down?) If it is, well, brace yourself for the next installment of Tigermania.
Either way, here’s hoping this helps with those for-entertainment-purposes-only office pools. Much like a good caddie, I’ll let you take all of the credit, but I’ll shoulder all of the blame – as long as you promise to tip 10 percent for the win.
1. Tiger Woods
Lost amid the hoopla surrounding Woods’ three-win start to the season is this telling stat: On the three previous occasions that he won three times prior to the Masters, he never followed by also winning at Augusta. Clichéd translation? Don’t count your green jackets before they’ve hatched. That said, even though I’m not as bullish about Tiger’s chances as most people, I also can’t find anyone in this field that I’d rank higher. A fifth Masters title – and subsequent pandemonium throughout the golf world – may be just days from taking place.
I was recently talking Masters contenders with a PGA Tour pro who knows Bradley’s game well and picked him to win. When I inquired as to whether the former PGA champion has the right ball flight for Augusta, he looked at me funny. “Well, he hits it long and straight and high,” the player said. “That’s the right ball flight for every course.” Duly noted. Also noted is that Bradley has been knocking on the door all year without breaking through it yet.
3. Rory McIlroy
So let me get this straight: Every top player talks about peaking at the right time to win major championships. But when Boy Wonder failed to peak in the weeks and months before the Masters, he was subject to ridicule for not having his best stuff yet. Well, following a solo second place at the Valero Texas Open this past week, Rory may just have the last laugh. Personally, I often prefer picking players who haven’t yet peaked rather than ones who already have. Hopefully your stockbroker has the same theory.
4. Bill Haas
Bubba Watson won the Masters in his fourth appearance; likewise, Trevor Immelman won in his fourth as a pro. Wanna take a guess as to what number this will be for Haas? After results between 26th and 42nd in his first three starts, he seems primed to contend this week. Bigger question is whether he can win. Despite four victories in the last three seasons, he’s gotten into the final group on a Sunday twice already this year, but has underwhelmed each time.
5. Lee Westwood
Yeah, yeah. I know the knock on Westwood. By now, everyone does. He’s one of the game’s preeminent ball-strikers, but at times looks lost with a putter in his hands. And more often than not, those times are down the stretch in major championships. While his putting statistics don’t show much improvement this season, there could be something about a gradually closing window that could help him finally hole some of those must-make putts in search of his long-awaited first major title.
It’s funny. I keep hearing scuttlebutt about Mickelson running out of chances to win this tournament. Umm, he’s won three of 'em – and that last one was just three years ago. On a course where experience may play a bigger factor than anything else, Lefty has finished outside of the top 10 just twice since 1999. He wasn’t happy about not having a similar course to play the week before, but a little downtime prior to the Masters could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
Upon reaching the Masters field less than two weeks ago by squeezing into the world’s top 50 just before the deadline, Stenson was thrilled with the result. Not only because he gets to compete in the tournament for an eighth consecutive year, but because – in his opinion – he’s playing better than he ever has before the year’s first major. How much better? Well, he’s first on the PGA Tour in both total driving and greens in regulation percentage. That’s pretty good.
8. Adam Scott
There are two ways to look at Scott’s close call at Lytham last year: Either he doesn’t have the stuff to claim a major down the stretch or he proved that he’s very close. I’ll take the latter and use his T-2 finish at Augusta two years ago as further evidence. If we were giving a grade to Scott for his performance so far this season, though, it would have to be an I for Incomplete. With only four starts under his belt, he’s hoping that translates into extra rest instead of rust.
He may have a homemade swing that doesn’t look straight out of an instructor’s assembly line, but that doesn’t mean Fowler’s move at the ball isn’t effective. While distance gets all the glory, trajectory is just as key on fast, firm greens. There is an actual PGA Tour stat called “hang time” which ranks how long shots stay in the air. Rickie ranks third in that category, which should serve him very well on a course that forces plenty of long and mid-irons into its holes.
10. Charl Schwartzel
Just 104 weeks removed from winning this event, Schwartzel hasn’t finished worse than 22nd in his last dozen stroke-play events worldwide. The debate is still open as to whether he or childhood buddy Louis Oosthuizen is the better player. Give me Schwartzel – well, at least this week. If it’s possible for a top-15 player who won two years ago to come to this event under the radar, then that’s exactly what he’s doing. All of which should serve him well during the tournament.
11. Justin Rose
Many are referring to him as a “dark horse” contender. Sorry, No. 3 player in the world is never a dark horse.
12. Matt Kuchar
With just a few holes left to play in last year’s final round, it looked like Kuchar was the guy with an inside track.
13. Hunter Mahan
As always, the key will be his short game around the greens, something he’s worked on in recent years.
14. Jason Day
After sharing second place two years ago, he’s taken a dip in the rankings, but seems to be on the uptick once again.
15. Fred Couples
It’s April; it’s Augusta; it’s Freddie. Even at 53, we’ve come to expect the unexpected from him.
16. K.J. Choi
Showing signs of trending in the right direction and he’s contended at Augusta in the past.
17. Luke Donald
Despite a strong finish two years ago, game is better suited for the other three majors.
18. Jason Dufner
Hmm … wonder what Billy Payne’s official stance would be on Dufnering in Butler Cabin.
19. Louis Oosthuizen
Everyone remembers the albatross, but he held it together with duct tape in last year’s final round.
Long-bombing Belgian will contend in the Masters … someday. Just needs a little experience first.
21. Dustin Johnson
His game seems tailor-made for Augusta National, which makes it puzzling why he hasn’t fared better than T-30.
22. Vijay Singh
If you thought the mess surrounding his deer-antler spray confession was big news, just wait 'til he contends this week.
23. Brian Gay
Great putters always have a chance to contend – and Gay is among the game’s best putters right now.
24. Steve Stricker
So far, so good with the part-time schedule. Let’s see if that carries over to the majors.
25. Ian Poulter
If the Masters ever moves to a match-play format, he’ll be No. 1 on this list.
26. Webb Simpson
The reigning U.S. Open champion has proven that he’s good enough to contend anyplace, anytime.
27. Ernie Els
It would be equal parts poetic and ironic if, one year after failing to qualify for the field, Els finally wins a green jacket.
28. Branden Grace
First-timer is looking to follow in the footsteps of Schwartzel and Oosthuizen as next young South African major champ.
29. Graeme McDowell
He wins his second major title this year … I think. But it won’t happen this week … I think.
30. Jim Furyk
Eagle hole-out to finish a strong week in San Antonio had to feel good for the much maligned veteran.
31. Freddie Jacobson
Player nicknamed Junkman can get up and down from everywhere, but that may be better suited for winning a U.S. Open.
The bespectacled Irishman has shown signs of life recently, coming off a T-10 in San Antonio.
33. Brandt Snedeker
With a win and two seconds in the year’s first two months, gotta wonder whether he peaked too early.
34. Bubba Watson
Defending champ says his main goal is to make the cut, so he doesn’t have to sit around for two days before putting a green jacket on someone else.
Ball-striker supreme somewhat surprisingly – and disappointingly – only owns one top-10 in 16 major starts.
36. Kevin Streelman
Recent winner of the Tampa Bay Championship has the grit and fire to contend at a major someday soon.
37. Peter Hanson
Surprise contender last year won’t be able to sneak up on anyone again.
38. Robert Garrigus
Quietly owns four finishes of 16th or better in eight PGA Tour starts this season.
39. Nick Watney
High-ball hitter has fared well at this event in the past, but hasn’t made much noise so far this season.
40. Bo Van Pelt
In last year’s final round, he netted a hole-in-one and bagged an another albatross, too.
41. Martin Kaymer
Once changed his swing to fit Augusta and it didn’t work. There’d be a lesson if it does work now.
42. Scott Piercy
Big hitter makes a lot of birdies and is the type of guy who could find his way onto a Round 1 leaderboard.
43. Ryan Moore
Ready to start contending at majors, but missed cuts in his last two starts shouldn’t be too inspiring.
44. David Lynn
Granted he lost by eight, but Lynn burst onto the scene here in the U.S. with a runner-up at last year’s PGA, parlaying that into PGA Tour membership.
45. John Merrick
Who says experience matters? Merrick finished T-6 in his initial Masters start two years ago.
46. Sergio Garcia
Remember: It was at Augusta last year where Sergio was quoted as saying that he’s not good enough to win a major.
47. Angel Cabrera
He’s made five of seven cuts this year, but having trouble closing, with just one of 10 weekend rounds in the 60s.
48. George Coetzee
South African failed to make the cut in each of his three major championship starts last year.
49. Russell Henley
Expect the nerves to be rattling a bit for the University of Georgia product and Sony Open champion.
50. Martin Laird
Valero Texas Open champion must feel like he’s playing with house money after receiving an 11th hour invitation.
51. Zach Johnson
Past champion has yet to play his best golf this season, with no result better than T-18 in eight starts.
52. Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano
Sneaky good Spaniard will challenge for a major sometime soon and make next year’s Ryder Cup team.
53. Matteo Manassero
Will lose his record this week as youngest player to ever compete in the Masters.
54. Carl Pettersson
In contention at last year’s PGA Championship before touching a leaf with his backswing in a hazard early in the final round.
55. Bernhard Langer
OK, it’s the Champions Tour, but Langer does have a win, two seconds and a third in five starts so far this year.
56. Stewart Cink
After getting into the final pairing in Houston two weeks ago, he’s showing signs of rounding into form.
57. John Peterson
Weird juxtaposition with last year’s U.S. Open contender in this week’s field while still trying to work his way up through the Web.com Tour.
58. Marc Leishman
Travelers Championship winner is one of four Aussie players in this week’s field.
59. a-Michael Weaver
According to those in the know, this junior from Cal is the best of the amateur bunch this year.
60. Jamie Donaldson
Making his tournament debut at age 37, the Welshman has competed in seven career U.S. events with just one top-30 finish.
61. Michael Thompson
Returning to Augusta five years after calling a penalty on himself while near the cut line as an amateur.
62. Richard Sterne
Playing good golf coming into this week, with a win and four top-10s in his last seven global starts.
63. Paul Lawrie
Chose to forgo last year’s U.S. Open, but won’t skip the Masters, where he finished T-24 a year ago.
64. Trevor Immelman
His game has hit some hard times in recent years, but the swing still looks as sweet as ever.
65. Y.E. Yang
The man of many hybrids probably has his face on a dartboard at Woods’ house somewhere.
66. David Toms
Bad sign: His first-round exit at the Match Play – good for a T-33 result – is easily his best result of the season.
67. Ben Curtis
It’s been a trying year so far, with just one of 25 total rounds in the 60s.
68. Ryo Ishikawa
At some point, his performance will equal his potential, but we’ve only seen flashes of that so far.
69. a-Alan Dunbar
British Amateur champion recently won the Georgia Cup, giving him a nod over…
70. a-Steven Fox
… the U.S. Amateur champion, who plays collegiately at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
71. Thorbjorn Olesen
Terrific young player, but reportedly still hampered by injuries suffered in a car accident prior to Shell Houston Open.
His name can’t even be mentioned in regard to a major anymore without thoughts automatically turning to the 2009 Open Championship.
73. Lucas Glover
Since winning the 2009 U.S. Open, he has a T-39 at the Masters and two missed cuts.
74. Tim Clark
When you’re as short as him off the tee, every other facet of your game has to be dead on at a course like this.
75. John Senden
Greens in regulation machine owns just one top-25 finish in nine PGA Tour starts so far this season.
76. John Huh
A vestige of the pre-FedEx Cup days, players can still get into the field by making the prior year’s Tour Championship, as Huh did.
77. D.A. Points
No finish better than 63rd in his first nine starts this year, then a victory, then right back to a 53rd last week.
78. Ted Potter, Jr.
This comes under the category of “Just Saying”: Five of the last 10 winners have been lefties.
79. Thomas Bjorn
Nine-time competitor finished in a share of 37th place last year after a four-year Masters absence.
80. a-Tianlang Guan
Call me crazy, but I think the 14-year-old with peachfuzz and a belly putter will exceed expectations this week.
81. Kevin Na
Hasn’t competed since withdrawing with a back injury after the first round of the Puerto Rico Open a month ago.
82. Mark O’Meara
Revealed recently that he checked his cell phone on the course at Augusta when Woods won at Bay Hill. Tsk-tsk.
83. Hiroyuki Fujita
Veteran is world’s 54th-ranked player and has won five times in Asia in the past two years.
84. Larry Mize
The story of an Augusta native winning his hometown event probably doesn’t get enough pub as one of the better sports tales in the past quarter-century.
85. Thaworn Wiratchant
Special invitation hung around the leaderboard at Doral for a few days before finishing in a share of 53rd place.
86. Ben Crenshaw
You know at some point he’ll roll in a 40-footer for birdie to delight the Augusta galleries.
87. a-Nathan Smith
Investment banker from Pittsburgh may have some top pros asking him for advice.
88. Mike Weir
Poor Weirsy. On the 10-year anniversary of his win, his game is at rock-bottom and he’s dealing with injuries.
Last year’s Ryder Cup captain could triple bogey every hole and still be smiling about that win at Medinah.
90. Craig Stadler
It’s a shame that he’s never gotten to play this event with his son Kevin, a longtime PGA Tour pro who has never qualified.
91. a-T.J. Vogel
One of the last of the USGA's Amateur Public Links champions, as the tourney will cease to exist after next year.
92. Ian Woosnam
Actually put together a valiant effort with a pair of 77s one year ago.
93. Sandy Lyle
Opening-round 86 last year was three strokes worse than any other score during that week.