- Jason Sobel, Senior Golf Writer
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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- When Augusta National officials lengthened the course from 7,290 yards to 7,445 prior to last year's Masters, it was widely believed that only big bombers could contend at the tournament.
Then again, with myriad trees lining each fairway, there is as much a premium on accuracy off the tee as distance.
It's also been said that the winner will need to hit the ball high to have it stop on Augusta's quick greens, though a low ball flight, running approaches up to the greens and leaving the ball below the hole is also a requirement.
So there you have it, folks. This year's winner will need to hit the ball far, straight, high and low. Oh, and he'll have to make some putts, too.
Our annual ranking of every player in the Masters field begins with the one man who has the best chance to do each of those things throughout this week.
What, like you expected to see anyone else atop this list? On the 10-year anniversary of his historic 12-shot victory, Woods enters firing on all cylinders, just two weeks removed from lulling the field to sleep at Doral. Sure, the putter's been a tad balky recently, but that was likely shored up during practice rounds, as the official March to History continues this week. Another green jacket gives Tiger five, leaving him one behind Jack Nicklaus, and ups his major championship total to 13, in clear view of the all-time lead.
If Tiger is the prohibitive favorite in this field, Phil is easily No. 2 and recent history says he could be No. 1. He's finished in the top 10 at the Masters every year since 1999, including, of course, those two wins. Don't worry about his recent form -- or lack thereof; Lefty doesn't own a result better than T-17 since losing the Nissan Open playoff -- because he's reportedly been tearing up Augusta National in practice rounds.
3. Paul Casey
Let's see Drives the ball a long way? Check. Solid short game? Check. Has played well here before? Check. Casey's game has matured immensely in the past year; expect him to challenge for a major at some point this year. Why not now?
Is Love this year's Freddie Couples, i.e. the old-but-not-too-old veteran who brings us back to the future at Augusta? It was once thought DL3 would be trying on a deep shade of green at least a few times during his career. Now almost 43, Love's lone major championship remains the 1997 PGA. Could he make a run here this week? Absolutely. Always a good ball-striker, it's going to come down to his putting, which has been frightfully dreadful this season.
5. Vijay Singh
Another guy with a sublime Masters record (he's finished between fifth and eighth place each of the last five years), Singh is obviously in solid form following two victories already this season.
6. Adam Scott
While most of his elite-level peers chose to skip last week's event in Houston in favor of checking out Augusta National, Scott wanted a week of competition to prepare him for the year's first major. "It's an important week for me," he said prior to the first round at Redstone. "I'd like to get myself into contention this week." He did more than that, and can now try to pull off the Mickelson Double, winning both the week before the Masters and the Masters itself.
7. Geoff Ogilvy
Though he may have gotten by with a little help from his friends at Winged Foot, in no way is Ogilvy a fluky U.S. Open champ. He's got the stuff to contend anytime, anywhere. In his last nine major appearances, he's finished T-28 or better every single time. No other player in the world can boast that claim. The Aussie extends that streak to 10 this week.
What does this tournament mean to Howell, an Augusta native who grew up just 10 minutes from the course? "Everything," he said Monday for perhaps the millionth time since first playing here in 2002. "[Augusta National] is as close as I've seen to heaven to this point." Our favorite bit of trivia about him at this course: When Howell was 10 years old, he played here for the first time, shooting a 79 -- 79! -- from what he calls "the up tees."
Last five starts at Augusta: T-3, T-3, T-13, T-13, second. His recent PGA Tour starts have been something less than stellar, but that means little when Goose gets here.
10. Jim Furyk
Ask most golf fans to name the world's second-ranked player and you're likely to hear the names Mickelson, Scott and Singh before that of Furyk, who trails only Tiger. Whether it's the homemade swing, the one career major or his propensity for staying out of the limelight, Furyk elicits less attention than most of his elite brethren. One reason to be wary this week: A recent wrist injury -- the same wrist (left) on which he underwent surgery three years ago -- caused Furyk to WD from Bay Hill three weeks ago.
11. Trevor Immelman
Hardly a no-name sleeper pick, but with only four career starts here, Immelman will be flying under most radar screens.
12. Robert Allenby
Woods and Singh have each won multiple times already this season, but Allenby has been the most consistent player on tour so far in 2007, with six top-10s in eight starts.
13. Ernie Els
At one time in his career, the Big Easy looked like a sure thing to claim a closet full of green jackets. Six top-10s (and two runners-up) later, he's still looking for Masters title No. 1. It may come when we least expect it. The questions is, "Do we least expect it this week?"
14. Stephen Ames
When he's hot, he's really hot. As evidence, you need only check out a replay of Ames' final-round 67 -- the best score of the day -- from last year's Players Championship, part of a 6-shot romp against perhaps the best field all season.
15. John Rollins
Despite having two prior victories under his belt, Rollins is currently enjoying a breakout season, with seven top-25s, including two second places, in 10 starts.
16. Sergio Garcia
At one point in his young career, Sergio looked to be the spitting image of a major champion, but now he's just, well, spitting. For those expectorating, uh, expecting Garcia to contend this week, know that he's finished outside of the top 25 here in six of eight career starts. Will he spit the bit once again?
17. Angel Cabrera
Speak softly and carry a big stick? Here's a player Teddy Roosevelt could have rooted for. The quiet Argentinian doesn't play a lot of golf in the U.S. (just 81 events in the past 11 seasons), but he crushes the ball off the tee and has fared well here before.
18. Chad Campbell
Quick: The 36-hole leader at last year's Masters was if you guessed Campbell, consider yourself armed with a good memory. If you remember that he shot 75-71 over the weekend to finish T-3, even better. And if you recall that the result was only his second top-10 in 20 career majors, well, Chad probably wishes you'd start forgetting.
19. K.J. Choi
A bandwagon pick ever since his solo third place finish in 2004, Choi has failed to feed off that momentum since, finishing T-33 ('05) and MC ('06). Former power-lifter might look like the Incredible Hulk in a green jacket on Sunday.
20. Justin Rose
Coming off recent back injuries, but solid play at the Tavistock Cup could signal he's ready for this tournament. "My goal is to get fit for Augusta," he said last week, "and hopefully I'm there."
21. Henrik Stenson
He's risen to sixth in the World Ranking (he was fifth at one point), despite playing only seven career majors so far, with no finish better than T-14. He'll contend soon but not this week.
22. Aaron Baddeley
One publication quoted an unnamed tour pro as predicting Baddeley as this week's champion. Note to John Doe: Badds is on the right track, but with MCs in each of his two Augusta starts (none since 2001), he's still too green for a green jacket.
23. Luke Donald
Looking for the Masters triple crown -- hey, he already owns victories at the Scandinavian Masters and Omega European Masters -- Donald owns a major-ready game, but he's only seriously contended once in eight starts this season. Yes, we know he finished T-3 here two years ago, but expect the Brit to fare better in the other three majors during the course of his career.
24. Bernhard Langer
One of five players who was in the top 200 when the world ranking was first introduced 21 years ago and remains inside that number today (along with Couples, Verplank, Sluman and Pavin), Langer is a two-time Masters champ who still has what it takes to contend. Coming off a T-9 in Houston, Langer's game may be peaking at just the right time.
25. Camilo Villegas
Beware the jaded rookie. Villegas barely missed qualifying for last year's Masters after finishing T-3 at the Players. Long and strong, he could finish tops out of all Augusta first-timers this week.
Shot a tournament-best 6-under 66 in last year's final round and owns an absolutely brilliant Masters record, including two victories. Then again, he came in much hotter last year; currently, he's missed the cut in two of his last three starts.
Just as it took him a while to win his first U.S. event, it's now taking Harrington some time to seriously contend at a major. Believe it or not, he's never finished better than fifth in any of the four big ones (though he has done that four times). "It would take a few good breaks for me to improve my game over the next few years to improve on this course," he said this week.
28. J.J. Henry
A big bomber playing in his first career Masters, Henry showed his mettle with a solid Ryder Cup debut in September. He calls the PGA Tour's annual Hartford event (in his home state of Connecticut) his personal "fifth major," and he won that one, so he's only got four more to go.
29. Stewart Cink
This Georgia native owns a relatively successful Masters record -- seven top-30 finishes in nine starts -- but has never seriously contended; his career-best 10th-place result left him 5 shots off the pace a year ago.
30. Stuart Appleby
The good news: Appleby finally cracked the top 20 for the first time at this event in 2006. The bad news: It took him 10 years to do so.
31. Lucas Glover
Hits the ball a mile off the tee, but the former Clemson star hasn't fared too well in majors so far, with a T-46 at last year's PGA and five MCs in six career starts.
32. Mike Weir
The only player since 2001 not named Tiger or Phil to claim a Masters victory, Weir has struggled with his game lately. The little Canadian doesn't have a top-20 result in seven starts this season.
33. David Howell
The "other" Howell in Augusta this week, the Englishman has finished in the top 20 in both starts here, but his current form doesn't offer much hope for this week, with no top-25s in four U.S. events so far.
Monty is getting a lot of pretournament ink this week for comments he made 10 years ago. Paired with Woods entering the third round in 1997, he suggested the kid might succumb to the pressure; instead, Tiger shot 65 to Monty's 74 and the rest was history. Call it the Tiger Curse, but Monty is still searching for that initial major championship.
35. Brett Wetterich
Matched Tiger shot-for-shot in the final pairing at Doral -- actually outplayed him, shooting 71 to his 73 -- but his ability to go low is often counteracted by a propensity to make some big numbers, as evidenced by his two rounds at Medinah last year, in which he made everything from a 2 to a 9.
36. Nick O'Hern
Take away the other 95 players and let O'Hern duke it out with Woods, mano a mano, and we might get a good tourney. The Aussie has twice defeated the top-ranked player in the Match Play Championship and is considered by many to be among the game's best putters.
37. Shaun Micheel
Widely known as a "fluky" major champion with his PGA win in 2003, Micheel is better than he's usually given credit for, finishing in first place A.T. (After Tiger) at Medinah last year.
38. Vaughn Taylor
He may not be as outspoken or eloquent as fellow Augusta native Howell about what this event means to him, but Taylor burns with the same desire. "I've got the fans behind me and it's the greatest tournament in the world. It means more to me than any other tournament."
39. Chris DiMarco
Yes, he's contended here before, but how many times can DiMarco come so close without getting down about it? A win this week proves the Florida Gators really do own the sports world these days.
40. Steve Stricker
Never bet against a guy who rolls the rock like Stricker, even if he hasn't been here in five years.
41. Fred Couples
Last year's feel-good story of the week has fallen on tough times injury-wise this season, prompting one writer to blurt, "Is he even here?" earlier this week. Couples' 22-for-22 made cuts streak will be in serious jeopardy come Friday.
42. Rory Sabbatini
By no means an elite player, but with three PGA Tour wins under his belt, Sabbatini should be better than his major record: 21 starts, 12 MCs, no top-25s. Ouch.
43. a-Casey Watabu
Aloha! Along with Wilson, Watabu is one of two Hawaiians in this week's field. The former University of Nevada star gained entry via his U.S. Amateur PubLinks win. Interesting fact on the five amateurs who play in the Masters every year: The low am wins the Masters' Silver Cup, but with a caveat; he's got to make the cut. Here's saying Watabu reaches the weekend -- the only one of the quintet to do so.
44. Scott Verplank
One of the guys probably most affected by the lengthening of the course. A short hitter, he finished T-16 last year -- his third top-20 in four years -- but just think how well he would have done without the changes.
45. Darren Clarke
The sentimental favorite following his wife's death last year, Clarke hasn't played much golf lately, but showed at the Ryder Cup that he can turn it on when need be.
46. Robert Karlsson
First-timer has everything going for him this week: Hits the ball a long way, Ryder Cup experience, decent short game. That said, he's still a first-timer.
47. David Toms
Whoa, David Toms, the 2001 PGA Championship winner and consistent top-10 player, is way down here on the list? That's right. He hasn't been playing terribly lately, but a T-27 at last week's Houston Open, on a Redstone Golf Club course he helped redesign, doesn't bode well, nor do three straight MCs at Augusta.
48. Rod Pampling
Just the kind of quiet, overlooked player who could sneak up on the Masters field except he's already done that, finishing in the top 16 each of the past two years.
49. Zach Johnson
Hasn't played particularly well this season, but showed good form at Doral, where he finished T-9 two weeks ago.
50. Niclas Fasth
The most inappropriately named player in the field -- despite his name (pronounced fahst), he's among the game's slowest players -- he's part of an ever-growing talented Swedish contingent.
51. Thomas Bjorn
The only player in the field from Denmark, he's just a few years removed from the day he walked off the course after declaring he had "demons" in his bag. Is something still rotten in Denmark? Maybe not, but this will be his first U.S. event of the year.
52. Tom Pernice Jr.
The last time he teed it up in Georgia, Pernice made a run at the Tour Championship title, finishing T-5 at East Lake in November 2006. This week will be much different, because he's only qualified for the Masters three times now in 16 PGA Tour seasons.
53. Lee Westwood
He was quick to express his dislike for Augusta National's course changes last year, then followed by missing the cut by 2 strokes.
54. Dean Wilson
Making his first Masters start this week, Wilson hasn't fared too well in the biggies before, failing to reach the weekend in six of eight major starts.
55. Johan Edfors
The man named 2006 Golf Punk of the Year by -- who else? -- Golf Punk magazine, Edfors could turn this place upside-down with a big week. After all, when was the last time a Golf Punk wore a green jacket?
56. Ian Poulter
After finishing 20th on tour in driving accuracy a year ago (70.19 percent), he currently ranks 117th (59.62 percent). Not a good sign.
57. Arron Oberholser
The back problems that plagued the early part of his season are seemingly over now that Oberholser is undergoing an intensive therapy routine. He'd love to duplicate last year's T-14 in his Masters debut.
58. Tom Watson
Don't count out this 57-year-old. Seriously. From '77 through '91, Watson had two wins and no finishes below T-14 at this event. A T-20 at Pebble Beach earlier this year only reinforces the notion that he's still got plenty of game.
59. Hideto Tanihara
Each player's caddie is given a number based on how early the duo registers at the course. The defending champ is always given No. 1, but this week Tanihara took the coveted No. 2 bib, meaning he's been grinding on his game here for a while.
60. Brett Quigley
What a week this could be for Quigley. Early Wednesday morning -- 2:55 a.m. to be exact -- his wife Amy gave birth to a baby girl, whom they named, appropriately enough, Lillian Sage Augusta Quigley. The plan was for Brett to fly from Florida back to Augusta, where he'll make his scheduled 2:03 p.m. tee time on Thursday. A first-timer in this tournament, Quigley might feel like he's playing with house money now, after an already joyous couple of days.
Victory stogies for all? Not likely, but Jimenez has shown he can play well at Augusta, with two top-10s in the last six years.
62. Ben Crane
How does a player with only three starts this season -- two MCs and a second-round exit at the Match Play -- even get into the Masters? By ending last year in the top 50 of the world ranking.
63. Carl Pettersson
Dubbed the Swedish Redneck, Pettersson could be the first Swede to claim a major championship victory, but hardly the first redneck. (Yes, John Daly, we're talking about you.)
64. Tim Herron
Can Augusta National's seamstresses stitch together a size, uh, extra-large green jacket without advanced notice? It'd be fun to see them try, at least.
65. Ben Curtis
Does anyone get less credit for winning a major championship and two other PGA Tour titles?
66. Tim Clark
Last year's second-place finisher finds himself well down on this list for one reason only: A neck injury suffered late last year has forced Clark to miss all but three tournaments so far and he has yet to break 70. A great player when even-par is a meaningful score, but he'll struggle to keep it that low this week.
67. Gary Player
A 71-year-old ranked this high? Don't laugh. In his 50th year, Player will want to make a splash and he's in better shape than most guys half his age.
68. Jerry Kelly
Before posting T-9 at Bay Hill, had missed the cut in five of six previous starts. Has never missed the cut in four previous turns at Augusta National.
69. Joe Durant
If tournament officials decided to give a green jacket to the player who could come closest to a line in the middle of the fairway (you know, like the type of things they have at your club's weekly hit-and-giggle), the tour's accuracy leader would steal the prize.
70. Ben Crenshaw
Along with longtime Augusta caddie Carl Jackson, Crenshaw pulled some magic out of his hat last year. He was just 5 strokes off the lead at the tournament's midway point, but finished dead last among those who made the cut.
71. Paul Goydos
It's been a long time -- 11 years, to be exact -- since Sunshine played in this tournament. He won't be intimidated at all, but knowledge is king 'round these parts.
The "other" Singh in the field, the Asian Tour regular has brought his funky swing to the U.S. for more events this year, in anticipation of this event.
73. Michael Campbell
Six missed cuts in six starts? Yikes! The 2005 U.S. Open champ needs to do better before earning loftier consideration on this list.
74. Billy Mayfair
As the first player to tee off in the first pairing on Thursday morning (alongside Poulter), Mayfair has a chance to do the ultimate wire-to-wire job, if he should make an early birdie. On second thought, maybe not.
75. Bart Bryant
Fast, firm fairways will help this low ball flight, short-hitting Texan, who missed the cut in his Masters debut last year.
76. Yong-Eun Yang
Die-hard golf fans will remember Yang as the guy who defeated Woods and Goosen at the HSBC Champions Tournament in November 2006, even surprising himself in the process. "If someone told me last week I was going to win, I'd have just laughed and said you've got to be kidding," he said at the time.
77. Bradley Dredge
The Dredge Report: As the 50th-ranked player in the world at the end of last year, Dredge barely made it into the field. He's since slipped to 68th.
78. Troy Matteson
With a furious finish last season, including a win in Las Vegas, Matteson not only kept his PGA Tour card, but vaulted into this week's field. This will be his first major championship, so expect the butterflies to be floating come Thursday.
79. Shingo Katayama
Cowboy hat rhinestone belt fluorescent green shirt -- yup, Katayama looks ready. If you ever have a chance to check him out on the practice range, it's well worth it. He's got a great swing lefty.
80. Rich Beem
In response to the new AT&T National that will take place this July, Beem strongly opposed another invitational tournament on the PGA Tour schedule. Of course, here's guessing he likes this one.
After carding a final-hole quadruple-bogey at Doral, Calc barely hung onto a spot in the Masters field, prompting this early submission for Quote of the Year: "I always say it's my favorite place to get to and my favorite place to leave. That's about the best I can say for that joint, especially now." His personal feelings aside, the career record's not all that bad, with 12 made cuts in 16 starts and nine top-20 finishes.
82. Fred Funk
Poor Freddie. He can clean house on the Champions Tour these days, but Augusta National is simply too long and brutal for his fairways-first philosophy.
83. Craig Stadler
With all of the talk about certain Masters anniversaries this week -- 10 years since Woods' first win; 20 years since Mize took down Norman and Seve -- the Walrus' playoff win over Dan Pohl a quarter-century ago has been lost in the shuffle.
84. Mark O'Meara
Next year, the anniversary parties will be for O'Meara, who won both the Masters and British Open in 1998. Seems like just yesterday, doesn't it?
85. Larry Mize
Is it ironic that if Mize found himself playing against Norman and Seve again, he'd probably be the favorite this time around? Or is that just a coincidence?
86. Kenneth Ferrie
For right now, Ferrie only remains the answer to a trivia question: "Along with Phil Mickelson, which player was co-leader at the 2006 U.S. Open through three rounds?" Superman belt buckle notwithstanding, his first Masters likely won't go so well.
87. a-Richie Ramsay
The reigning U.S. Amateur champion had a registration snafu that forced him to miss the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month. No worries this week; he's definitely here.
88. a-Julien Guerrier
Will all French players feel the need to atone for Jean Van de Velde anytime they find themselves in a major? The British Am champ could probably do without that extra weight.
89. Todd Hamilton
Ever since winning the British Open three years ago, Hamilton's career has taken an unfortunate turn for the worse. In eight starts this year, he owns seven MCs and a 72nd-place finish.
90. Jeff Sluman
His Fred Funk impersonation -- straight and short -- won't help nearly as much here as it did at Winged Foot last year, where he finished T-6.
91. Fuzzy Zoeller
With each year that passes without a Masters rookie taking the green jacket, Zoeller retains his standing as the last first-timer to win (back in 1979).
92. John Kelly
A senior at Missouri, Kelly was a surprise finalist at last year's U.S. Amateur, falling to Ramsay in the finals, but taking the ultra-cool booby prize of a Masters invite.
93. Sandy Lyle
Sandwiched in between wins by Nicklaus and Mize on the front end, and back-to-backers by Faldo on the back end, Lyle's 1988 victory is among the most forgotten of the past 20 years.
94. Raymond Floyd
Finished T-8 at the Champions Tour's Ginn Championship last week, which -- believe it or not -- isn't actually a great predictor of Masters results.
95. Ian Woosnam
If it means he'll blow Guinness out his nose during a postround celebration, as the European captain did at the Ryder Cup, let's give him the green jacket right now.
96. a-Dave Womack
A onetime pro who regained amateur status and won last year's Mid-Am, Womack could be the story of the week should the Georgia State product make the cut.
97. Seve Ballesteros
Someone's got to bring up the rear, and poor Seve now takes the place reserved for the likes of Billy Casper and Charles Coody in recent years. It's been often said that Ballesteros could make par from the parking lot, but let's hope he doesn't have to try this week. At least Seve can take solace in one thing: On Monday, he turns 50 years old. Champions Tour, watch out!
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
2dMike Fish and David Purdum