- Jason Sobel, Senior Golf Writer
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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- During the past few weeks, many readers have asked for a sneak preview of my annual ranking of every player in the Masters field. I've responded with two answers:
1. You won't have to look very far to find Tiger Woods' name on the list.
2. Everything depends on the weather.
Well, we're now one day away from the opening round at Augusta National Golf Club, and I'm still waiting to hear an accurate weather report. Some say rain, some say sun. Some say heat, some say cold. Some say wind, some say calm.
How are we supposed to figure out which players will fare well if we don't know what effect the weather will have on course conditions? Well, I guess that's why this ranking is never easy. Or correct.
As for Tiger, I'm sticking with my first response, no matter the weather. Like I said earlier, you won't have to look very far to find his name on this list -- or the leaderboard come Sunday evening.
Prior to the season, Woods declared that winning the Grand Slam -- not a TigerSlam, mind you, but all four majors in one calendar year -- was "easily within reason." Well, he can't win 'em all without winning the first one. Woods is even-money according to the oddsmakers -- perhaps the largest favorite we've ever seen in a major championship -- and yet, he's finished on the wrong end of the green jacket ceremony in four of the past five Masters. Guess what that means? He's due. You take the field. I'm taking Tiger.
2. Geoff Ogilvy
Is there a hotter golfer over the past three weeks? The numbers say no. Ogilvy topped a field of the world's best at Doral, then finished T-2 in Houston. Should the course play long, his distance and ability to hit the ball high will be a huge advantage. He tends to scramble for a lot of pars, which means he plays with fire but doesn't often get burned.
Had this list been produced a month ago, Goosen would have been about 30 spots lower as his game appeared to be in the tank. He hadn't cleared top 15 at any U.S. event since making the cut on the number here last year and shooting 70-69 on the weekend to finish T-2, but a T-14 at Bay Hill and T-2 at Doral has the two-time major champ back in the mix -- thanks in large part to a return to his old putter.
4. Lee Westwood
He doesn't just look like a new man, he's playing like one, too. Having recently bulked up in the offseason, Westwood is playing some of the best golf of his life, with nine top-10s in his past 13 Euro Tour starts, dating back to last year. "I feel stronger, and it's easy to get my body into positions where I can control things," he said.
"I feel well prepared and closer to a major than ever."
No player not named Eldrick has held the green jacket and Claret Jug at the same time since Mark O'Meara in 1998, but Paddy is on the short list to earn the former after claiming the latter last year. "A lot of my practice is done with the idea that I want to improve my golf swing so I can manage to play Augusta," Harrington said. "My thought is that if you can hit all the shots at Augusta there is no golf course you can't play." Six finishes of 27th or better in eight previous starts bodes well.
If it's an even-numbered year, it's Lefty's turn at Augusta. The winner in '04 and '06 is seeking a third green jacket in five years. "I actually feel really good about my game because my ball-striking has been good to this point," he said. "I feel good about the way I'm hitting it and the area I need to spend some time is chipping and putting and that's an area I've never really been concerned with." He hasn't finished better than 17th in four events since winning at Riviera, but Mickelson can turn it on and off in a hurry. Expect him to be on again this week.
7. Paul Casey
Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain. Casey hits it far and high, so wetter is better for this Brit. Though his U.S. record -- he's full-time on the PGA Tour for the first time since 2005 -- is spotty at best, Casey has played well at the Masters, with two top-10s in three career starts.
8. Fred Couples
We all know about the stellar record. Twenty-three Masters appearances. Twenty-three made cuts. And a T-4 in Houston suggests his game is peaking at the right time. "I wouldn't be surprised if he threatens this week," Adam Scott said. "He's one of the best ball-strikers on tour, definitely in the top five."
9. Stewart Cink
Cink is a very, very intriguing selection this week. His past five Masters results: T-17, 10th, T-20, T-17, T-24. And the Georgia native has played some brilliant golf this season with three top-three finishes so far. The biggest question: If he gets into contention, will we see another in a long line of Sunday letdowns?
10. Vijay Singh
How good is this guy? He's undergone a major swing overhaul in recent months and can't seem to settle on a putter and yet through it all, Singh remains one of the world's foremost talents, even contending for a few titles while in the midst of such changes.
11. Aaron Baddeley
Beware the man who yields a formidable putter. Year after year, Badds is among the world's best in both putting average and putts per round. If he can keep it in the short stuff off the tee -- not always his strong suit -- Baddeley will contend this week.
12. Angel Cabrera
The reigning U.S. Open champ hits the ball a mile, but lacks a great short game and doesn't putt too well. Don't believe me? Ask his caddie. "He has a little bit of an advantage off the tee, but at Augusta you need to be very good chipping and putting," Eddie Gardino told the Augusta Chronicle. "He's not very good chipping and putting."
All of which means, well, we still have no idea how he won the Open, which stresses deft chipping and clutch putting. It also means he may not be the best bet for this week, either.
13. Andres Romero
Anyone who makes 10 birdies in one round at Carnoustie (that's right, not one tournament -- one round) is a player to watch. Factor in his recent victory in New Orleans and Romero is hitting his stride at the right time. Consider him the most promising of this year's first-timers.
14. Jerry Kelly
Five-for-five making cuts at the Masters and coming off a T-5 at last year's edition? Kelly is known as a bulldog and you've got to like his chances of contending this week. If the winning score is closer to par, all the better for this grinder.
15. Jim Furyk
One of the world's top players, Furyk finished two shots off the pace in 1998 and three back in 2003. If that pattern continues, he'll have the five-year itch again this time around. After all, the swing may not be pretty, but it helps him find plenty of fairways and greens. And if the putter is working, watch out.
16. Justin Rose
Quick: Which player not named Eldrick had the best overall record at the majors last year? It was indeed Rose, who finished 12th or better every time. He was in the thick of things until the final holes at Augusta -- and why not? The Brit, 27, is among the world's best putters and, as we all know, those who can roll the rock can succeed on this course.
17. Adam Scott
He grabbed the opening-round lead in Houston before bowing out after the second day due to illness, but don't expect Scott to be feeling the aftereffects come Thursday. "I'm feeling better," said Scott, who is currently taking antibiotics. "I'm going to rest up and get back into tournament mode." Will the competitive fire kick in, too? In 27 career majors, Scott has never finished closer than six strokes from the winner.
18. Ernie Els
Now officially working with Butch Harmon, you've got to wonder if the Big Easy has elevated his game to the level where he can once again contend for a Masters title and once again find utter disappointment. From 2000 to '04, he finished second, T-6, T-5, T-6 and second again. They key will be Els' putting percentage from 10 feet and in; he ranks among the tour's worst in three-putt avoidance so far this year.
19. Luke Donald
Let's see he's played well here in the past and he's played well so far this season, so what's not to like? Expect Donald to seriously contend in his first major start since turning 30, an age at which players usually start seriously contending.
20. Jonathan Byrd
Hmmm hits the ball a long way was second in putting average last year has proven he can finish down the stretch. Byrd may fit the bill for potential Masters contender. His T-8 finish in 2003 was the best of the first-timers that year.
21. K.J. Choi
Always a not-so-sleeper pick to win here -- hey, the guy is ranked seventh in the world, how sleepy could he be? -- it's been four years since he shot that back-nine 31 on Sunday to finish solo third. Other than that, his Masters results have been pretty middling.
22. Sean O'Hair
Another young guy who hits the ball a long way and doesn't seem to get rattled in high-pressure situations, O'Hair is a different player now than the one who shot 76-76 in his only previous start two years ago.
23. Bernhard Langer
Don't be so quick to dismiss the 50-year-old with two green jackets. Langer owns three Champions Tour wins since hitting the big 5-0 late last year and can still hang with the young dudes.
24. Brandt Snedeker
The stats say Snedeker doesn't do anything all that well, but he knows how to get the ball into the hole and post a decent score. Might still be a few years away from making a serious major run, but it'll happen at some point.
25. Sergio Garcia
There's no doubting his ball-striking prowess, but until Garcia can figure out the flatstick, a green jacket will be just a pipe dream. One has to wonder how many putters traveled with him to Augusta. Will he use the long putter? The more conventional model? The oversized grip? All of the above?
26. Hunter Mahan
One of the better drivers, a solid iron player and a clutch putter, Mahan just may win himself a green jacket sometime in the next decade. So why so low? He's making his pro debut, having played only as an amateur in 2003.
27. Steve Stricker
In seven previous starts in this tournament, he's shot 79 or 80 more times than he's been in the 60s. It's always tough to pick against a player who can roll his rock like Stricker, but past history doesn't suggest this will be a stellar week.
28. Mike Weir
The 2003 Masters champ showed signs of regaining his form in late 2007, winning the Fry's Electronics Open and beating Woods in a Presidents Cup singles match. But ever since a solo fourth to begin the season at Kapalua, the little lefty has been extra ordinary rather than extraordinary.
29. Camilo Villegas
According to someone close with Villegas, he's been looking "very, very good" as of late. (And no, it wasn't a female admirer.) Expect his length and strong GIR number -- plus a year of experience now under his fancy belt at Augusta -- to equate to a solid result in Augusta.
30. Rory Sabbatini
The player everyone loves to hate made even more headlines with further comments about Woods this week. "When it comes to making other players uncomfortable, Tiger probably leads the field," he said. "We're out there competing. It's the nature of the beast. I'm not out there to be anyone else's cheerleader. I'm out there to do my job. At least with me, people know where they stand. There are never any gray areas." Very true, Rory. Very true.
31. Stuart Appleby
One year ago, Appleby was the 54-hole Masters leader, in position to claim his first career major championship title. Instead, he got off to a slow start, struggling to a final-round 75 and T-7 finish -- the latest in a long line of disappointing major results.
32. J.B. Holmes
Supposedly, the Augusta National officials "Tiger-proofed" the course a few years back; maybe they should have J.B.-proofed it, too. Averaging 307.7 yards off the tee, Holmes could attack the course from all sorts of angles in his first career start.
33. Bubba Watson
Take everything written about Holmes and add another six yards per drive. Added bonus: Steve Elkington isn't around to raise Bubba's ire.
34. Zach Johnson
Can the "normal guy from Iowa" pull off the impossible once again? He'll need the same course conditions, the same strategy and the same results -- especially on the par-5s, which he played in 11-under last year.
35. Henrik Stenson
Patience is a virtue at major championship. One has to wonder whether Stenson, a fiery competitor who has never finished in the top 10 at any of the four, can grind out enough pars to stay in the mix.
36. Stephen Ames
Upon winning the Players Championship in 2006, he threatened to skip the Masters in favor of an already planned family vacation. Fearing bad karma for life, he did indeed show up and has played well here, too.
37. Nick Watney
A solid, consistent player who is making his Masters debut this week, expect Watney to make the cut and build on the experience in future appearances.
38. Robert Allenby
If he were an NBA player, Allenby would be the type who stealthily scores 18 points per game without ever making the highlight reels. In other words, he doesn't get much credit for always hanging around the leaderboard on weekends. Always, that is, except at Augusta, where he's made four cuts in eight starts and never finished in the top 20.
39. Niclas Fasth
This Swede has remained among the world's higher-ranked players, thanks almost solely to a putter that finds the bottom of the hole more often than not. Such a skill can go a long way, as Fasth made the cut in all four majors a year ago.
40. Nick O'Hern
Among the world's most accurate players off the tee and one of its better putters, this noted Tiger-killer hung with the big boys, firing three very good rounds while finishing T-6 at Doral three weeks ago.
41. Arron Oberholser
Poised for a breakout season, Oberholser has been the victim of multiple injuries over the past 12 months. Bank on this: He'll seriously contend for at least one, maybe two majors this year -- but it won't be this one.
42. Ian Poulter
Two months ago, Poulter was quoted in Golf World U.K. as saying, "I know I haven't played to my full potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger." It won't happen this week. Or next week. Or anytime soon. But he does have some cool pants.
43. Tim Clark
In Clark's own words: "I feel like I have a good chance at Augusta. I finished second there in '06, then I led through two rounds last year and just had a bad Saturday, so the one that I thought would suit me the least has turned out to be the one that maybe I enjoy the most and is my best chance in winning."
44. Boo Weekley
After just one practice round, Weekley said he had figured out a strategy around Augusta National in his first career Masters: "Hit it and find it and hit it again." A plan destined for failure? Or one so crazy, it just might work? Expect something in the middle.
45. Vaughn Taylor
Fun trivia question: Who was Zach Johnson's final-round playing partner last year? None other than his buddy Taylor, an Augusta native who gained invaluable experience by witnessing an up-close-and-personal account of how to win the Masters.
46. Justin Leonard
The 11-time PGA Tour champ has made 10 of 11 cuts in his Masters career, but found more success prior to course-lengthening changes a few years back. A noted low-ball hitter, he's among those hoping for fast, firm conditions to kick in this week.
47. Daniel Chopra
Upon winning the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship, Chopra talked about how much it meant for him to qualify for his first Masters. But his game has taken a steep downturn ever since with no finishes of better than 32nd, sending up a major red flag for this week.
48. John Rollins
Is that Rollins or just an underweight impersonator? After an offseason workout regimen that resulted in losing 30-35 pounds, it appears he may have lost some of his game, too, with no results better than 14th in eight starts so far.
49. Robert Karlsson
Ex-Ryder Cup player hits it a long way, but two career top-10s in 47 career PGA Tour-sanctioned events doesn't bode too well. How Swede it ain't.
Charlie Three-sticks once claimed he'd retire from competitive golf if he ever won his hometown event, though he's since rescinded the proposal. He won't have to worry about that this week, though he won't finish DFL, either, as he did two years ago.
51. Nick Dougherty
We know he can go low in tough conditions -- Dougherty shot an opening-round 2-under 68 at Oakmont to take sole possession of the lead before finishing T-7 at last year's U.S. Open -- but the 25-year-old is making his first start at Augusta National.
It's been 20 years since Calcavecchia left Augusta heartbroken after Sandy Lyle got up and down from a fairway bunker on 18 to beat him by one stroke. At 47, he has played some of the better golf of his life in the past year, but owns only one top-10 since that fateful runner-up result.
53. Martin Kaymer
A year ago, playing in the Masters was just a dream for this youngster. Now 23 and ranked 25th in the world, the German has a bright future ahead of him, but needs more seasoning before he'll contend at Augusta.
54. Scott Verplank
Consider Verplank as Exhibit A on the "Tiger-proofing" of Augusta National. Before the course lengthening changes, the short-hitter never made a cut; since then, he's reached the weekend every single time.
55. Johnson Wagner
"I don't care if I shoot 90 both days and miss the cut," Wagner said after gaining the last spot into the field by virtue of his Houston Open win. "I'm so excited to be here, and it's just a dream come true." He won't shoot 90 both days. Making the cut? That could be another story.
56. John Senden
Sneaky-good player (eight consecutive made cuts on the PGA Tour) who is always among the tops in GIR percentage. Could be among the most underrated players in the field -- this list included.
Victory stogies for all? Not likely, but Jimenez has shown he can play well at Augusta, with two top-10s in the past seven years.
58. a-Drew Weaver
No amateur has made the cut since Ryan Moore in 2005, but the reigning British Amateur champ may give it a good run. Weaver has made six trips to Augusta since receiving his invite and has been playing a ton of tournament golf as of late.
59. Woody Austin
On the list of "Things You Don't Want to Do Two Weeks Before the Masters," this ranks pretty high: Needing a birdie on the final hole to force a playoff at the Zurich Classic, Austin topped one shot, then pushed another into the water hazard. "I choked my guts out," he later admitted. "That's all I can say. I flat-out choked." That's not exactly the stuff of a Masters contender.
60. Peter Lonard
Believing his second-place finish in New Orleans wasn't enough to get him into the field, Lonard said of this tournament, "It'll probably be on my TV screen while I'm drinking beer or something." Somebody, somewhere, please pick up the TV-watching, beer-drinking slack in Lonard's stead this week!
61. Heath Slocum
When asked how the course was playing, Slocum answered like so many others: "Long." Too long for a guy who averages 275 yards off the tee? "Well ..." Though he wouldn't commit to that, he did reveal that he was hitting long irons or hybrids into almost every green.
62. Anders Hansen
The first of the Hansen Brothers to make the list (no, they're not related, though they're both from Denmark), Anders has played well as of late, including a T-12 at Doral.
63. Soren Hansen
What, like you actually thought we'd break up the Hansens? Soren hits it farther than his namesake, but has been more inconsistent recently. A first-timer, he'll be aided by having Westwood's former looper on the bag.
Before returning to action two weeks ago after a variety of injuries, Ollie said, "I'm going to take it on a weekly basis, test myself and see if I can cope with competition again." He's done better than that, making the cut in both starts since, though taming Augusta could be a much taller order.
No relation to Vijay, but he was paired with him in last year's final round, shooting 79 to the Fijian's 73.
66. Trevor Immelman
Myriad injuries and illnesses have befallen Immelman in the past year, adversely affecting his game. He'll still contend for majors during his career, just not this week.
67. Richard Sterne
Winner of the recent Joburg Open on the Euro Tour, Sterne is an up-and-coming young (26) player who doesn't have much competitive experience on U.S. soil.
68. Shingo Katayama
The top player on the Japan Golf Tour over most of the past decade, Shingo has never finished better than T-27 in six previous Masters appearances. But at least he's still rocking the sweet cowboy hat.
69. David Toms
Still a world-class talent, Toms finds himself way down on this list for one reason only: He hasn't played competitively since injuring his back before the second round of the Accenture Match Play Championship. How bad was it? Toms even withdrew from his hometown Zurich Classic, where he's always the fan fave.
70. Liang Wen-Chong
Not only is he the best current player from China, he's the best ever player from that nation. An unknown commodity in the U.S., it will be interesting to see how he fares against the world's best in the big tourneys this year.
71. Larry Mize
Is there anything cooler than growing up in Augusta becoming a professional golfer playing in the Masters winning the tournament and getting invited to come back every year? Howell calls Mize's 1987 victory his favorite Masters, and there are plenty of hometown fans who agree.
72. Steve Flesch
This southpaw will be well served to keep repeating the following fact throughout the next few days: Lefties have won three of the past five Masters titles. Of course, Flesch is no Mickelson -- he's not even Weir -- and recent wins at the Reno-Tahoe and the Turning Stone Resort hardly foreshadow any future success at the Masters.
73. Steve Lowery
One of the unlikeliest winners of this PGA Tour season, Lowery may have hit three of the top 10 shots of 2008's opening three months during his final round at Pebble Beach. Since then? Not so much -- three MCs and a solo 70th at Bay Hill.
74. D.J. Trahan
Admittedly lacking with a putter in his hands, Trahan will need to roll it like he did at the Bob Hope Classic, when he won to clinch his invitation.
75. Richard Green
How did this lanky lefty originally get into the field? By shooting a sublime final-round 64 to finish T-4 at Carnoustie last year -- a score that had a chance to break the major record of 62 as he stood on the final tee. Since then, however, he has yet to record any worldwide result better than 17th.
76. Toru Taniguchi
Of his 14 career Japan Golf Tour titles, three came during an impressive 2007 season (plus three other runner-up finishes).
77. Sandy Lyle
Twenty years ago, Lyle hit what has become one of the most underrated shots in Masters history, knocking one from the fairway bunker to within 8 feet on the final hole to win. "Not a day goes by playing on the golf course where an amateur or pro doesn't talk about the bunker shot," he said. "I've gotten a lot of mileage out of that."
78. Shaun Micheel
You didn't hear this from me, but the 2003 PGA champ should enjoy his week at the Masters, because his five-year exemption for that win expires after this year's edition of the tournament.
79. Ben Curtis
Playing for the last time on his five-year exemption for winning the 2003 British Open, Curtis has yet to make the most of his opportunity, with only one made cut in four starts. In fact, he's competed in 17 major championships since that victory, and last year's T-8 at the British Open was his only top-25 finish.
80. Brett Wetterich
A nagging shoulder injury that has limited his play this season dropped Wetterich about 50 spots on this list. It was so bad, he said, that at one point he was resigned to the fact that his season was over.
81. Tom Watson
The two-time champ has reached the weekend only once in the past decade (T-40 in 2002). Would be great to see him working that old magic again, but the course is just too long.
82. Brian Bateman
I'd never suggest anyone was a fluky champion, but before his Buick Open victory, Bateman owned only four top-10 results in 150 career starts. Since then, he hasn't finished better than 23rd in 18 starts. Perhaps no one is happier that officials reinstated the rule allowing all PGA Tour winners into the field.
83. a-Trip Kuehne
Kuehne, 35, is a lifetime amateur who says he will retire from competitive amateur golf after this week. There aren't many would-be pros who take such a route these days, but tourney founder Bobby Jones, who owned a similar career path, will be smiling down upon him this week.
84. Craig Stadler
Four made cuts in the past six years suggest Stadler can still post a number on this golf course.
85. Todd Hamilton
The good news for the 2004 British Open champ: He already owns three results inside the top 50 this season. The bad news: That total already equals his number for all of 2006 and '07 combined.
86. Prayad Marksaeng
Colin Montgomerie may not like the fact that this Thailand native was among three special invitees to the Masters, but Marksaeng is one of the better players on the Asian Tour.
87. Mark O'Meara
Life is good for O'Meara. He's celebrating the 10-year anniversary of his Masters victory, is the defending champ at the Par-3 Contest and even got to play a practice round with his buddy Tiger on Sunday.
88. Michael Campbell
The 2005 U.S. Open champ has fallen on hard times recently, with only one made cut in seven Euro/PGA Tour events so far this season, including an abysmal 81-83 score in Houston. Don't expect a Pinehurst reprisal anytime soon.
89. a-Michael Thompson
How strong is the amateur tradition at Augusta? Finish runner-up at a PGA Tour event and your invitation won't be coming in the mail anytime soon. Finish runner-up at the U.S. Amateur? Congrats, you're in.
90. Ben Crenshaw
At 56, he's no longer the ball striker he once was, but putting and course knowledge still go a long way at Augusta. Case in point: Crenshaw's 76-74 start last year -- enough to earn him two weekend rounds.
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. Ian Woosnam
Hard to believe it was seven years ago since Woosie was leading the British Open with an extra club in his bag. Now 50, you've got to wonder whether he'll have to lay up on some of the par-4s.
93. Raymond Floyd
Though he hasn't made a cut this decade, the 1976 wire-to-wire champ has kept things respectable, with no rounds worse than 80 during that time.
94. Gary Player
How many players could rank dead last on our list and still make tournament history? Only one. Even if the Black Knight gets lapped by the field, he'll hold his head high, competing in his record 51st career Masters this week.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
To help with that yearly office pool, Jason Sobel breaks down all 94 players in this week's Masters field, ranking them in order.