Ranking Masters field, top to bottom
Either of them could win it. Then again, so could anyone else.
If we've learned anything in the year's first three-plus months, it's to expect the unexpected -- perhaps even more so than ever before. In trying to predict tournament winners, you have as much of a chance throwing darts or employing a prognosticating octopus as actually getting it right yourself.
And yet, we keep on trying.
With those caveats in place, here are my picks -- not the favorites, mind you; just my opinions -- on the order of finish for the 75th Masters, from top to bottom.
Player Analysis Best finish 1. Paul Casey What do each of the most recent two Masters champions have in common? They not only hit the ball a long way but hit it extraordinarily high, which is a major advantage at Augusta. Same goes for Casey, who has been knocking on the door at big events for a while and appears finally ready to win one. This might provide his best opportunity of the four majors, too. In six career starts at Augusta, the 33-year-old Brit owns four results of 20th or better. He's going to win this tournament someday -- and that someday might very well be this Sunday. T-6, 2004 2. Phil Mickelson Doesn't it seem as if, just recently, Tiger Woods owned Augusta National and Mickelson was the guy still searching for his first career major title? Well, don't look now, but with a victory this week, Lefty would tie Woods and Arnold Palmer with four Masters victories, good for second place behind Jack Nicklaus. Does Lefty's recent win in Houston help or hurt? Well, remember: Even though he won last year after posting just one prior top-10 for the year, his previous win came one week after prevailing at the preceding BellSouth Classic in 2006. Win, 2004 & 2006 & 2010 3. Matt Kuchar Can somebody please explain why Kuch isn't mentioned more frequently in discussions of the game's best players? If nothing else, he is among the most consistent, with 17 top-10 results in 34 starts dating to the beginning of last season. There's already a comfort level for him at Augusta National, too. As a Georgia Tech sophomore in 1998, he finished T-21. After seven years of failing to reach the field, he returned last year with a T-24 result. T-21, 1998 4. Justin Rose He has finished 39th or better in all five career starts at this event, but the truth is, Rose's record could be even better. He has often negated some very strong play at Augusta by posting a few big numbers. Expect the two-time PGA Tour winner to eliminate those major mistakes this time around while continuing to climb the leaderboard. One of the game's better ball strikers, his robust greens in regulation percentage should help those matters. T-5, 2007 5. Francesco Molinari Known for his ball-striking prowess, Molinari should find Augusta National should be right up his alley. In fact, he finished T-30 at this tournament in his debut performance a year ago. With another year of experience playing against elite fields in the world's biggest events, he should be primed to start seriously contending in major championships. A victory at last year's HSBC Champions tournament -- in which he held off Lee Westwood and lapped the rest of the field -- proved he can triumph on a big stage. T-30, 2010 6. Luke Donald Often considered an underachiever thanks to just two wins in his first nine seasons as a PGA Tour member, Donald turned that around in a hurry by winning this year's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and vaulting to No. 3 in the world. A short-game artist who can make par from anywhere, he excels in events where par is a good score, as evidenced by top-five results in three of the four majors, including a T-3 in his first Masters start six years ago. T-3, 2005 7. Bubba Watson Big hitter, the Bubba. As we've found out, though, that's not all he is. In fact, no top professional is more creative and alters his swing more often within the course of a round than Watson, who owns two victories in the past 10 months. For those who believe he's too wild, fidgety, anxious or emotional to seriously contend at a major championship, kindly refer to the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, where he finished T-5. And that was well before he developed into the player he is today. T-20, 2008 8. Nick Watney Don't let anyone fool you: Watney might be a solid pick for this week's tournament, but he's not a surprise pick. After all, according to some oddsmakers, after Woods and Mickelson, the Doral champion is the favorite in this field. That's not without reason, of course. In his Masters debut three years ago, he finished T-11. In 2009, he was solo 19th, and he finished solo seventh last year. Horses for courses, and this horse has been a thoroughbred so far this season. 7, 2010 9. Tiger Woods Is he the Tiger of old? No. Is he still struggling with his swing and his short game? Yes. Ponder this question, though: Isn't Woods in much better shape with his game at this point in the season than he was last year? As you'll recall, he ended a self-imposed hiatus at this event in 2010, only to finish in a share of fourth place. Although his game has looked shaky this season, Woods has often said there are only four times per year that he needs to be at his best. This is the first one of 'em. Win, 1997 & 2001 & 2002 & 2005 10. Stuart Appleby They can't all be top-25 players on the leaderboard, so consider this one the first unexpected name this high on the list. That said, Augusta has always been a course that suited Appleby's game. Although he failed to qualify for last year's event because of a brief lack of productivity, he has made the cut in six straight, including as the 54-hole leader in 2007, when a final-round 75 dropped him into a share of seventh place. With three top-15 finishes in his past six starts, the Aussie might be ready to contend again. T-7, 2007 11. Geoff Ogilvy The former U.S. Open champion recently penned a column for GolfWorld magazine on his thoughts about the Masters. Let's just say that if this golf professional thing doesn't work out, he has a nice backup plan. T-15, 2009 12. Ben Crane Already known as one of the game's pre-eminent putters, Crane has stepped up his ball-striking skills this year, leading the PGA Tour in greens in regulation. T-24, 2010 13. Stewart Cink Not sure we can call a major champion from just two years ago and biennial Ryder Cup player a "dark horse," but coming off two results of 12th or better, be very bullish on Cink. T-3, 2008 14. Trevor Immelman Tough to think that a guy who won this tourney just three years ago could be a sleeper pick this week, but with injuries behind him, Immelman qualifies. Win, 2008 15. Ryan Moore Yet another player who tends to play his best golf at the biggest events, Moore placed T-13 at Augusta as an amateur, then followed with a T-14 result last year in his first start as a pro. T-13, 2005 16. Steve Marino Quickly gaining momentum as one of the best current PGA Tour players without a win -- a label at once positive and negative -- he has been playing some inspired golf this season. T-14, 2010 17. Charl Schwartzel True story: While his buddy Louis Oosthuizen was busy winning at St. Andrews last year, Golf Digest was touting Schwartzel as the next great South African player. You know what? Those folks weren't wrong. T-30, 2010 18. Anthony Kim He has played the Masters twice -- the first time setting a single-round record with 11 birdies, the second time making a late Sunday charge to finish T-3. You could say this place suits his game a little bit. 3, 2010 19. Martin Laird Recent winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational might be the "sleeper pick" of many experts, but it doesn't fit. After all, a guy ranked 21st in the world isn't sleeping any longer. 1st appearance 20. Hunter Mahan With back-to-back top-10s at this tournament, it's clear the course suits him, but as anyone who witnessed the end of the Ryder Cup can attest, Mahan might need a little work around the greens before he bags a big title. T-8, 2010 21. Y.E. Yang Masters math: Three top-10s in seven starts this season plus a share of eighth place at Augusta last year equals a very intriguing prospect for this week's tournament. T-8, 2010 22. Lee Westwood Last year's runner-up became the fourth player to become No. 1 in the world without winning a major. The other three won one shortly thereafter, and Westwood's will come, too. With putter troubles, though, it might not be this week. 2, 2010 23. Vijay Singh The year was 1994. The tournament was the U.S. Open. The winner was a young Ernie Els, who held off Loren Roberts and Colin Montgomerie. Why is it important? That was the last major that didn't include the Big Fijian. Win, 2000 24. Rickie Fowler Since 1935, only one first-timer (Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979) has won the Masters. Fowler has the game to play this course well in coming years, but the odds are stacked against a historic run this time around. 1st appearance 25. Aaron Baddeley Further proof that maturity takes longer in golf than in other pro sports: Baddeley was a can't-miss kid who broke through with wins in 2006 and '07, then finally added a third this year just before turning 30. T-17, 2009 26. Dustin Johnson Popular pick to click this week, but despite his length off the tee, the groundswell of support in favor of DJ's winning his first major soon might be a bit overzealous. T-30, 2009 27. Jim Furyk After six straight made cuts at Augusta, he finally MC'd last year. Furyk's record of cashing at the Masters is nearly impeccable, though, with 12 made cuts in 14 starts. 4, 1998 and 2003 28. Rory McIlroy He is golf's version of a five-tool player: He hits it long, hits it straight, has a great iron game, can get hot with the putter and owns the proper mental savvy needed to win. Be surprised if he doesn't claim a couple of green jackets in his career. T-20, 2009 29. Graeme McDowell When he's on, there aren't many who can hang with McDowell, who seems to have made a career's worth of clutch putts in the past year. That said, he has missed the cut in two of his three starts at Augusta. T-17, 2009 30. Bill Haas The most under-the-radar of last year's seven multiple champions on the PGA Tour, the son of a 22-time Masters participant (Jay Haas) and great-nephew of the 1968 winner (Bob Goalby) doesn't get enough credit for turning into a very good player. T-26, 2010 31. Retief Goosen For the six-year stretch from 2002 to '07, nobody played the Masters better without winning one. During that span, he had two second-place finishes, two thirds and two T-13s. 2, 2002 32. Ricky Barnes Very intriguing prospect who tends to play his best golf under tougher conditions, as evidenced by a T-21 finish as an amateur and a T-10 last year in his first Masters start as a pro. T-10, 2010 33. Steve Stricker He's been hit-or-miss in his Masters career. In 10 career starts, he has missed the cut in half of 'em, but when he does reach the weekend, it's been fortuitous, with a pair of top-10 finishes. T-6, 2009 34. Ian Poulter After recently finding out he was allergic to everything from grass to dust, Poulter might not enjoy himself very much at pollen-infused Augusta. T-10, 2010 35. Martin Kaymer The world's No. 1-ranked player has disclosed how he has worked on hitting a draw the past few years, specifically with an eye on winning this tourney. First up: Just making the cut, which he has yet to do in three appearances. MC, 2008-10 36. K.J. Choi It's fitting that maybe the quietest solid season on the PGA Tour last year -- nine top-25s, four top-10s, two top-3s -- also included a very quiet T-4 finish at the Masters. 3, 2004 37. Padraig Harrington Before each of his three major victories, Harrington has been out of form or injured. Does that mean his strong start in Houston should be taken as a bad sign for this week? Or that his poor finish is a good sign? T-5, 2002 & 2008 38. Miguel Angel Jimenez Looking for an elder statesman to climb the leaderboard this week? Check out 47-year-old Jimenez, who owns five finishes of 12th or better at Augusta since 2001. T-8, 2008 39. Peter Uihlein (a) The son of Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein has plenty of game and isn't afraid of teeing it up with the big boys. After all, he's been doing so for years. 1st appearance 40. Alvaro Quiros Always an intriguing prospect, the longest hitter on any major professional tour -- and it isn't close -- is tough to beat when his putter gets hot, too. MC, 2009 & 2010 41. Jhonattan Vegas This PGA Tour rookie qualified for the field via his early-season win at the Bob Hope Classic. Tough to expect much from a first-timer, but his game does suit this course. 1st appearance 42. Ernie Els Seemingly the prototypical Masters player, unless he gets one soon, the Big Easy will join some fine company -- Lee Trevino, Greg Norman, etc. -- as the best players never to win a green jacket. 2, 2000 and 2004 43. Ross Fisher You heard it here first (unless you've heard it somewhere else already): Fisher will win a major within the next two years. But not this one and not this week. T-30, 2009 44. Edoardo Molinari Forget winning or even being low European in the field, the man nicknamed Dodo will have a tough enough time trying to become low Molinari against his brother Francesco. MC, 2006 & 2010 45. Jeff Overton Amaze your friends and win a few bets with this one: Overton has never missed the cut at a major championship. He's 5-for-5 in cashing checks -- and played brilliantly in the Ryder Cup at times, too. First appearance 46. Gary Woodland Has transformed in recent months from big hitter to big winner, but it's not just his Transitions Championship victory that was impressive; he also was runner-up at the Bob Hope Classic and T-5 in Phoenix. 1st appearance 47. Fred Couples Conventional wisdom suggests a 51-year-old with a creaky back shouldn't come close to making the cut. But this is Freddie and this is Augusta so throw conventional wisdom out the window. Win, 1992 48. Sergio Garcia Write him off as a has-been at your peril. After taking a self-imposed break at the end of last season, he has returned with two results of T-15 or better in two PGA Tour starts. T-4, 2004 49. Rory Sabbatini With the course playing fast and firm in 2007, only three players recorded final-round scores in the 60s, including Sabbatini, who finished in a three-way tie for second place. T-2, 2007 50. Mark Wilson The only two-time PGA Tour champion this season also happens to be one of the tour's better ball strikers. On a second-shot golf course, this first-timer could be sparked by more strong iron play. 1st appearance 51. Ryo Ishikawa After he announced last week that he would donate all 2011 earnings toward Japan's current relief efforts, count on plenty of good karma for the 19-year-old this season. MC, 2009 & 2010 52. Angel Cabrera President Eisenhower had a tree at Augusta, and El Pato should have one named for him, too. If not for a fortuitous bounce off a branch on the first hole of the 2009 playoff, he wouldn't own a green jacket. Win, 2009 53. Jonathan Byrd Funny how some players can look like world-beaters for four days, isn't it? In the season opener at Kapalua, Byrd was great, but he has failed to come close to duplicating that performance since. T-8, 2003 54. Adam Scott We never know what to expect from the enigmatic Aussie, but with a T-4 result at Doral in his most recent start, Scott could be on the verge of fulfilling some major potential. T-9, 2002 55. Brandt Snedeker It's difficult to forget his inspired run alongside winner Trevor Immelman three years ago. Even more difficult to forget Snedeker's tear-filled, emotional postround interview. T-3, 2008 56. Davis Love III Back in the field for the first time since 2007 thanks to last year's T-6 finish at the U.S. Open, the current U.S. Ryder Cup captain twice finished solo second at the Masters -- an event many believed he would win someday. 2, 1995 & 1999 57. Louis Oosthuizen When he was running away from the field at last year's Open Championship, the prevailing sentiment was that he owns one of the game's best swings. Since then? Despite a win at the Africa Open, he hasn't garnered many headlines. MC, 2009 & 2010 58. Jason Day Playing his fourth full PGA Tour season, we often forget he's still just 23 years old. Even so, he'll contend in a major this year -- it just won't be this one. 1st appearance 59. Peter Hanson Alhough he has never competed at Augusta, Hanson has proved to be proficient in major championships, with 12 made cuts in 14 career starts. 1st appearance 60. Zach Johnson Three words for you: Fast and firm. When Johnson won four years ago, conditions were cool and windy and the course played perhaps firmer than ever. He would love to see similar conditions again. Win, 2007 61. Robert Karlsson Three years ago, his solid week at Augusta -- he finished in a share of eighth place -- led to a fantastic major campaign, as he finished T-4, T-7 and T-20 at the other three. T-8, 2008 62. Robert Allenby Strange but true: In 11 career Masters starts -- including 10 consecutive -- the Aussie has never cracked the top 20. Consistent inefficiency for one of the game's more consistent players. T-22, 2006 63. Kevin Na He's plodding, he's slow and -- if you ask many of his fellow pros -- he's not very likable. What often gets lost when talking about Na, though, is the fact that he's an up-and-coming talent and one of the tour's better putters. MC, 2010 64. David Toms On his final hole at last year's Masters, Toms carded a birdie. That gave him a T-14 finish instead of T-17 had he missed -- just enough to qualify him for this year's field as one of the top 16. T-6, 1998 65. Carl Pettersson Born in Sweden, lives in North Carolina, qualified for the Masters by winning a tourney in Canada. Since finishing T-4 at the season opener in Hawaii, though, hasn't pulled a top-35 finish in eight starts. T-27, 2006 66. Alex Cejka There would have been three German players in the field for the first time ever, but two-time past champion Bernhard Langer withdrew recently because of a thumb injury. 26, 2004 67. Charley Hoffman Just a thought: One of the "Don't Hassle the Hoff" T-shirts available on his website -- complete with a picture of his face -- would look pretty sweet underneath a green jacket. 1st appearance 68. Anders Hansen Denmark native snuck into the field via top-50 placement in the world ranking before last week. He has missed the cut in two previous Masters appearances. MC, 2008 & 2010 69. Sean O'Hair It's been a slow start to the season for O'Hair, who owns four made cuts in seven starts, with a best finish of T-24. He does have three straight top-30 results in this tournament, though. T-10, 2009 70. Jerry Kelly Back in the field based solely on last year's T-12 finish, Kelly hasn't played the majors too well of late. In his past nine major starts, he has missed the cut seven times. T-5, 2007 71. D.A. Points Directly after winning at Pebble Beach with Bill Murray, his pro-am partner offered his caddying services for the Par-3 Contest. Alas, Points turned down the erstwhile Carl Spackler. 1st appearance 72. Ryan Palmer The good news: Players with the last name Palmer have combined to win four Masters titles. The bad news: Each of those was by Arnold -- no relation to Ryan. T-39, 2005 73. Camilo Villegas It's been a year of alphabet soup results for Villegas, as he already owns a DQ, a WD and three MCs. Tough to believe he can turn it all around into a W this week. T-13, 2009 74. Bo Van Pelt After a career-high eight top-10s in last year's breakthrough season, he has yet to post a single one in eight starts this year. MC, 2005 75. Hideki Matsuyama (a) At last year's second annual edition of the Asian Amateur Championship, this teenager broke par in all four rounds and won by an impressive 5 strokes. 1st appearance 76. Tom Watson The two-time champion had been outspoken about Augusta being too long for him -- until an opening-round 67 last year led to a share of 18th place -- his best Masters finish since 1997. Win, 1977 & 1981 77. Jason Bohn Last year's winner of the Zurich Classic has since competed in 22 events, never finishing better than T-13 and missing the cut on seven occasions. T-39, 2006 78. Henrik Stenson Recently played a practice round with fellow competitors Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter, after which the latter joked on Twitter that Stenson was last seen heading for the nearest ATM. T-17, 2007 & 2008 79. Kevin Streelman How did he get into the field? Look back to Aug. 27. That's when Streelman shot a second-round 63, eventually leading to a T-3 at The Barclays, which in turn led to a spot in the Tour Championship and -- finally -- a place in this field. 1st appearance 80. Kyung Tae-Kim Perhaps the least heralded of all players in the top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking, the 25-year-old acquitted himself well last year in his first two major starts, finishing T-48 in each. 1st appearance 81. Arjun Atwal Since winning last year's Wyndham Championship, this Masters rookie owns just one top-10 in 11 official PGA Tour appearances. 1st appearance 82. Gregory Havret For as much success as Graeme McDowell has enjoyed in the past year, it could have been very different had Havret birdied the par-5 final hole at Pebble Beach to force a U.S. Open playoff. 1st appearance 83. Heath Slocum Before a T-12 in his most recent start at Bay Hill, his best results of the year were a T-28 in the 32-man Kapalua field and a T-33 for a first-round exit at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. T-18, 2010 84. Yuta Ikeda Thanks to his lofty placement on the Official World Golf Ranking, the 25-year-old has qualified for some elite fields, but he has yet to make his mark. T-29, 2010 85. Lucas Glover Finishing near the bottom of all competitors in the Shell Houston Open field and missing the cut probably isn't how the 2009 U.S. Open champ wanted to prepare for this tourney. T-20, 2007 86. Tim Clark Poor Tim. After finishing T-2 at the Sony Open in the season's second week, he suffered a freak injury -- he doesn't know how it happened -- and hasn't been able to tee it up since. 2, 2006 87. Jin Jeong (a) Reigning British Amateur champion showed his mettle at St. Andrews last year, posting scores of 68-70-74-72 to finish as low amateur in a share of 14th place. 1st appearance 88. Mike Weir After losing his fully exempt PGA Tour status recently, the 2003 champion hasn't played in more than a month because of a cyst on his left wrist, which follows a right elbow injury that limited him to 19 starts a year ago. Win, 2003 89. Sandy Lyle How about the leaderboard when he won in 1988? Eight of the top 10 (Lyle, Mark Calcavecchia, Craig Stadler, Ben Crenshaw, Fred Couples, Greg Norman, Bernhard Langer, Tom Watson) either were or became major winners. Win, 1988 90. Jose Maria Olazabal The days of this two-time champion contending at Augusta might be behind him, but the European Ryder Cup captain will be able to scout plenty of talent for next year's team. Win, 1994 & 1999 91. Ben Crenshaw Since winning this tournament for the second time in 1995, Gentle Ben has made the cut just three times, but he remains a fan favorite at Augusta. Win, 1984 & 1995 92. Hiroyuki Fujita A regular on the Japan Tour, he has made three starts in the U.S. already this year, including a T-10 at the Honda Classic -- the best PGA Tour finish of his career. 1st appearance 93. Larry Mize Can someone explain why the feature film, "A-Mize-Ing" has never been produced? Think about it: An Augusta native returned to his hometown, where he chipped in against the game's best player to win the world's biggest tournament. Sounds like an Oscar. Win, 1987 94. Mark O'Meara What a playoff it would have been in 1998 had O'Meara failed to sink that clutch 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole. Waiting in the wings for a playoff were Fred Couples and David Duval. Win, 1998 95. Nathan Smith (a) Don't confuse the 31-year-old reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion for his namesake Nate Smith, currently a rookie on the PGA Tour. MC, 2004 & 2010 96. Craig Stadler Uh-oh. Bad news for the Walrus: In five Champions Tour starts this year, he hasn't finished better than T-37 and has just two sub-70 rounds in 14 so far. And those courses are, uh, slightly easier than Augusta. Win, 1982 97. Lion Kim (a) If only the PubLinks champion could have been paired with Woods and -- in a last-minute decision to play -- Jack Nicklaus. That's right: Lion and Tiger and Bear. Oh, my. First appearance 98. David Chung (a) Stanford junior was runner-up at last year's U.S. Amateur. Don't be surprised if he picks the brain of one of the more experienced Stanford alums going into the event. First appearance 99. Ian Woosnam The good news? Woosie's two-day total of 164 was only tied for Dead Freakin' Last in the 2010 edition of this event. The bad news: The other last-place finisher, Michael Campbell, isn't in this week's field. Win, 1991
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.
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