The current top three players in the world headline as the most likely winners at the 2013 Masters Tournament. Tiger Woods is definitely the favorite, with 5-2 odds and three PGA Tour victories already this season, but Rory McIlroy has had a nice return to form at the Valero Texas Open.
Outside of the dynamic Nike duo, No. 3-ranked Justin Rose already has three top 10 victories in 2013 and is overdue to emerge victorious in a major.
Here is a breakdown of the state of these superstars' games heading into Augusta National, which, as always, promises to be a thrilling kickoff to the major season.
Tiger Woods (5-2)
Given how much his short game has come around, Woods seems determined to capture his fifth green jacket and 15th major overall. In order for that to happen, though, he must revert to his old ways of emphatically sealing the deal.
No legitimate challengers contested Woods in any of his three wins this season, but that doesn't excuse his relatively poor final-round performances to date.
Anything can happen in the final nine holes, especially when players make the turn around Augusta's Amen Corner next Sunday. Woods has continually fallen short since his previous victory in 2005, but with the exception of last year, hasn't wandered outside of the top six.
Woods leads the Tour in strokes gained putting, is second in par-breaker percentage with a 28.47 clip and is lighting up the par fives with regularity, which was such a significant part of his previous dominance.
The aspect of Woods' game that has been the biggest letdown is his driving accuracy—he ranks just 145th thus far in that statistic. It appeared he corrected that in recent years, but it seems to be providing problems once again.
If he can manage to find the fairway and set up good angles to attack pins, Woods should have a wonderful opportunity to win.
The question that remains is whether he can close at a major—something he hasn't done since the 2008 U.S. Open, despite a plethora of occasions where he was in contention.
Rory McIlroy (9-1)
The 23-year-old prodigy fell out of his No. 1 ranking after it looked like he would rule the game of golf. McIlroy won the money list on both the PGA and European Tours in 2012, and had a record-setting eight-stroke victory at the PGA Championship.
Between a lucrative contract with Nike, new equipment, lack of competitive reps and a bizarre withdrawal from the Honda Classic, the beginning of the season hasn't been as kind.
However, McIlroy has shown an outstanding ability to bounce back from the low points of his career. After blowing a four-stroke, 54-hole lead at Augusta in epic fashion in 2011, he proceeded to lap the field at the U.S. Open.
The slump he endured last season was redeemed by his triumph at Kiawah Island, and he then went on to win three more high-profile tournaments from there. After his runner-up showing at the Valero Texas Open on Sunday, it seems McIlroy is once again on the rise.
Any concerns about ball striking have been laid to rest, as McIlroy appears to be back in a groove. A squarer alignment at address, increase in competitive rounds and all-around better work ethic have McIlroy in fine form as he prepares to enter Magnolia Lane.
Look for McIlroy to fare far better than his previous two efforts at The Masters in the form of a top-five finish—and possibly even a victory, which would leave him just one Claret Jug short of the career Grand Slam already.
Justin Rose (18-1)
If not for a rib injury to Brandt Snedeker—who started out the year looking like the clear-cut, third-best golfer on the planet—Rose wouldn't be sitting in this position.
Having said that, Rose has earned such status by showing unprecedented grit and the ability to get the most out of his round. Such resolve hasn't been on display from the 32-year-old in prior years, but it has helped him secure three top 10s.
Rose ranks third on Tour in scrambling with an astounding 71.62 conversion rate. Unfortunately, most of his one-putts come in the form of par saves, as he's struggled to capitalize when he finds the green in regulation.
Part of that is due to his lackluster proximity to the hole, which ranks 82nd with an average distance of 36 feet from the cup.
The pinpoint iron accuracy that allowed Rose to finish with a PGA-best 70.34 percent greens in regulation in 2012 has betrayed him thus far, as has his characteristically shaky putter.
As technically sound as Rose is with his mechanics and as hard as he works with the immense talent he possesses, a major breakthrough is bound to happen sooner rather than later. Nine of the past 11 major champions have been first-timers, and Rose is a prime candidate to make it 10-for-12.
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