What will the Augusta National scoreboard look like in 2013? We give the odds.
We don't encourage betting, but in the interest of helping those determined to lay some green down on predicting the winner of the green jacket come Sunday, we've handicapped 10 players with strong chances to win the 2013 Masters.
Keep in mind the first major of the year has a history of producing as many unexpected champions as it does historic ones, so the money you wager is at your own risk. That said, these 10 players are good bets to be in play come Sunday afternoon, and we're betting (not real money, mind you) that the champion will come from this list.
Question is, are you willing to bet on it with us...
Some things really do get better with age. Fred Couples at Augusta National is one of those things.
Why He’ll Win the Green Jacket: Every "sure bet" should be countered by some long-shot action, and Fred Couples is that Masters answer to Tiger Woods.
While the smooth-swinging Couples has only one green jacket to his credit, few players in recent decades have played better at Augusta National, aside from Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Despite his advanced age and often-balky back, Couples has surprised at Augusta the last several years, posting top-15 finishes in each of the last three Masters, including a sixth-place showing in the 2010 Masters claimed by Mickelson.
As with Mickelson, there’s something about Augusta National that brings out the best in Couples, and if his body cooperates with his swing, 2013 could be the year he joins Ben Crenshaw and Jack Nicklaus as Masters winners thought well beyond their prime.
Why the Green Jacket Will Elude Him: His back. The strength of Couples' lower back is a round-by-round concern no matter where he plays, but when you consider the significant elevation changes of Augusta National and the demand for length, the course can prove to be a strain on a man into his 50s with chronic issues in that part of the body.
The Smart Money: If you can afford to lose it, bet it on Couples given the odds here. But the reality is, another made cut and a top-20 showing is likely a positive outcome for the former Masters champion.
Adam Scott is hoping a tie for 8th in the 2012 Masters promises better things for 2013.
Why He'll Win the Green Jacket: If not for a brutal final four holes at the British Open last year, Adam Scott would be a major champion heading into the prime of his career. Instead, he's still the talented player seeking his first major victory alongside Woods' throwaway caddie.
That said, Scott is poised to break through and has played well at Augusta National. Since turning to the long putter a few years ago, his short game has gone from impediment to advantage, something that is reflected in his Masters' performances.
Why the Green Jacket Will Elude Him: The putting has improved, but he still ranks 78th on the PGA Tour in that particular skill (PGATour.com), which is so important at Augusta National. Adding more pressure to that putting stat is Scott's issues with getting the ball in the fairway and on the greens in regulation.
In terms of driving accuracy, Scott ranks 153rd, the same rank as his greens-in-regulation percentage. Those numbers don't promise an improvement over his tie for eighth last year.
The Smart Money: Scott will hang around the top 10 for much of the weekend but will likely fade as his inconsistency drags at his ability to score low when the pressure mounts.
Bubba Watson seeks to win back-to-back Masters titles this weekend.
Why He'll Win the Green Jacket: There’s a magic to Bubba Watson’s game that just seems suited to the majesty that is Augusta National.
On a true shot-makers' course, who better than the 2012 champion to make the type of unbelievable shots often required to win the green jacket? Watson did it from the trees last year, and he shouldn't be doubted to do it again this week.
Bubba's length is a significant weapon as he possesses the power to cripple the pivotal par fives and the creativity to not only escape trouble but to score from it. While Watson hasn't won since his Masters victory, he has five top-20 finishes in his six official starts this season, and like many who play well at Augusta, just the trip to the course gets the game in perfect shape for a run at a title.
Why the Green Jacket Will Elude Him: Because he won it last year. The last player to repeat as champion was Tiger Woods in 2002, and few defending champions have even come close to keeping the green jacket. In fact, the last defending champion to post a top-five finish the following year was Tiger in 2006, when he managed a tie for third.
The Smart Money: Watson has the game to win again, but a repeat for a player who hasn't won since wearing the green jacket last year is a little more than one should ask for.
Matt Kuchar looks to improve his top-five performance at last year's Masters this weekend.
Why He'll Win the Green Jacket: Matt Kuchar was a significant part of the final-round action last year, closing with a steady three-under 69 to finish two shots behind Watson. What he lacks in flash, he more than makes up for in steadiness and consistency. Rarely does Kuchar make the huge numbers that can play you out of the tournament, and when his putting is on he is as good as anyone.
Plus, the timing just seems right here.
Kuchar claimed his most significant career victory this year at the World Match Play Championship, and with two other top 10s, he appears poised to add a major championship to his resume.
Why the Green Jacket Will Elude Him: Kuchar’s putting has been decent this year as he ranks among the top 25, but he needs better than decent to make up for his lack of length (136th on Tour, according to PGATour.com) and the struggles he has had with accuracy off the tee lately (133rd on Tour).
Those issues have conspired to keep Kuchar out of contention at the tournament for most of his professional career. Outside of his engaging performance as an amateur years ago and his third-place showing in 2012, Kuchar doesn't have another top-10 finish to his credit at Augusta.
The Smart Money: Kuchar’s performance last year isn't proof enough to lay straight cash on a repeat performance this week. He’ll play well, but a top 10 is likely the best he can deliver this year.
Graeme McDowell is looking to improve his record at Augusta National this weekend.
Why He'll Win the Green Jacket: There’s little Augusta history to suggest Graeme McDowell will add to his major championship resume with a Masters title, but we’re banking on the overall skill of this talented golfer.
In just five PGA Tour starts this year, McDowell has posted three top-10 finishes, highlighted by third place at the Cadillac Championship.
The 2010 U.S. Open champion also ranks in the top 15 in driving accuracy, putting and scoring average (PGATour.com), a performance trifecta that is critical to success at Augusta National. Despite his struggles here, his 12th-place finish last year showed a growing understanding of how to play the course and promises better things from a great player this week.
Why the Green Jacket Will Elude Him: With such a strong percentage of fairways hit, you would think McDowell’s greens-in-regulation numbers would be better. McDowell ranks only 167th in that vital statistic, and missing greens at Augusta National is the surest way to making bogeys and falling out of contention sooner rather than later.
The Smart Money: McDowell will play well this week given his recent performances, but there will be too many missed greens and lost opportunities on the par fives to allow McDowell that first green jacket. A top 10 is a good bet; putting money on a victory is not.
After two consecutive strong performances at Augusta National, Justin Rose is poised for a Masters breakthrough.
Why He'll Win the Green Jacket: Justin Rose is due to win a major championship, and his performance at Augusta National the last two years suggests he’s poised to make the Masters his first. In 2012, Rose jump-started his strong season with an eighth-place finish that was one of eight top-10 finishes, including a victory in the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship.
That strong play has continued this year as Rose has finished in the top 10 in three of his four official starts. Substantiated by his No. 1 ranking in scoring average this year (PGATour.com), Rose has the ability to go low and has shown that on difficult courses, including Bay Hill last month, where he finished second to Woods.
Why the Green Jacket Will Elude Him: As he did at Bay Hill, Rose has a knack for going in the bag for several holes, which ultimately costs him a chance at victory. The culprit for Rose is the driver; he ranks only 126th in driving accuracy and, as a result, only 98th in greens in regulation.
The best players can get away with a lot around Augusta, but consistently missing the fairways will cause significant pressure on the short game. Even with strong scrambling skills (No. 1 in sand save percentage, for instance), Rose will struggle to make pars playing from the pine straw and through the trees all day.
The Smart Money: Rose is one of the most talented golfers without a major championship, but until he stays focused for four straight rounds and eliminates the wayward drives, he will continue to be just that. It’s a top-20 showing for Rose, but that’s about it.
Phil Mickelson is eyeing a fourth green jacket this week at Augusta National.
Why He’ll Win the Green Jacket: Simple—Phil’s game always seems to perk when he makes his way down Magnolia Lane every April. Lefty has won a third of his previous nine starts at Augusta dating to 2004 and has finished in the top 10 four other times in that span.
If that’s not a track record to bet on, then we don’t know what is.
Lefty’s success around Augusta National is largely due to his amazing short game. That gives him many options around the difficult greens and in his dominance on the par fives. While Lefty’s putting has been suspect of late, no one doubts his wedge play; as long as he can find the fairway more often than not, his genius around the greens will allow him to match Tiger with a fourth green jacket.
Why the Green Jacket Will Elude Him: Even for Mickelson, it’s been an odd first few months of the 2013 season. Lefty looked great in winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open and then looked lost finishing in a tie for 60th at Pebble Beach and missing the cut at Bay Hill. Everything in between has been much of the same up-and-down performance for Lefty.
To win at Augusta National, you have to drive the ball straight and then make challenging 10- to 15-footers from the appropriate parts of the greens. The problem for Mickelson is he ranks 166th in driving accuracy, 78th in driving distance and only 45th in putting (PGATour.com). That's not a pretty paint set for crafting a portrait of success in the Masters.
The Smart Money: If you can get Phil at 4-to-1, it’s worth the wager. However, Augusta National is no place to arrive with an untrustworthy driver and a misbehaving putter. Phil will have his moments, but a top 10 will be the best he can do.
Westwood is looking to turn recent strong Masters performances into a green jacket triumph this weekend.
Why He'll Win the Green Jacket: The reigning “best player to have never won a major” has flown under the radar at the Masters recently, but don’t take that to mean he hasn't played well at Augusta. In fact, during recent years, few other golfers have been in contention at Augusta as much as Lee Westwood.
Westwood has finished among the top 11 in four out of the last five Masters, highlighted by a second-place finish in 2010 and last year’s tie for third. Fact is, Westwood's game is suited to the challenges of Augusta National with his improved length off the tee, accurate iron play and steady wedge game.
If his putter holds up, the rest of his game is Masters' worthy, and what better place to shed that awful "never won a major" title than Augusta National?
Why the Green Jacket Will Elude Him: Even with his two top 10s this year, Westwood still ranks only 122nd in putting and 78th in greens in regulation heading into the tournament (PGATour.com). If he can’t get the ball close to the hole on the approach and putts equal to that ranking, it will be another close-but-no-cigar type of weekend for Westwood. Equally worrisome is the fact Westwood is on the doorstep of 40 and must be feeling the pressure to win a major championship sooner rather than later.
The Smart Money: Westwood is going to break through at some point, and if the favorites don’t play as expected, there is no one better to back at 3-to-1 than Westwood. We like him to push the eventual champion but to only post a top-five finish.
Rory McIlroy looks to prove both that he can handle the pressure of the Masters and that he is the true top player in the world.
Why He’ll Win the Green Jacket: If Rory’s performance at TPC San Antonio this past weekend is any indication, confidence in his game and his clubs is on the rise. In finishing second at the Valero Texas Open, McIlroy showed all the tools needed for success at Augusta National, including steady iron play and a solid short game, two aspects that have been noticeably absent during his limited starts this year.
Despite the missed cuts and early withdrawals, McIlroy is still the second-best player in the world. Two years ago, he showed for 63 holes that he has a game that can win at Augusta before a back-nine meltdown.
McIlroy is determined to prove two things this week: that he is a stronger player than when he collapsed two years ago, and that he still is the best player in the world regardless of what the world rankings say. A third major victory and a first green jacket will certainly accomplish both.
Why the Green Jacket Will Elude Him: Ten weeks ago, no one argued McIlroy was the best player in the world. His play before the Valero notwithstanding, his game hasn't looked anything close to that status as McIlroy has struggled with a swing change, the pressures of being the world's No. 1 and a general lack of confidence in his game.
Those things considered, that's no way to enter a major, especially when that major is The Masters. Making the test even tougher is McIlroy’s struggles with the flat stick this spring.
The Smart Money: McIlroy should be a factor for the first two rounds or so, but at this stage in his progression, putting four solid rounds together in a pressure cooker such as the Masters is too much to ask. He’ll win a green jacket, but it won’t be this year.
Once again, Tiger Woods is the favorite at Augusta National as he seeks his fifth green jacket and 15th major championship.
Why He'll Win the Green Jacket: Honestly, have you seen this guy play recently?
He’s putting like he did when he won his first Masters title in 1997 (that would be wicked, by the way). He’s driving the ball like he did in winning back-to-back green jackets in 2001 and 2002 and is back to beating down par fives as he has during every one of his 14 major championships.
Yet when it comes down to it, it’s putting that rings the bell at Augusta, and Woods has been answering it with the flat stick since the PGA Tour made its East Coast turn nearly two months ago. Woods ranks No. 1 in putting, third in birdies made and first in eagles (PGATour.com), and that spells big trouble for the rest of the field this week.
Yes, Tiger needs to find fairways and control his distance with the irons, but when he’s consistently making putts from 10 to 15 feet on the treacherous greens of Augusta National, he simply ends Sunday wearing green over red.
Why the Green Jacket Will Elude Him: It’s the driver that can derail Tiger at almost any moment.
Even with the lack of rough and dearth of water hazards (especially on the front nine), plenty of trouble looms at Augusta, and Woods has managed to find his fair share since the last time he won here in 2005. That trouble has typically been the result of wayward drives that eliminate the opportunities for birdies and makes par a challenge at best.
Slows starts also have plagued Woods recently at Augusta National.
Only three times has Woods opened with a sub-par round since his 2005 victory, and only once has he broken 70 during that span (Augusta.com). When Tiger starts fast, the field notices; when he starts slow, the field’s confidence grows.
The Smart Money: Tiger should win his first major since 2009 and tie Nicklaus’ mark of five Masters titles in the process. There’s a Nicklaus record Woods wants even more, and a victory this week will get him one step closer to that magic 18 major victories.
The best players in the world compete in the Masters, but that doesn't mean the best player always wins at Augusta National.
Raise your hand if you had Charl Schwartzel winning the 2011 Masters. Keep that hand up if you saw Larry Mize besting Greg Norman in the 1987 Masters. For that matter, keep it raised if you figured a 40-plus Jack Nicklaus would win the 1986 Masters.
Point is, the Masters has a knack for producing unexpected champions, so to back just one player over the entire field of accomplished professional and amateur golfers isn't exactly the best bet on more occasions than not.
We've identified 10 players that are more than capable of winning this year's Masters, and the winner may very well come from that list, but it's equally (if not more) likely that the remaining field of talented golfers that include the likes of Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Ernie Els and many more will produce the 2013 Masters champion.
It's a good thing our money isn't on the line here, but if yours is...good luck.