The world's best golfers are converging on Augusta National Golf Club for the Masters. It's the first major tournament of the 2013 season, and with Tiger Woods seemingly back in top form, he'll be the player to beat starting on Thursday.
Although Woods is the unquestioned favorite, the fact remains he hasn't won a major title since the 2008 U.S. Open. Until he proves he can handle the unmatched pressure of winning on one of golf's biggest stages again, the door is wide open for other players.
It should make for a Masters filled with plenty of drama and no shortage of storylines. By Sunday, golf fans around the world should have a much better read on the state of the game that includes a revitalized Woods, regardless of who takes home the green jacket.
Let's take a look at the oddsmakers' top five choices heading into the Masters and predict where each of them will finish in the field.
All lines used are courtesy of Bovada.lv.
Tiger Woods has taken part in four stroke-play events on the PGA Tour this season. He has won three of them, including two straight victories leading into the Masters at the Cadillac Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
He leads the tour in scoring average, strokes gained putting and eagle rate. His approach shots, which were a constant source of concern during his struggles, are once again bordering on pinpoint accuracy. That has been key because he has still been a little erratic off the tee.
The only major concern is Woods' scoring average on the final day. He ranks a lackluster 118th in the fourth round of tournaments. It hasn't been an issue because he has built insurmountable leads, but it will make for an interesting test if it's close on Sunday.
All that said, he's the favorite for a reason and has a terrific chance to emerge victorious.
Ever since withdrawing from the Honda Classic, which led to plenty of swift backlash, Rory McIlroy has finished in the top 10 in two of his three starts. In his final tune-up event, he finished second thanks to a 66 on Sunday at the Valero Texas Open.
Two things are in play. First, he's starting to find the confidence that allowed him to take hold of the top spot in golf while Woods was struggling to rediscover his game. Second, he's getting more comfortable with his new clubs.
The talent is there for him to win the Masters—that's undeniable. It's just a question of whether or not he's in good enough form right now to hang with a red-hot Woods over four days. He should have a strong showing, but winning would be a surprise.
Phil Mickelson has won three Masters titles. Any time a golfer has had that type of success on a single course, it's impossible to count him or her out. It's mostly because Mickelson has a game that's built perfectly to handle Augusta.
He isn't playing his best right now, with a 16th-place finish in the Shell Houston Open after a missed cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He does have a victory under his belt this season, however, and finished third when Woods won the Cadillac title.
The biggest key for Mickelson will be accuracy off the tee. While he doesn't hit it as well as some of the other top contenders, it won't be a major issue as long as he's hitting the fairway consistently. He should do it enough to get into the mix for Sunday, and potentially set up a final grouping with Tiger.
Although Justin Rose has played well since the start of the new season, his performance in majors over the past few seasons leaves a lot to be desired. In his last 10 major starts, he has missed the cut five times and finished in the top 10 just twice.
The two most concerning stats for Rose are greens in regulation and strokes gained putting. He ranks outside the top 100 in both key stats. For what it's worth, he finished first in GIR percentage last season, which helped make up for his poor putting.
Rose's power is a plus, but it's far from the most important thing at Augusta. If he's not able to create more birdie looks for himself, he will struggle to keep pace. It would take a perfect storm for him to have a serious chance on Sunday.
Two years ago, Charl Schwartzel emerged from the shadows to outlast a star-studded lead pack that included Tiger Woods, Luke Donald and Adam Scott to win the Masters. Now he enters the event as one of the top contenders.
The South African star is having a tremendous season on the European Tour. In three starts, he hasn't finished worse than fourth. His play on the PGA Tour isn't quite as impressive, with just one top-five finish in four stroke-play starts, but he has still been solid.
It wouldn't be a surprise to see him in contention at some point over the weekend. Earning a second green jacket seems like a stretch, though. Schwartzel is a safe choice to finish somewhere around 10th. Anything else would be a bonus for the 2011 champ.