Contenders and Pretenders Atop the Standings at 2013 Masters

Ron Juckett@ronjuckettContributor IIIApril 13, 2013

Contenders and Pretenders Atop the Standings at 2013 Masters

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    Jason Day is the outright leader halfway through the 2013 Masters at Augusta National. But with 11 players within three shots of the lead with 36 holes left, anything can happen.

    The top of the leaderboard is comprised of big-name players, lesser-known golfers and experienced—perhaps too experienced—veterans.

    Here is a look at who is for real and who will slide the wrong way down the standings.

Rory McIlroy: Contender

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    Tournament Rank: T-13 (-2)

    After a shaky first round (72), McIlroy bounced back into contention with a solid day (70).

    It is no secret that his new equipment deal with Nike has made him at times uncomfortable on the course. He figured out some adjustments last week for a good finish at the Valero Texas Open, and he shook off his lackluster day Thursday to position himself for the weekend.

    If in fact he does have things figured out, McIlroy can explode like an unpopped popcorn kernel and grab the lead by Saturday night. He gets into zones with his putter where he cannot miss, and he started showing he was judging green speeds well on Friday.

    He has to stay out of the trees. If he can do that, he has a good chance for the third leg of his career Grand Slam.

Adam Scott: Pretender

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    Tournament Rank: T-7 (-3)

    Scott played two very solid rounds to shoot himself into contention (69 and 72). This is the third straight major where he has gone into the weekend with a chance to win.

    However, he still has yet to get past last year's meltdown at the Open Championship. With four holes to play, Scott held a four-shot lead. By the time he left the 18th green, Ernie Els was holding the claret jug.

    Scott has yet to show that killer instinct required to close out championships. As cool as he is on the course, he hasn't been able to close the deal.

    Another nice payday awaits, but not a green jacket.

Jason Dufner: Contender

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    Tournament Rank: T-7 (-3)

    Dufner headed the right direction up the leaderboard Friday in search of his first major. His unflappable demeanor will help him win a major at some point, and it could well be here.

    As the greens firmed up under the sun Friday afternoon, Dufner was able to adjust to the changing speeds, playing the second nine in one-under 35.

    He knows where he can be aggressive and is patient enough to accept par. Three shots back with two days to go is right in his wheelhouse.

Brandt Snedeker: Pretender

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    Tournament Rank: T-4 (-4)

    Snedeker is having a very good week so far and has played himself into contention for the weekend. But can he step up his game for the big rush that is to come?

    There are going to be a bunch of hard-charging players coming from behind. It is not that Snedeker cannot play well under pressure—he defeated Woods and McIlroy on the last day to win the FedEx Cup—it is if he will putt well enough when the match is on the line.

    Snedeker will have a Top 10 finish here this week, but he has yet to show he can turn on that streaking putter at will. 

Tiger Woods: Contender

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    Tournament Rank: T-17 (-1) after penalty

    Woods' third shot to the par-five 15th was too good. It hit the flagstick and spun down the hill and into the pond that protects the green. Instead of taking the outright lead at the time at six under, Woods would limp home with two bogeys down the stretch.

    Things would only get worse.

    Because of what was later deemed an illegal drop, he went from three under and very much within striking distance to one under for the tournament. However, Tiger has what it takes to storm back with 36 holes to play.

    Now five shots back, Woods is still very much a contender.

Jim Furyk: Pretender

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    Tournament Rank: T-4 (-4)

    After some rough Sundays last year, it is nice to see Furyk playing well and in contention. However, two things are working against him as he tries to capture his first green jacket.

    The meltdown at the end of last year's U.S. Open exposed that the pressure affected his play. On the verge a few weeks later of winning the WGC-Bridgestone Classic at Firestone, Furyk shot himself out of a playoff with a double-bogey six on the 72nd hole.

    Also, he has to take advantage of those second-nine par fives. Furyk is a successful player because he limits his mistakes without being overly aggressive.

    In order to win here, you do have to gamble a bit.

Angel Cabrera: Contender

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    Tournament Rank: T-4 (-4)

    There is something about a major that brings out the best in Cabrera. He is relaxed to the point where he looks almost aloof, yet he has a U.S. Open and a Masters trophy on his mantle.

    Cabrera rarely defeats himself, and he does not panic when things do not go his way. He will play his game at all times, and if it is good enough, so be it.

    Two shots off the lead, you can never count out a former champion here. He knows exactly what to do and how to finish.

Marc Leishman: Pretender

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    Tournament Rank: T-2 (-5)

    Ladies and gentleman, meet Marc Leishman.

    After shooting an impressive six-under 66 for a share of the first-round lead, Leishman came back down to earth Friday with a one-over 73.

    For some, the first time they see their own name on top of a major championship leaderboard, they start to look like a deer caught in the headlights. By the time Leishman was interviewed Friday afternoon by ESPN's Tom Rinaldi, he had that look.

    Normally, what follows is a really high score on Saturday and a not-so-great score on Sunday. Leishman can learn a lot from his experience this weekend and be in better shape when the next chance comes.

Jason Day: Contender

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    Tournament Rank: 1 (-6)

    The last hour gave us a great glimpse of Day's chances over the weekend. He was well aware of the rise and fall of Tiger Woods on the leaderboard, and he kept chugging along. He did not blink.

    In the last group, Day improved two shots over Thursday in blustery conditions that made a tough course tougher.

    He has a pair of runners-up finishes in majors already in his young career, including here two years ago, so experience is on his side. He also has the relaxed Fred Couples as his partner Saturday.

Fred Couples: Pretender

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    Tournament Rank: T-2 (-5)

    The golf fan in all of us wants him to win. At 53, Couples has turned back the clock to 1992 and is again in contention to win his second green jacket.

    His game has been smooth and looks as effortless as it ever has. But you never know when his back will start to tighten up. If it does, he is done. It robbed us of his best years and robbed him of multiple majors.

    Age is a factor as well. He knows what to do and where the ball should go, but the mind at times has a hard time willing the body to actually perform