The Biggest Question Marks for Golf's Top Stars Ahead of the 2014 Masters
Everything points to the 2014 Masters being the most wide open in a long, long time.
Why is that? Mostly, it's because none of the game's superstars are coming into the year's first major on any kind of roll.
There are questions of all sorts regarding the players who, on paper, look to be the best bets to be pulling on the green jacket Sunday night.
Injuries, meltdowns, mental blocks and recent play all are part of the lead-up to Masters week.
Here's a list of questions the top 10 players in the world (minus Tiger Woods, of course) will have to deal with.
Henrik Stenson's fifth-place finish in the Arnold Palmer Invitational a couple of weeks ago seems to indicate he's getting closer and closer to the man who dominated golf on both sides of the Atlantic in the second half of 2013.
His putting has held him back in the early months of 2014, with a strokes gained putting average of minus-.441. That obviously will be key to his chances at Augusta National, where even great putters head out to Magnolia Lane muttering to themselves.
If he can get the putter going and take advantage of his power, which should allow him to dominate the par-fives there, Stenson can have a big week in Augusta.
Now that Tiger Woods has been sidelined for an indefinite period of time, Phil Mickelson becomes the ranking member of the injured superstars club.
He has back issues, deals with psoriatic arthritis and is now trying to overcome an oblique muscle pull and contend in the Masters.
Truth be told, as inconsistent as Mickelson has been through the early part of the season, it would have been tough for him to be a real contender even if he were healthy.
The biggest question for the defending champion will be his mental state when he makes the turn to the back nine on Sunday afternoon.
That's an issue only because of how he melted down on Saturday and Sunday of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, blowing what was once a seven-shot lead and eventually allowing journeyman Matt Every to get his first win.
Scott's not injured and had been playing well before Bay Hill. If he can put that behind him, he certainly knows his way around Augusta National.
Rory McIlroy appears to be in a similar place, except he hasn't won a green jacket.
McIlroy is playing well and was on his way to winning the Honda Classic when he had one of those Sunday meltdowns that ended in a playoff loss to Russell Henley.
He's played in five events, and his worst result has been a T-25 finish. Three top-10 finishes sure seem to indicate he is ready to contend again.
The question for McIlroy is purely mental.
Jason Day has finished tied for second and third in two of the last three years at the Masters. He had last year's Masters in his grasp for most of Sunday afternoon but bogeyed two of the last three holes.
He was thought to be a strong favorite for this year until a thumb injury occurred, which has sidelined him since winning the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play title in February.
Day's biggest question will be the health of that thumb. If it is close to being healed, Day will be hanging around again late Sunday.
Justin Rose has been battling tendinitis in his right shoulder for over a year, and the painful affliction has definitely put a damper on the enthusiasm created by Rose's thrilling victory in the U.S. Open last year.
He has limited his schedule as a result of the issue, competing just six times since November. He has posted a pair of top-10 finishes. He withdrew from the Honda Classic, and in his next appearance, he missed the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
It's tough enough to play Augusta National healthy. Trying to do so with a painful shoulder would be very difficult.
It's been so long since Sergio Garcia has been a factor in a major championship that it's hard to imagine him still being considered one of the top players in the game.
But he finished tied for eighth in last year's Masters and had a pair of top-10 finishes in majors in 2011.
The biggest question for Garcia will be his mental state once he turns on Magnolia Lane. You may remember that Garcia criticized Augusta National in 2009, calling it unfair and suggesting, in a pouting way, that maybe he wasn't good enough to play in the Masters.
How he's going to handle the pressure is the question of the week for him.
The biggest question for former Masters champion (2007) Zach Johnson is how can he regain the magic that helped him acquire a green jacket.
Since his one and only major victory, Johnson has won seven times on the PGA Tour and has done just fine financially.
But he's missed two cuts at Augusta since that win, and his best finish in his other four starts has been a T20.
Johnson put on a clinic on how to win at Augusta National without going for a single par-five in two.
He's off to a nice start this year, winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and finishing sixth in the Valero Texas Open.
Johnson needs to take that game with him to Augusta.
Dustin Johnson has competed in 20 major championships and has finished in the top 10 nine times.
His box score at the Masters is not nearly as impressive, however. His best finish came last year, when he put up a T13.
The biggest question for him will be whether he can get his A-game to travel with him to Augusta National, where his massive drives, high soft approach shots and sharp short game should give him a real chance to win his first major.
Matt Kuchar is the latest in a long line of players to have worn the "best player without a major" tag.
The always-smiling Kuchar has earned over $20 million to go along with his five career victories.
Despite his low, driving ball flight, Kuchar seems to be getting the gist of playing at Augusta, finishing T3 and T8 the last two years.
Kuchar must answer the following question: Can he and his putter handle the pressure that will surely come if he puts himself into contention on the weekend?
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