What the 2014 Masters might lack in star power, it will more than make up for in unpredictability.
By now, pretty much everybody knows Tiger Woods won't be making the trip to Augusta. It's a pretty big deal, as Woods has been at every Masters Tournament since 1995, and he's been a major threat to win almost every year.
GolfChannel.com's Jason Sobel joked about how his injury slightly increased every other golfer's chance of winning:
Masters field is down to 96 competitors. Without Tiger, every other player's chances have increased from 1.03% to 1.04%.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) April 1, 2014
Yet Woods is just one of many big stars dealing with health problems heading into the first major tournament of the season. Sobel has a brief list of the walking wounded:
Updated Masters ticker: OUT: Tiger Woods (back); QUESTIONABLE: Phil Mickelson (oblique); Jason Day (thumb); PROBABLE: Hunter Mahan (back).— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) April 1, 2014
Rarely before has doubt been raised about so many top contenders heading into the Masters. Almost all of the favorites have major question marks as to their chances.
None is bigger than Phil Mickelson, as the 43-year-old is dealing with a lingering back injury. Lefty remains confident, though, that he'll make it to Augusta and plans on entering the Shell Houston Open in order to prepare for the Masters, per the Associated Press, via Golf.com:
"I feel that to give myself the best chance at the Masters I have to play in Houston," Mickelson said. "If I thought I would injure myself further I would have withdrawn from the tournament, but the last few days have been good."
It would be something if the Masters was without both Woods and Mickelson contending for the title.
You have to wonder, though, if the tournament is better off not having them near the top of the leaderboard for a year. More casual fans might lose interest, and television ratings might drop.
On the other hand, for those who follow the sport, it can be a lot of fun seeing different names vying for the first major tournament of the season. It helps break some of the monotonous Tiger and Phil coverage that comes with every event.
The stories are always the same. Is the old Tiger back? Will Mickelson's gambles blow up in his face? Now, the focus can be on other golfers.
In general, the field seems more open this year than it has for quite a few years. For once, it's not Woods versus the world, and Mickelson may not be much of a threat. This serves to open the door for those who have been on the outside looking in.
Matt Kuchar, Jason Day or Sergio Garcia could win his first green jacket after getting so close before.
Maybe Jordan Spieth, Brandt Snedeker, Dustin Johnson or Hunter Mahan emerges.
Perhaps this is the year Rory McIlroy exorcises his Augusta demons and wins the Masters after disappointing in his earlier appearances. The 24-year-old told Iain Carter of the BBC that he isn't afraid to pick up from where guys like Mickelson and Woods left off:
"Golf's in a funny place at the minute," McIlroy told BBC Sport ahead of this week's Houston Open.
"You are getting so many different winners and there are not as many guys dominating the sport like in the past with Tiger, Vijay (Singh) and Phil (Mickelson).
"I'd like to establish myself as that sort of player and someone's got to step up, so I'm trying to be that person and it would be a great place to start next week."
Of course, you can already hear critics arguing that a McIlroy victory wouldn't count as much, because Tiger wasn't lurking in the shadows. Those critics would also be completely wrong and likely ignoring the fact that Woods hasn't won a major in the last five years.
So what if Tiger isn't at Augusta? He's just one of the multitude of talented golfers on the PGA Tour at the moment.
There are so many compelling storylines heading into the Masters at the moment, and most of them have been made more interesting because of the injuries to the top guys.