The 2014 PGA Tour season kicks into high gear Thursday with the start of the Masters, the most prestigious event in the sport, and a wide-open field makes it more intriguing than ever before.
Of course, the absence of Tiger Woods will hurt casual viewer interest, but there is no shortage of compelling storylines to watch at Augusta, Ga.
A deep, loaded field makes this anyone's tournament to win. The oddsmakers have listed their favorites for the event, so here's what they expect to happen and our thoughts on some of the key names.
|2014 Masters Odds|
Full odds can be found at Vegas Insider
The fact that Rory McIlroy is the odds-on-favorite to win the Masters speaks to the volatile nature of the PGA Tour in 2014.
The 24-year-old Irishman has played in five PGA events this season, finishing in the top 10 three times, losing on the second day of the WGC-Accenture Match Play event and finishing five-over par at the Cadillac Championship in March.
McIlroy is putting extra pressure on himself coming into the tournament, telling Iain Carter of BBC.com he plans on becoming a dominant force like Woods.
You are getting so many different winners and there are not as many guys dominating the sport like in the past with Tiger, Vijay and Phil.
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.
It's also dangerous for McIlroy to put the onus on his shoulders at the sight of his greatest meltdown with an 80 on Sunday in 2011 after taking a lead into the final round. He hasn't finished higher than 15th in this event, including two consecutive finishes of 25 or lower.
It's fascinating to look at the trajectory of Sergio Garcia's career, from hot-shot upstart running on the course against Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship in 1999 to joke in the mid-2000s.
Now, we are watching a career renaissance for the 34-year-old. He has been fantastic, for the most part, in 2014 with four top-10 finishes and no missed cuts in six PGA Tour events. He's also got a win and a second-place finish on the European Tour.
The Masters has never been Garcia's favorite event, but an eighth-place finish last year proved he's capable of competing for the green jacket on the biggest stage golf has to offer.
Garcia's performance in the third round of the Shell Houston Open, when he held the lead after the second round, will bring back those concerns about him as a big-tournament performer. He shot 73, his first round over par of the tournament, and fell out of the lead.
As long as Garcia can stay out of his head long enough to allow his strengths an opportunity to play up, he will have a chance to win. Given the long track record of failure in events like this, it'd be foolish to count on it.
It's not often where the defending champion and co-favorite, based on odds, enters a tournament under the radar, but Adam Scott is so unassuming on the course that you almost forget he's there until you look at the leaderboard.
There's also a little more at stake for Scott at the Masters if he can manage to crack the top three, according to Alan Robinson, via Will Gray of GolfChannel.com.
Per OWGR guru @GolfARob, Adam Scott will need a two-way tie for third or better at the Masters to overtake Tiger at No. 1.— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) April 1, 2014
Scott seems tailor made for the Masters, showing accuracy and putting ability that is needed to avoid the one big mistake that can sink a player (see: McIlroy in 2011).
Kyle Porter of CBSSports.com wrote that Scott's average finish of 16th at Augusta since 2009 trails only Woods and Angel Cabrera.
Don't be surprised if Scott becomes the first back-to-back winner of the Masters since Woods in 2001-02.
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