The smell of fresh cut grass. Sounds of muted applause permeating through the course. The threat of Amen Corner looming for the world's greatest players.
Golf's finest stage has returned as the first major tournament of the year is set to take place yet again in Augusta, Ga., as the Masters tee off on Thursday afternoon.
As many already know, there will be no Tiger Woods. The No. 1 golfer in the world underwent surgery for a pinched nerve and will miss the Masters, per his official website. Woods spoke about the frustration of missing out on the tournament:
After attempting to get ready for the Masters, and failing to make the necessary progress, I decided, in consultation with my doctors, to have this procedure done.
... I'd like to express my disappointment to the Augusta National membership, staff, volunteers and patrons that I will not be at the Masters. It's a week that's very special to me. It also looks like I'll be forced to miss several upcoming tournaments to focus on my rehabilitation and getting healthy.
While there will be no Woods, much to the chagrin of golf fans, the stars will still be out in full force.
Names like Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson will grace Augusta National's legendary links along with young hopefuls like Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.
Then there's last year's winner Adam Scott and fan favorite Bubba Watson, who stymied the field with a miraculous shot to win it all in 2012. Both come in with great odds of winning and locks to contend in the first major.
Here's a look at some of the notable golfers in the field and their odds of taking the entire tournament.
* Odds for every golfer can be found at Vegas Insider.
|2014 Masters Odds|
No, McIlroy hasn't won an event since 2012 when he last claimed a major title at the PGA Championship. But he's on top of his game at the right time with the Masters on the horizon.
The 24-year-old nailed down a 65 in the final round of the Shell Houston Open on Sunday, navigating his way from out of contention on Saturday to tied for seventh place at the end.
McIlroy spoke about the momentum he hopes to take from the Shell Houston Open into the Masters, per Kyle Porter of CBS Sports (via Ryan Lavner of the Golf Channel): "I couldn't ask for much more heading into next week. ... I think it's important to finish well. I don't think there's any better way to prepare than getting yourself into contention and playing golf under pressure because that's ultimately what you want to do next week."
Not surprisingly, his recent string of great results now has him as the co-favorite for the Masters and in contention despite the fact that he's never finished better than 15th in the major.
Shane Bacon of Yahoo! Sports shares his thoughts on McIlroy following Sunday's performance:
Along with Tiger Woods, McIlroy is one of the most recognizable faces in the sport. With Woods on the shelf for the foreseeable future, McIlroy making a run and being in contention would be huge for the PGA Tour and the popularity of the sport in general.
After being in contention back in 2011 and blowing a four-stroke lead, McIlroy might still have a green jacket waiting for him in Augusta. Now it's his chance to take it.
With just one major tournament in hand, Scott isn't considered a favorite at every tournament quite like McIlroy, Woods or Phil Mickelson.
But after his win last season at Augusta, Scott is once again playing well heading into the first major of the year.
What seems more terrifying for the field is that Scott sounds more comfortable with the course after the Eisenhower Tree was removed following an ice storm in Georgia, as Steve DiMeglio of USA Today reports:
It looks good to me. It’s a little more open. It’s a nice look off the tee. ... It’s still a narrow fairway, especially where the driver finishes. It’s still a very demanding hole at the end of the round. We won’t know how it will play until we get the statistics, but it does look better off the tee, there is a little more room, but it’s still a very, very demanding hole.
At the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Scott pulled off a 10-under on the first day and eventually took a third-place finish. The Australian appears to be one of the best coming into the tournament and has a shot to contend with McIlroy and the rest of the field for the green jacket at the Masters.
The results for Mickelson have been a mixed bag in 2014, to say the least.
Lefty has been cut in three tournaments and finished inside the top 20 in three others. But even through the struggles that he's experienced thus far, Mickelson still comes into the Masters after a good showing in the Houston Open after a 12th-place result.
Oh, then there's the fact that Mickelson already has three green jackets in his closet. Porter mentions his overall success and thoughts on how Lefty will finish at Augusta National:
He just contends at this place. He has only finished outside the top 10 three times since 1998. With his primary career foil out with a back injury, you have to think Mickelson's mind is freed up to take aim at a fourth win.
Plus, that even-numbered-year stat I mentioned above is quite compelling from a gambling standpoint. I know it has zero bearing on the outcome of this year's tournament but it's still hard to ignore.
Though the 43-year-old hasn't finished inside the top 10 this season, he is extremely experienced on the course and also has the confidence that he can win it all.
Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter. His driving range game is legendary.