Rory McIlroy and Top Contenders to Watch at 2014 Masters

Steven Cook@@stevencookinFeatured Columnist IVApril 7, 2014

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland tees off on the fourth hole during the final round of the Cadillac Championship golf tournament Sunday, March 9, 2014, in Doral, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky

No Tiger Woods, no problem, right? 

Well, maybe not. The 2014 Masters may not be everything that the 2013 version was without the 14-time major winner competing to end his now five-year drought.

But that doesn't mean this year's field is short on talent—by any means. 

From former Masters champions looking to add another green jacket, to today's stars hoping to notch their first, or simply an unheralded golfer shaking up the field, there is plenty to watch for throughout the weekend. But the attention always tends to start and end at a short list of contenders marked as favorites, and this year is no different. 

Let's break down the golfers who will be the top contenders to keep an eye on at the 2014 Masters. 

Adam Scott

Chris O'Meara

One year removed from becoming the first Australian to ever don the green jacket, Adam Scott is back for more. 

And if he adds a second green jacket over the weekend, it will make him the world's top-ranked golfer over Woods according to the Augusta Chronicle:

Scott had made his name synonymous with late-major flameouts before his epic playoff victory over Angel Cabrera at the 2013 Masters. But perhaps just as impressive as his major win was the form he closed out the year in.

The 33-year-old did finish tied for 45th in the U.S. Open. But he bounced back in a huge way at the British Open, where he entered the final round back-nine with a lead before relinquishing it and finishing in third place. Scott then finished tied for fifth at the PGA Championship—the year's final major. 

Scott didn't have a perfect 2013, but it's tough to find anyone who had a better one. And his ability to avoid falling off after winning his first major (see: Bubba Watson) proves that he will be around in 2014 as well.

Phil Mickelson

Patric Schneider

It's not looking like injuries will keep Phil Mickelson from competing for his fourth green jacket this weekend.

Mickelson had to withdraw from the Texas Open in late March with a pulled muscle, and that put his status for the Masters in limbo right as the news of Woods' absence was getting out.

But crisis averted—Mickelson played at the Shell Houston Open in his Masters tune-up last weekend and finished in a tie for 12th place at seven under par.

If his play over the weekend, including shots like this per PGA Tour on Twitter, are around, he will be just fine:

It's no secret that Mickelson's short game is among the best in the world, and he can work wonders on slow greens with his irons. But there's no doubt the 43-year-old's health will be the biggest factor as he gears up for the weekend's 72-hole adventure. 

Jason Day

Charlie Riedel

Pencil in Jason Day among the young stars of golf who are due to win a major. 

The 26-year-old has been in serious contention during major weekends more times than you can count on two hands. If it's Sunday of a major tournament, Day's name is typically there. 

But he hasn't yet won one, despite finishing in second at the U.S. Open in 2011 and 2013 and finishing in the top 10 of two of last year's four majors. 

Not mentioning Day among the top favorites in this year's Masters would be blatantly ignoring all of the dominance the Australian has shown over the last three years. No name has been more involved with the top of a major tournament leaderboard than Day, and it's about time that the odds reflect that. 

Rory McIlroy

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 07:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits ball on the practice range during a practice round prior to the start of the 2014 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2014 in Augusta, Georgia.  (Photo by Andrew Redin
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

There are other contenders who, unlike Rory McIlroy, have won at Augusta. There are others who have proven to be better bets in major tournaments over the last few years.

But with Woods out, nobody will be talked about more than the Northern Irish star.

McIlroy has been quiet so far in 2014 heading into the Masters but showcased his brilliance at the most important time—right before the tournament. In the final round of his tune-up at the Shell Houston Open, McIlroy finished with a round of 65.  

But it's unclear which McIlroy will show up. If the McIlroy who won the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship shows up, there's no use in playing golf Sunday—McIlroy will have already wrapped it up. But if the McIlroy of 2013 shows up, he might not turn any heads all weekend long.

One thing is certain—with no Tiger Woods, the world of golf needs Rory McIlroy to at least show up in Augusta this weekend. 


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