One of the best things about golf right now is there's not one dominant force running over everything, leaving the 2014 Masters open for the taking.
Sure, there may not be the same air around the sport with Tiger Woods out of commission, but we are still talking about the preeminent major tournament of the year and all the pageantry that comes with it.
Augusta has a way of making legends, instead of the other way around, so everyone wants to put their best foot forward.
Some are better equipped than others to do that, especially with so much depth and parity all around the sport, so trying to narrow down favorites is an impossible task. There are, however, ways to project who is in line for a green jacket and who will walk home empty-handed.
Best: Rory McIlroy
Which player needs a win at Augusta the most?
One of these years, McIlroy is going to put it all together and walk out of Augusta with a green jacket. It almost happened in 2011, but a disastrous 80 on Sunday ruined that dream.
Last year, despite finishing 25th, McIlroy did have a lot of positives to take away from his performance. He shot par or better in three of the four rounds, only falling out of contention thanks to a 79 on Saturday.
If you are noticing a pattern, it's because the 24-year-old has one. He's usually fantastic for three rounds at Augusta, but there's one bad day that completely obliterates all of the goodwill built up.
Now the young Irishman knows what not to do on this course. He also appears to be hitting his stride after posting a 65 in the final round of last week's Shell Houston Open. All the stars are aligned for McIlroy to have a huge weekend, and he will finally put it all together for four rounds.
Worst: Phil Mickelson
At this point, it's almost easier to predict that Phil Mickelson will fall on his face. He's been so erratic this season—zero top-10 finishes in nine PGA events—that the idea of everything suddenly coming together at a course like Augusta is no more than wishful thinking.
An oblique injury has also compounded problems for Mickelson this season, though he told Kevin Garside of The Independent that it's not an issue anymore:
I feel a lot better. I travel with a light therapy machine, and I got on it right away. I think that made a world of difference as far as expediting the healing process to where it doesn't hurt any more. It just feels sore like I was working out, as opposed to kind of a painful experience.
Some aspects of the course play into Lefty's favor, especially the length. Mickelson wants to hit the ball as hard and far as he possibly can off the tee, but accuracy has always been a weakness for him.
Just look at Mickelson's numbers last week at the Shell Houston Open when he hit 52.4 percent of fairways. Playing in the rough stuff at Augusta is the easiest way to fall out of contention in a hurry.
Bonus Best: Matt Kuchar
If you are looking for a sleeper candidate to win the Masters, Matt Kuchar is the man for you. He's coming off a brilliant showing at the Shell Houston Open, finishing at 15-under par and losing to Matt Jones on the first playoff hole.
In addition to that near-triumph, Kuchar has been one of the most consistent players on tour this year. He's got six top-10 finishes in nine PGA events leading up to the Masters, including the last two tournaments.
Adam Schupak of GolfWeek.com raved about Kuchar's chances to win a green jacket at Augusta this weekend:
It was a tough playoff defeat at the hands of Matt Jones, but all will be forgotten on April 13 when Kuchar slips into his first green jacket. Remember, he had a great shot at the 2012 title until he bogeyed the 16th Sunday. More than anything, Kuchar’s recent form is why he’s my pick. He nearly won the last two Tour events and has five top-10 finishes in his last nine starts.
With 25/1 odds, according to Vegas Insider, Kuchar is a great value selection. His stock is clearly on the rise, he's had success at the Masters before even without a victory with back-to-back top-10 finishes, and he enters the tournament on a roll.
Sometimes momentum is all a player needs to end up on top.
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