They say it's not how you start, but how you finish that counts. Nonetheless, the 97 players in this year's 2014 Masters field will be looking for a strong start this week.
The year's first major tournament, the 2014 Masters is set to tee off on Thursday morning and continue through Sunday evening at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. With weather conditions expected to be near perfect throughout the event, there's a buzz in the air.
Still, it'll be the first Masters since 1994 that won't include Tiger Woods. With the four-time winner set to sit out for the first time in his career following back surgery, defending champion Adam Scott enters as the favorite to claim the green jacket for a second time.
But three-time champion Phil Mickelson and young guns Rory McIlroy and Jason Day are each threats to win as well.
With Round 1 set to get underway, let's take a look at my Day 1 projections for the entire field at Augusta as well as a breakdown of the tournament favorites.
|T40||Miguel Angel Jimenez||E||72|
|T40||Brendon De Jonge||E||72|
|T86||Chang Woo Lee||+8||80|
|T86||Jose Maria Olazabal||+8||81|
Past champions are highlighted.
*Below scores are projections only.
Adam Scott (-5)
Up until recently, Scott had struggled at the Masters, going eight years without a single top-10 finish from 2003 through 2010. But after tying for second in 2011 and tying for eighth in 2012, Scott took the final step in 2013, defeating Angel Cabrera in a playoff to secure his first major win.
Therefore, you can expect Scott to be in the mix come Sunday's final round.
On Thursday, Scott will be grouped with Jason Dufner and Matthew Fitzpatrick and is scheduled to tee off shortly after 10:40 a.m. ET. With excellent conditions on tap for Round 1, expect Scott to work his way up the leaderboard on Day 1.
The Australian star shot a three-under 69 to begin play in 2013 and has clearly figured out this course over the past three years.
Rory McIlroy (-3)
Despite boasting two major titles and seven top-10 finishes at majors since 2009, McIlroy has always struggled to play his best golf at Augusta National, where he's never finished better than 15th.
McIlroy missed the cut in 2010 and is coming off a 25th-place finish in 2013. Although many consider him a favorite to win his first green jacket, recent history tells a different story.
McIlroy talked about his struggles at the Masters leading up to this year's tournament, expressing his desire to turn things around, per The Guardian's Ewan Murray:
I'd be disappointed if I ended my career and wasn't able to go up and have breakfast in the champions' locker room. The way I play golf, the way my game is, Augusta does set up well for me. And for me not to have a top-10 coming into my sixth Masters …
The 24-year-old will tee off with Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed on Thursday morning immediately following Scott's group. But even if McIlroy starts fast on Day 1, he'll have to exorcise some serious demons through Sunday in order to achieve his goal.
Phil Mickelson (-2)
Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson loves Augusta National, or at least his game does.
Which top contender has the best shot to win in 2014?
After all, Lefty has a dozen top-10 finishes at this tournament over the past 15 years, including three victories since 2004. However, following a 54th-place finish a year ago—his worst since he missed the cut in 1997—there's no guarantee the 43-year-old will be in the mix come Sunday.
Plus, with a strained oblique muscle forcing him to withdraw from the Texas Open last month, it remains to be seen just how healthy Mickelson will be from start to finish this week.
But with Monday's rain saturating the course, the experienced Mickelson, who will tee off shortly before 2 p.m. ET with Ernie Els and Justin Rose, should turn in a decent first-round score on Thursday.
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