Masters Picks 2014: Predictions for Rory McIlroy and PGA Favorites on Day 1

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2014

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 09:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits a shot during a practice round prior to the start of the 2014 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2014 in Augusta, Georgia.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
David Cannon/Getty Images

The weather is set to be gorgeous. The golfing goes on despite the absence of Tiger Woods. The green jacket hangs in the balance. The usual suspects return to try to earn it.

It's time for The Masters.

No matter who you like to win the tournament—I'm looking for Dustin Johnson to break through, personally—it's hard to win at Augusta National without a solid start. So let's break down how some of the top contenders will likely fare in the first round on Thursday.

Rory McIlroy is certainly one of the favorites, and he has a penchant for starting well. In his seven tournaments this year, he's finished above par in the first round just once (he shot a one-over 73 at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge).

And as McIlroy told Jeff Ritter of, he's coming into this week feeling good:

Mind, body, equipment, it's all there. It's all there. There's no excuses if I don't play well this week. So it's just a matter of managing my expectations, not getting ahead of myself, not thinking about Sunday when it's Friday afternoon. Just really keeping myself in the present and in the moment and trying to take it one shot at a time and hopefully those shots add up to about 270 and I walk away with a green jacket.

Look for McIlroy to get a strong start in his quest to finally earning a green jacket.

Last year's winner, Adam Scott, also generally opens with a bang. Last year he opened the tournament with a 69, and he's coming off an Arnold Palmer Invitational in which he started with a whopping first-round 62. 

How Phil Mickelson will perform is anyone's guess. Last year he opened with a 71. The year before, a 74. In 2011, he started with a 70. In 2010 (his third Masters win) he got out to a great start with a 67. Predictability has never exactly been Lefty's game, but he generally keeps himself in the running on Thursday at Augusta.

Dustin Johnson, a popular pick to win these Masters, is coming off a Shell Houston Open in which he shot an opening-round 80 and promptly withdrew. He shot above par in just one other tournament in the first round this year, however, so he should be right around par on Thursday.

He's also Matt Willis of ESPN's Eliminator pick, fitting the criteria common to recent winners at Augusta (he made last year's cut, he isn't European, he's over 25 but under 40, he made the cut in every major last year and he finished eighth or better in the previous World Golf Championship).

If you believe in such trends, Johnson shouldn't just start strong, he should win this thing.

Matt Kuchar has shot above par just twice this year in the first round and has stayed below par on Thursday at the Masters four years in a row. He may not be spectacular early on, but he should nestle in comfortably at one- or two-under to begin.

Brandt Snedeker is a combined five-under on the first day in the past three years, so a poor start from him would be surprising. Jason Day has generally opened well at Augusta as well, so he shouldn't shoot himself out of the running early on.

Henrik Stenson, however, shot a 75 on the first day last year, an 83 in 2011 and an 80 the year before that, so he'll have to fight the demons of slow starts at Augusta. It only takes one bad day at The Masters to ruin the entire tournament for a player.

Don't expect too many of those days from the top contenders, however.