Round 1 of the 2014 Masters is well underway at Augusta National Golf Club, and while there is a good mix of expected names and surprises near the top of the leaderboard, plenty of action is yet to come.
No golf tournament is won on Thursdays, but getting off to a good start and staying within striking distance of the leaders is of the utmost importance.
Building upon an impressive first round over the next three days is key, and plenty of talented players will have the opportunity to do precisely that.
Along with a look at the current leaderboard, here are some past Masters winners who are worth keeping an eye on in the first round and beyond.
Past Masters Winners to Watch
Bubba Watson has struggled to return to elite form since winning the Masters in 2012, but his 2014 season has been spectacular thus far. Aside from withdrawing from the Arnold Palmer Invitational after a first-round 83, Watson has arguably been playing the best golf of his career.
With five top-10 finishes and one victory in eight tournaments, Watson comes into the Masters with a lot of momentum. He already knows how to win at Augusta, and he has history on his side as well. According to PGA Tour Media on Twitter, an inordinate amount of lefties have donned the green jacket in recent years:
That may be happenstance more than anything, but it is certainly interesting to note. Watson has a lot working in his favor right now, and he has to be considered one of the top contenders in what looks to be an open field.
Watson's length off the tee gives him an advantage over most of the competition, and that will bear watching in the coming days.
Few golfers have had as much success at Augusta as Phil Mickelson. He is just one green jacket away from tying Tiger Woods' total of four, and there is little doubt that he will put himself in position to make a run at the win.
Lefty is almost always in the mix at the Masters, as evidenced by the following stat, courtesy of ESPN's John Buccigross:
First round of Masters on ESPN today. Since 2001, Phil Mickelson has won the Masters three times and finished in the Top 5 nine times.— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) April 10, 2014
While Mickelson isn't always able to seal the deal, all a golfer can ask for is an opportunity to do so. He admittedly hasn't had a great year, with no top-10 finishes in nine PGA Tour events, but Mickelson is the type of player who is able to turn it on during the important moments.
Mickelson is the best player in the world when he is playing his best, but it's impossible to predict how he'll perform. He is a streaky golfer, and if he has a hot streak at the Masters, he'll probably nab the fourth green jacket of his storied career.
Who is most likely to win the 2014 Masters?
Many people were shocked when South African Trevor Immelman captured the green jacket in 2008, but most figured it would signal the beginning of a surge to the top of the rankings. Unfortunately for Immelman, however, his Masters win has been viewed as catching lightning in a bottle.
Immelman hasn't won a PGA Tour event since, but a victory on the Buy.com Tour in September allowed him to keep his PGA Tour card for 2014. His performances have been up and down this year, although he did come through with an encouraging top-10 finish at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Even though Immelman has struggled in recent years, he believes he still has what it takes to compete at the highest level, according to Today's Golfer:
Despite the problems I have endured, I kept telling myself I had two things going for me. First, I'm only 34, and I've always believed golfers play their best between 30 and 45. Second, I've proven half-a-dozen times that I can beat the best players. Even at my lowest of lows, I knew that somewhere in there the ability is there. The fun part is going to be to try to get that to come out again.
Whether that ability comes through this week at Augusta remains to be seen, but Immelman is an interesting dark-horse contender. If he is in a good place mentally, then perhaps lightning will strike twice.
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