The 2014 Masters has begun, with a handful of golfers having already started their quest for a green jacket and plenty more set to tee off shortly.
While the opening round is undoubtedly important in setting the stage for a run to the championship, it is more interesting to try and predict who will be in contention on the final day.
Let’s take a look at the current scoreboard at Augusta National, followed by a look ahead to project which stars have the best chance of adding a major victory to their resume on Sunday.
*Tee times and groupings courtesy of CBS Sports
Dark Horse: Lee Westwood
Westwood has been lumped in with the final grouping and will not be teeing off on Thursday until 1:59 p.m. ET, but he’ll be an interesting golfer to keep an eye on during the next four rounds.
While the former No. 1-ranked golfer in the world has never won a major, he has recently done extremely well in Georgia during the first marquee tournament of the calendar year.
The Englishman has competed in the Masters every year since 1997 and his familiarity is clearly paying off. He finished within the top 11 in each of the past four years, including a third-place showing in 2012 and second-place outing in 2010.
He explained his comfort level with Augusta to the Nottingham Post: "I feel when I do drive up to the front gates I know the place very well and it’s a golf course where I can walk onto the first tee feeling comfortable with where I am. That’s shown in my results in recent years."
At the age of 40, there is no better time than now for Westwood to finally get the monkey off his back and break through to claim a signature victory in one of the sports’ most prestigious events.
The bookmakers (via OddsShark.com) have installed Westwood as a 40-1 long shot, and it may be worth backing this major-less star to finally pull one off.
He’s been on the verge of accomplishing this feat for years, and there is no better year than 2014, with its wide-open field, to get it done.
Favorite: Rory McIlroy
McIlroy is just about to get going, as the 24-year-old superstar is teeing off with two other youngsters—Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed—at 10:52 a.m. ET.
Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel pointed out just how young this trio is:
Grouping of Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth is combined only three years older than Tom Watson, the oldest player in the field.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) April 8, 2014
The youthful Irishman is looking to shake off a terrible 2013 season with a victory at the Masters, which would be a great way to get his career back on track. McIlroy hasn’t won a major since the 2012 PGA Championship but clearly has the chops to slip on a green jacket this weekend.
Rory has never had a finish inside the top 10 at this tournament, but that does not mean that he has performed poorly on the course. In fact, McIlroy has often done quite well at Augusta but has recently let one immensely poor round derail his chances.
A one-round meltdown occurred in each of his last three stabs at this championship, but the inexperienced golfer finally seems ready to stay consistent for four consecutive days.
How will Rory fare in this event?
McIlroy told Ewan Murray of The Guardian that he believes he will have a great finish this year due to the way he plays: “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..."
Some may be leery about betting on McIlroy at just 9-1 odds, but he’s clearly one of, if not, the most talented performers in the field and is definitely capable of earning his first green jacket in 2014.
|Third Place, Tie||Adam Scott|
|Third Place, Tie||Bubba Watson|
|Fourth Place||Lee Westwood|
|Fifth Place||Dustin Johnson|