While you munch on your freshly-made, Masters-inspired pimento cheese sandwich, here's a quick look at some of the players who may make some noise come next Sunday on the back nine at the Augusta National Golf Club:
We are single-digit days away from the first round of the 2010 Masters, the first major of the year, the harbinger of spring and golf's ultimate pictorial showcase. It is a special place for those fortunate to visit golf's southern cathedral during this amazing week. This will be the focal point of the sports world, more so than usual as it also marks the return to action of the top-ranked player in the sport.
For your inspection, these players should contend and perhaps one will slip on the green jacket:
Ernie Els: has to be a favorite. He has resurrected his game with reliable ball-striking and has re-discovered the putting stroke that won him three majors. Ernie badly wants this one, but has shown nerves down the stretch at both Doral and Bay Hill (but still managed to win both).
Paddy Harrington : Steady performer in the majors and has his game in order after making swing changes last year.
Phil Mickelson: Lefty needs to pick up his game. He's been awful the past few weeks. He can't find fairways and his putting has been unreliable at best.
Steve Stricker: Has the game, the patience and the shot-making ability to win. He is an extraordinary putter and that goes a long way at Augusta.
Jim Furyk: He switched to a Scotty Cameron putter, ditched the mallet and promptly ended his victory drought two weeks ago at Innisbrook. He's ready.
Mike Weir: He's been hanging around and his game looks sound enough for him to be a factor.
Lee Westwood: He's feeling the pressure to contend and needs to contend. He's been unfortunate at Augusta and needs to make a statement.
Ian Poulter: Has to be the foreign player with the best chance to contend. He's playing well but needs to putt well, a recurring theme at Augusta.
Paul Casey: Has the game, needs to step up and and get in the hunt on Sunday.
Fred Couples : Why not? He's Tom Watson's pick to win. As Watson said, "winning breeds winning" and no one on any tour has been as impressive as Freddie. He's gone to a draw, a shot that is preferred at Augusta. He's been riding a cart on the Champions Tour so we'll have to see how he holds up for four rounds on that amazingly hilly Augusta layout.
Ross Fisher: Watch out for this guy!
Dustin Johnson: Won at Pebble, has amazing length and putts well enough. Can he stand up to the heat if he's in contention on Sunday.
Eldrick Woods: Story of the week, month, year, all the time. There's been such a firestorm around him. Hasn't played, not sure if he's tournament tough. He can get near the top without his A-game but it would be asking a lot for him to fire on all cylinders this week.
Kenny Perry: Blew his big chance last year, can't see him that close again.
Retief Goosen: Solid performer at Augusta, but no one has won this event with a non-conventional putting style and Goosen just doesn't look the same with the belly putter.
Henrik Stenson : You keep thinking this guy's gonna get in the hunt at a major but he's typically disappointing.
Geoff Ogilvy: Has the game and a really good short game. No excuse for him not to be the in hunt.
Zach Johnson: Needs to prove he's not a one-hit wonder.
Rory Sabbatini: Has the attitude and game to win but under pressure that funky swing can produce inconsistent results.
Angel Cabrera: Snuck in and stole the green jacket last year. A miracle par at 18 then simple pars in the playoff won it for him.
Robert Allenby: Good enough as a ball striker but doesn't putt well enough to win here.
Chad Campbell: You hardly even see him on television and there he was in the playoff last year. Not sure if his game is as sharp as it was this time last year but we'll soon see.
Steve Flesch: How does this guy keep threatening the lead come Sundays? He's always a surprise.
Camilo Villegas: Playing well, bold player, good striker of the ball but erratic at times.
Billy Haas: Love this kid's game. Good bloodlines, has the length, would love to see him in contention on Sunday.
Sergio Garcia: Time is running out on el Nino.
Ben Curtis: This guy disappears for entire seasons then suddenly he'll be in the hunt at a major, making every putt he looks at from 10 feet and in.
Davis Love III: Time is against him but he's been one the best, scoring average-wise at Augusta. Still has plenty of length, it's simply a putting thing, like everyone else.
Hunter Mahan: Has the talent and the game.
Sean O'Hair: Same as Mahan, but hasn't done much lately.
Martin Kaymer: Solid German star with a suspect putter under pressure.
Alvaro Quiros: Longer than long, but can he make the putts?
Nick Watney: Watched him practice at Innisbrook, he's really swinging well, has length and the game to contend.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO :
Y.E. Yang, Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover, Justin Rose and Shingo Katyama?