1) Retief Goosen
Known as one of the best fast-green putters on the face of the planet, Goosen has finally re-found his game in 2010.
The Goose has five top-10 finishes in seven events this year and has finished outside of the top-20 at the Masters just once since 2002.
Key to victory: The short putts.
Goosen is an excellent lag putter and makes his fair share of putts from outside of 10 feet. However, like most players who have made the switch to a belly putter, Goosen tends to struggle from five feet in.
Goosen must come out with a red hot putter if he hopes to contend this week at Augusta.
2) Steve Stricker
The guy can flat out play.
Stricker has won four events in the past 10 months, tied for sixth at the 2009 Masters, and is currently the second ranked player in the world.
Pressure had been a concern several years ago when it came to Steve Stricker, but he seems to have not only transformed his game, but also his nerves in recent years.
After all, not many guys can say that they’ve teamed up with Tiger Woods at the Presidents Cup and wind up carrying the team for two straight days.
Key to victory: The golf course.
Stricker plays a fairly low ball flight, doesn’t spin the ball much, and will be hitting a large number of long irons into Augusta National’s greens.
If the greens are soft and receptive, Stricker has as good a chance as anyone. If they are firm and fast, he could struggle in controlling his proximity to the hole.
3) Padraig Harrington
Yes, Harrington closed with a 77 in the final round at Houston last week. But as we have all learned in recent years, Harrington is a different guy when it comes to the majors.
You can count the players on one hand who have both the game and the mental strength to consistently contend at the majors, and Harrington certainly falls into that category.
Harrington has two top-10s at Augusta in the past three years, and he has the ability to work the ball right-to-left, which is a huge advantage at Augusta National.
Key to victory: Get in contention.
Any time Harrington is in contention at a major he has a legitimate shot at winning.
No matter how poorly he’s been playing prior to a major championship, if he is anywhere near the lead on Sunday, he has the ability and mental strength to climb his way up the leaderboard.
They say that the Masters doesn’t really start until the back nine on Sunday, which works out perfectly for Harrington who typically thrives on Sunday afternoons at the majors.
4) Jim Furyk
Furyk tied for 10th at the 2009 Masters and is coming off a win at the Transitions Championship just three weeks ago.
Most importantly, Furyk is tied for third on tour in putting average this season. As we all know, any potential Masters champion must be able to navigate Augusta National’s treacherous greens.
Key to victory: He must hit more greens in regulation.
Furyk currently ranks 119th on tour in GIR and ranks 101st in proximity to hole from 175-200 yards, which is a distance he will find himself hitting most of his approach shots from on par fours.
5) Lee Westwood
Westwood won the European Tour’s Race to Dubai last year and is currently ranked fourth in the World Golf Rankings.
Westwood hasn’t experienced much success at Augusta National, but this is a new and improved Westwood.
He hits the ball long, his putting has really come around in recent years, and he has a lot of experience contending for major championship titles over the past two years.
Key to winning: Fairways and greens.
Although Westwood is an excellent ball striker and a solid putter, his short game is poor at best.
If he starts missing greens, the difficult pitch shots Augusta National will leave him with could eat him alive. However, if he has a good ball striking week and hits a large number of greens in regulation, he could be in the mix come Sunday afternoon.
6) Ernie Els
An argument can certainly be made for Ernie El’s being the hottest golfer in the world right now.
But that’s precisely the problem; he may have peaked too early.
Els’ win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational was his second win in as many events. However, last week Els tied for 44th at the Shell Houston Open with a 74 in round two and a 75 in round three.
Between 2000 and 2004, Els racked up four consecutive top-10s at the Masters. But, he has failed to make the cut at Augusta since 2006.
Key to winning: Make the cut.
You can’t win a golf tournament if you don’t make the cut, which is something Els has had difficulty doing since the 2006 course modifications at Augusta National.
7) Tiger Woods
Ah, where do we begin?
Well, plain and simple, he’s Tiger Woods.
No matter what has transpired in his life over the past five months, you cannot simply forget the fact that Woods is, and has been for quite some time, a much better golfer than everyone else on tour.
Woods doesn’t even have to be at his best to win major championships.
The only reason why he’s ranked seventh on this list is because he has not played a competitive round of golf since last November.
Key to winning: Get off to a fast start.
The entire world will be watching as Woods tees off on Thursday afternoon. Any score of 74 or better in round one and Woods will be off and running.
However, if he cards something like a 77, it could be a shock to his system and a blow to his confidence.
Mickelson has been horribly inconsistent this year, there’s no question about that.
His ball striking is erratic and his forward press is not leading to nearly as many made putts as it did towards the end of the 2009 season.
That being said, Mickelson has always been a guy that can change things around in a matter of days, plus, he has always loved Augusta National.
Keys to victory: Stay under control
In recent weeks, Mickelson has been compounding errors with bad decisions which have led to additional errors.
To win any major, you must be able to put together four solid rounds of golf. If Mickelson is in contention on Sunday he’s got a shot. But the only way he’ll be able to do that is by staying calm, making smart decisions and keeping his tee shots at least in the vicinity of the fairway.
9) K.J. Choi
Choi has finished within the top 25 at five out of his first seven events in 2010.
Augusta is a ball striker’s golf course, and Choi is definitely a solid ball striker. Choi ranks 13th on tour in greens in regulation and fourth in proximity to hole.
Could we be looking at a second consecutive Asian major champion?
Key to victory: Find the fairway.
Choi’s driving distance is just average, which is a disadvantage on longer courses such as Augusta National.
However, Choi also ranks first on tour in proximity to hole from the fairway. When this guy finds the fairway he has the ability to pick off pins all day.
10) Paul Casey
Had Casey not withdrawn from last week’s Shell Houston Open due to a sore left shoulder, he would have without question ranked within the top five on this list.
If he’s completely healthy, Casey can contend this week; he’s finished inside of the top 20 at each of his last three appearances at the Masters.
Casey also plays a right-to-left ball flight which sets up perfectly for Augusta National’s numerous dog-leg left holes.
Key to victory: His trainer.
If Casey is able to work out the kinks in his shoulder muscle and swing the golf club freely this week, there’s no reason why he cannot contend come Sunday afternoon.
He is, after all, one of the best players in the world...when healthy.
For more Masters news, insight and analysis, check out The Tour Report .