It's Masters time and there will be no Tiger roar around Augusta in 2014 with the news last week of Woods's withdrawal due to injury. Don't expect it to be any less boisterous though as we gear up for one of the more competitive of recent renewals. The top of the market is too close to call with Rory McIlroy (11.00), Phil Mickelson (13.00) and defending championship Adam Scott all vying for the favourite berth.
Adam Scott (12.00) will look to go back-to-back at Augusta and, with the wealth of knowledge and experience he and caddie Steve Williams now have between them, finish ahead of the Aussie and you may well be wearing the green jacket come Sunday. Throw Scott's major-orientated schedule and recent form - which included a 62 at Bay Hill - into the mix and add in the fact that he has the perfect game for Augusta, and he surely is the man to beat in the year's first major.
The course - Augusta National
Playing 7,435 yards in length to a par of 72, featuring tree-lined fairways with super-fast and firm greens, Augusta National is always in immaculate condition. Recent storms currently have conditions softer than the norm which could benefit approach play but with sub-air systems under the surfaces, they have the ability to keep the speed of the greens under control. Dog-legs right to left mean drawers of the ball have an advantage but length off the tee and a high trajectory from approaches is a concoction for success at the Masters. There will be a premium on holing out from the 5-10 ft range throughout the week. Look out for Amen Corner featuring Rae's Creek around the turn which can break a round.
Three from the pack
Matt Kuchar has been working on his driving of late and it's beginning to show; Kuchar challenged hard in both Texas events preceding The Masters and only a slam dunk into the water with his approach at 18 in Houston prevented him from clocking up win no. 8 on the PGA Tour. Matt's gone 4-2 in his last two outings and he'll be keen to go one better at Augusta where he's registered an eighth and a third place on his last two visits. 'Kooch' is one of the best scramblers and putters in the game, ranking 15th so far this season and he trades at 21.00 or 5.00 the place.
Another out for Augusta success is Henrik Stenson at 21.00 or 5.00 the place. The Swede comes to Augusta off the back of his most successful season ever after taking down both the Race To Dubai and The Playoffs, Stateside. Next on the radar is a big one and Stenson is eyeing up major success while quietly simmering on the form line. A fifth place finish at the fast and firm Bay Hill will have whetted his appetite and a top 20 here in 2013 will have Stenson feeling confident. Last year Henrik ranked 3rd in total driving and 1st in GIR% and he showed what he can do around Augusta in 2012 when -6 through 15 in round 1 - a round that included two eagles.
Charl Schwartzel has recently become a new dad and there's plenty of evidence to suggest that a new outlook and perspective comes to players with a recent addition to their families. Bill Haas said as much when he won the AT&T last year and a more relaxed Charl warmed up nicely with a top 10 in Houston on his return to competitive action. Again, Schwartzel has the game for Augusta, averaging 300 yards off the tee, excelling with the long irons and with the ability to destroy par fives in his armoury. Of course the South African is a former Masters winner and he's 41.00 or 9.00 for a repeat success.
Apart from being a debutant here, Jimmy Walker pretty much ticks every box when profiling a potential winner for Augusta. Jimmy owns the arguably required power draw from the tee and can launch it high with his short iron approaches, controlling the spin in the process. Walker can crush the long holes, ranking 9th in par five performance and sits 2nd in strokes gained putting. A 2nd round -7 at Shell implies he's ready for action this week and he trades at 67.00 or a generous 14.00 the top five.