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Saturday, March 29, 2014
Updated: March 31, 8:27 PM ET
Who holds title of Masters favorite?

ESPN.com

With the Masters quickly approaching, it's never too early to start talking about the year's first major.

Injuries are increasing. Questions are mounting. So what should we expect when the best players in the world show up at Augusta National?

Our scribes dive into those topics and more in the latest edition of Four-Ball.

1. Which top-five player in the world rankings has the best shot to win the Masters?

Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf analyst: Is "none of the above" an option? Three of the five are questionable because of injury, leaving Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson to choose from. Stenson is trending the best right now, so I'll take him.

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: At fourth in the world, Jason Day is the only player in the top five with a victory this season on the PGA Tour. Plus, Day has a tie for second and a third in his two appearances in the Masters.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Adam Scott. Despite his collapse at Bay Hill, he comes into the tournament with the best vibe and has a way of bouncing back from tough losses. Three of the other top five -- Tiger Woods, Jason Day and Phil Mickelson -- are questionable due to injuries. Henrik Stenson has never finished in the top 10 at the Masters in eight appearances.

Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: Adam Scott. A defending champion hasn't won at Augusta National since Tiger in 2002, but looking at the rest of the top five, Scott is probably the healthiest of the lot. That's not saying much, though, considering the Aussie didn't exactly overwhelm the field on the weekend at Bay Hill.

2. Give us two under-the-radar players we should keep our eyes on heading into the Masters?

Collins: This is a year when we could have another Mike Weir or Trevor Immelman type win. I say look at some first timers. Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 is the only true one since the tournament's early days, and it's about time someone else put his name on that list. Watch Harris English and Matt Every. Both guys are long enough for Augusta but have patient attitudes, which is essential on the greens.

Evans: Patrick Reed and Russell Henley had wins this year against two of the best fields at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and the Honda Classic, respectively. They both have Georgia roots and have recent good memories of performing well against the best players in the world.

Harig: Bill Haas and Ryan Moore. Both are top-level players who have not done much in 2014. But they have the games to compete at Augusta and have a minimum of four appearances between them. Neither has ever missed the cut at the Masters.

Maguire: Rickie Fowler and Graham DeLaet. The Canadian has been playing great this season, with five top-10s in nine starts and only one missed cut. He'll be a rookie at Augusta National, so don't expect too much, but you have to think 2003 Masters champ Mike Weir will give his compatriot a few inside tips, right? As for Fowler, he might be able to glean a few nuggets from his new swing coach, Butch Harmon, who coached a few Masters champions in his day (Tiger, Phil anyone?). That's not even getting into his familial connection to the green jacket.

3. The final threesome at the Valero Texas Open shot a combined 10 over on Sunday. What happened?

Collins: That's what happens when you take an already tough course and throw in wind from a new direction the players hadn't seen before. Yes, these guys are good, but they ain't superheroes.

Evans: The bad play was a combination of the course being very hard and there not being many great, proven stars on the leaderboard, with the exception of Matt Kuchar. No offense to the winner, but Steve Bowditch's final-round 76 should not have been enough to win a PGA Tour event.

Harig: Final-round nerves were part of it, but this seemed more about a tough course on a difficult day. The Oaks Course in San Antonio is not easy to begin with. Add in wind and it became quite the challenge. That's how you have a guy win with a final-round 76. It didn't even appear that Steve Bowditch played that poorly. It was just a hard day.

Maguire: Money happened. Sure, the Texas winds don't make things easy, but when you have two guys who have never won on the PGA Tour before in Steven Bowditch and Andrew Loupe, they are going to take a little longer when they get over shots. Plus, simply swinging the club that often just takes more time.

4. Thumbs up or thumbs down to how the Shell Houston Open sets up its course to try to replicate the conditions of Augusta National?

Collins: Thumbs way up. Since they started to do that, look at how the strength of the field has gotten better and better over the years. I remember caddying there and the tournament director would be pulling guys off the street to come play. Not anymore.

Evans: The Houston Open has reimagined itself by turning its venue, the Redstone Club, into a primer for the Masters. Players have responded to the gimmick by showing up to prepare for Augusta. Yet, both the players and the tournament know that nothing can fully illustrate the complexities of Augusta National. Because it's more than just the golf course; it's the fact that it's the Masters and everything that goes with its place in history.

Harig: Thumbs up. The week prior to a major championship can be a brutal date, so the Shell Houston Open people have done a great job to try to cater their event to those who are playing the next week at the Masters. Houston is not Augusta, Ga., but they shave down the banks, don't grow a lot of rough and do all they can to try to approximate conditions. It's a great idea.

Maguire: Big thumbs up. No one will mistake this week's PGA Tour event for the Masters, but the fact that the Shell Houston Open found a niche in the ever-shrinking schedule of the PGA Tour goes to show that with a little creativity events can still stand out on their own.