|ESPN.com: Masters 2012||[Print without images]|
|1. Tiger Woods||In the rise and rebirth of the dominance that once was Tiger, there is only one thing remaining for Woods to do to stand fully upright and roar: Win a major.
The symbolism of tying Jack Nicklaus with 73 wins and doing it at Augusta is almost too juicy for a scriptwriter to submit, but a fifth green jacket will send a message to all. "Everyone please be seated -- the second act is starting!"
|Win, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2005|
|2. Rory McIlroy||He started off last year on the PGA Tour 17th, 70th and 10th. This year he comes into Masters week with this resume: 2nd, Win, 3rd. For the first time in a long time, we might be set up to see a legitimate challenge to Tiger's dominance over the world of golf. Some guys say they want to be world No. 1, but when they find out what goes along with it, they don't want it as badly. Rory wants it, badly.
Now with a chance for redemption against the backdrop of the first major that slipped through his grasp, this time there is a man who will stand in his way.
|3. Luke Donald||Hey Luke, you want to be player of the year? OK, but you have to play Disney and beat Webb Simpson to take the money title. Check. Hey Luke, Rory just took the No. 1 ranking from you. You want it back? OK, but you have to win in Tampa. Check.
Every time he has to win, he does. And he doesn't do it in a flashy, showboat way. He's like a boxer who just pounds the body for 10 rounds and we all wonder, "Why is that other guy laying in the corner being counted out by the ref? I don't remember seeing him get punched in the jaw."
|4. Lee Westwood||I'm starting to think he should just start playing golf in ugly dresses with poofy shoulders, or maybe put a call in to Colin Montgomerie just to ask what it's like being a bridesmaid so much. For Westwood, every start of a major has to be in some sense, "I wonder how I lose this one? Anybody got Greg Norman's number?"
You wonder how many beat downs it'll take before he just stops coming back and even trying. I truly believe someday Westwood is going to get his major. He just has to remember that success means getting up one more time than you fall.
|5. Nick Watney||This is the epitome of Teddy Roosevelt American golf. Speak softly and carry a big, bada-- golf game. One of Butch Harmon's prized pupils, it's his putter that, when it's on, gets him paid.
We know the emphasis on putting at Augusta, and now that he's had a chance to be on these greens for a few tournaments, it's time for him to let that hot putter enjoy itself around Magnolia Lane.
|6. Adam Scott||I have an idea. Bring the caddie from New Zealand who has won the Masters three times with a guy named Woods. It worked for you at the Bridgestone. Notice, too, that you're the first guy on the list using a long putter with a legitimate chance at winning.
Of course if you do find a way to find bring a green jacket to Australia, the Masters might decide on its own that it won't allow long putters for the tournament anymore. At least you'd have gotten yours!
|7. Jason Day||This guy has second place in majors tattooed on his glove hand. OK, maybe not really, but he should after back-to-back runner-up finishes at the Masters and U.S. Open last year. At 24, he doesn't have a ceiling anyone can see and given his performance last year, I would hope they at least know his jacket size, just in case.
If anyone in the top 10 slips coming down the stretch, do not be surprised if it's this young Aussie who is the first to bring the green jacket home to the dingos.
|8. Phil Mickelson||I said it before and I'll say it again. No matter how bad he might be hitting the ball coming to Augusta, something magical happens when Phil makes that drive down Magnolia Lane. I believe if they made him play right-handed, he'd still find a way to finish inside the top 10.
Ironically enough, now that the tournament the week before is played outside Georgia, it's almost better if he doesn't win or even play well.
|Win, 2004, 2006, 2010|
|9. Angel Cabrera||He's got one green jacket in his closet already, but like Arnold Palmer, he hasn't won anything since he quit smoking. I can't lie, there's a part of me that wants to stand on the first tee with a pack and say, "Here, just this week." Most ducks (his nickname in Spanish is El Pato) also don't need a dental plan, but two years worth of implants and surgeries have taken their toll on the Argentine.
But remember, Augusta is a special place that for some, including Cabrera, has a magical healing power. OK, you're right -- leave the smokes at the store.
|10. Hunter Mahan||What part of his game did he have the least amount of confidence in? His short game, but that was until last week. So why would I say he's going to finish 10th at a course that demands touch around the greens if you miss them? Because one good chipping week is not a trend, and he's going lead the field in greens in regulation, that's how!
Hit it long enough off the tee, and don't be afraid of a couple of 50-foot 3-putts. Remember he won earlier this year (Match Play) on a course that had greens with sections and undulations the first year they played there that were considered much more severe than Augusta.
|11. Sergio Garcia||Going back to 2011 he's 20-for-21 in cuts made and has almost $2 million in the bank. That's what happens when you walk away from the game to allow yourself to miss it, need it, love it again. No wonder he never has been married. Smart guy.
Just kidding, honey (my wife is not going to think that was funny). Anyway, in 13 trips to Augusta and only two top-10s in '02 and '04, there's nothing else inside the top 25. But a new attitude, especially on the greens, will change all of that this year.
|12. Charl Schwartzel||Nicklaus, Faldo, Woods. They are the only men to defend the Masters championship. Now I could sit here and feed y'all a bunch of bull about how Charl could buck the trend just like he did last year.
And how he won the Masters in a way that never was done before, and in doing so he should be considered to have a legitimate chance of accomplishing what only those three men named earlier have done. But I won't do that because I don't believe in bull.
|13. Justin Rose||Giving coach Sean Foley win No. 2 of the 2012 season at the Cadillac Championship (Hunter Mahan was No. 1), in his last four starts, the Englishman has a 5th, a win, a 29th, and a 15th.
Every golfer wants consistency in his game and boy, does Justin have it. Making his seventh start at the Masters, he hasn't missed a cut. Of course if he does this year& my bad!! But I really don't see him finishing outside the top 15.
|14. Martin Laird||It's been a bit of a roller coaster ride this year for Laird, starting with his solo second at the first tournament of the year. He got progressively worse until a missed cut at the Northern Trust Open was followed up by a tie for fifth at the Match Play.
He's got the game to succeed at the Masters. The question this year apparently is, will the real Martin Laird please stand up?
|15. Bo Van Pelt||A tie for eighth last year in his first Masters appearance is proof positive that having a laid-back attitude, in which things that would make most golfers snap and break a club, allow things to flow off Bo with a laugh and a snide funny comment.
That same attitude is what gives him the ability to stay in the moment of each shot, which is at a premium at Augusta.
|16. Graeme McDowell||Funny how you have to remind people that there was a U.S. Open winner from Northern Ireland before Rory McIlroy. I know, you remember Dustin Johnson's collapse at Pebble, but you forgot it was McDowell that won.
And this year in the three stroke-play events he's played on the PGA Tour, he hasn't finished outside the top 15. Just some food for thought when you look on the scoreboard and think, "why do I know that name Graeme McDowell?"
|17. Bill Haas||And you thought it would be hard to stay hungry after winning the FedEx Cup and more than $14 million combined last year. Nope. He's 8-for-8 in cuts made with a win at the Northern Trust Open.
Now in his third appearance at the Masters, expect big things from the man who is 24th in total driving and 26th in GIRs.
|18. K.J. Choi||It was always a goal of his to be the first Asian-born player to win a major, and as happy as he was for Y.E. Yang to win the PGA Championship in 2009, there was a little disappointment. There is still the fact that no Asian-born player has ever won the Masters, and this year he's got the best shot.
For K.J. it's going to come down to iron play. If he can find a way to get the long irons dialed in and can hit approach shots inside 20 feet, he'll have a chance.
|19. Webb Simpson||It just doesn't seem to make sense that this will be his first Masters, but that doesn't make it any less true. The good news for Simpson is the guy he trusts the most on the golf course and the guy whom he credits with helping him attain the most out of his golf game is carrying his golf bag. And that man, Paul Tesori, has plenty of Masters starts under his belt.
So when Tesori guides Simpson around the intricacies of the course, there will be enough experience in the group for both of them.
|20. Jason Dufner||It's becoming obvious that the more times he gets into contention, the more at home he's going to be. Dufner -- aka The Wonder Waggle -- is only making his second start at the Masters, but what he learned from his playoff loss at the PGA Championship has made his learning curve much shorter than most others.
His crisp iron play will serve him well this week even if his putter might prevent him from winning.
|21. Brandt Snedeker||Remember in 2008 how close he was to winning in his first trip to the Masters, only to finish third and break down in tears at the press conference when it hit him?
Made it hard not to root for the guy and even though this year he kind of backed into a win when Kyle Stanley threw up on his shoes at Torrey Pines on the 18th hole, I still expect Snedeker to have a strong showing as his comfort level at this course.
|22. Gary Woodland||The bomber with a new ball flight (a fade) and new coach (Butch Harmon) is still learning to completely trust his "new" swing. The funny thing is, Augusta is a place where he can have both the old (draw) and the new (fade).
For Woodland, it's going to come down to his short game.
|23. Rickie Fowler||I believe the return of Tiger might benefit this guy more than anyone else on tour because now the pressure is off this kid to "win now so you can be the new face of the tour."
Don't get it twisted, Fowler is going to be a multiple tour winner and barring injury will have a long career. And his imagination with shot making will make him fun to watch at Augusta.
|24. Ryo Ishikawa||If you read the "invitees" list, you'll notice there are numbers next to everyone's name, and those numbers correspond with how the player qualified to play in the Masters.
Ryo doesn't have a number by his name. That's because he was a special invite. Look, it's their tournament and they can invite whoever they want. At least with this kid, he's got the game to hang with the best in the world.
|25. Keegan Bradley||Factors against him: Already won a major in first appearance, already won first major with long putter and already lost in a playoff earlier this year. So for those people who expect him to overcome all of that again and to do it at Augusta, I think you might be asking a little too much.
Don't ask the homecoming queen out on a date, then ask her to drive, then ask her to pay for dinner, too. There's a good chance the date will not end well.
Michael Collins covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNcaddie@gmail.com.