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Wednesday, April 10, 2013
The Masters experts' picks


Each week of the season, our experts will share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows the track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who could take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.

This week's tournament: The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

Horse for the Course

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Tiger Woods
It's a close race in this category between Tiger and Phil Mickelson, but the 14-time major champion's record assault on Augusta National in 1997 spurred a metamorphosis of the venerable Alister MacKenzie layout that will be felt for generations.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Tiger Woods
Despite his poor performance a year ago (T-40), Woods has always found Augusta National to his liking. He has four victories overall and has been in the top six in six of the past seven years.

Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: Hunter Mahan
With so many past champions playing the Masters, the field is full of guys who know this track well. Conventional wisdom says pick Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson here, but I'm going in another direction. Mahan owns three top-12 Masters finishes, so expect another one this week.

Rick Reilly, ESPN.com national columnist: Matt Kuchar
The genial Georgian finished third last year and went lower nearly every day. He has played the Masters six times and never missed a cut. Hasn't missed a cut on tour this year, either. The Yellow Jacket is bound to win a green one, isn't he?

Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN.com national columnist: Phil Mickelson
By Lefty standards, Mickelson's performances have been up and down this season. But as soon as he drives down Magnolia Lane, Mickelson usually rediscovers his game. In the past 12 years, he has three wins and nine top-five finishes. Is that any good?

Birdie Buster


Farrell Evans: Keegan Bradley
The 2011 PGA championship winner is arguably the hottest player in the field with top-10s in his past four PGA Tour events.

Bob Harig: Martin Laird
The Scotsman became the first non-American to win on the PGA Tour this year, shooting a final-round 63 at the Valero Texas Open. The victory earned him the last spot in the Masters field.

Kevin Maguire: Keegan Bradley
Originally my pick to win earlier in the week, Bradley has got to be talking mentor Phil Mickelson's ear off to get every little morsel of information out of Lefty about Augusta National. I'd be stunned if Bradley didn't at least top-10 this week.

Rick Reilly: Brandt Snedeker
The man is No. 2 in greens hit, which is very helpful at Augusta. And he's No. 2 in scrambling for the times he doesn't hit the green, also handy among the dogwoods. His putter can get so hot his caddie can barely get it back in the bag. He made north of $14 million last year, so everything is paid for and the pressure is off. Would love to see that mop of hair at the Champions Dinner every year.

Gene Wojciechowski: Rory McIlroy
Smart move by Rors to add a last-minute trip to San Antonio. His second-place finish there shows that his game could be rounding into shape at the perfect time. Confidence level is high as he arrives in Augusta.

Super Sleeper

Farrell Evans: Sergio Garcia
After his meltdown here in 2012, Garcia needs assurance this week with a good performance that he has what it takes to win a major. Last year, a third-round 75 in the Masters left him bewildered and in dismay about the game's biggest events. If he can hold together emotionally over 72 holes, he might finally earn that first major title Sunday.

Bob Harig: Nicolas Colsaerts
First-timers don't win the Masters (it hasn't happened since 1979), but the Belgian has the long game to compete at Augusta National. If nothing else, it will be fun to watch how he navigates the course.

Kevin Maguire: Jason Day
The Aussie hasn't played well the past month or so, but in the only Masters in which he completed at least two rounds, Day finished T-2 in 2011. His all-around game suits Augusta National, and it wouldn't be surprising at all if he were the first man from Down Under to slip on a green jacket.

Rick Reilly: George Coetzee
OK, so you've never heard of him. Doesn't mean he can't go deep. The Tom Sawyer-looking South African is seventh in strokes gained-putting on the PGA Tour, which is all-important at Augusta National. He has played in five events this year and made the cut in all five. Hey, you did say "super," right?

Gene Wojciechowski: Nicolas Colsaerts
The Belgium Bomber has the power game needed at Augusta National. And if you saw him at the Ryder Cup in September, you know what he can do under pressure.

Winner

Farrell Evans: Phil Mickelson
Picking Tiger to win his fifth green jacket is perhaps the safest and smartest bet. But Mickelson is no slouch, either, around these hallowed grounds. The three-time Masters champion plays this tournament as if his whole life depends on it. Since 2000, the 42-year-old lefty has finished outside of the top 10 on only two occasions.

Bob Harig: Phil Mickelson
Lefty should have won his fourth green jacket last year, when two triple-bogeys got in the way and he still finished second. He has been tinkering, up and down, but all of that is good. It wouldn't be Phil otherwise.

Kevin Maguire: Jason Dufner
In 2010, Bubba Watson lost the PGA Championship in a playoff, then turned his game around and won the Masters less than two years later. Dufner lost the 2011 PGA in a playoff, so you see my logic, right? It's better than picking names out of a hat, I suppose.

Rick Reilly: Phil Mickelson
As Bones always says, "Augusta is Phil's playground. He just becomes a kid out here." When Mickelson is into it, he's as good as anybody. When it's his fifth Buick Open of the year, he shoots a lot of 72s. He would've won last year if he hadn't played the fourth hole like a blind gnu. I say he wins his fourth green jacket, tying Tiger and therefore driving the Buff Cablinasian crazy.

Gene Wojciechowski: Tiger Woods
My short list includes Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood. But like Ben Crenshaw once said, "I've got a feeling & " I'm taking Tiger Woods. His body of work in the past 13 months is too good to ignore. And you know how he feels about this place.