The 78th edition of the Masters Tournament will be held from April 10–13 at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. It is the first of golf’s four major championships in 2014. Over the past five years, only two players have won more than one major: Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and the United States’ Phil Mickelson. So it’s anything but set in stone as to who might come out on top this year at Augusta. Here are five players certainly expected to be in the running.
1. Adam Scott – Australia
The 33-year-old Australian won his first major championship in 2013, at this very tournament. Scott is currently ranked second in the world, behind Tiger Woods; another Green Jacket would put him at the top of the list. He is coming off a sub-par performance at the World Golf Championship – Cadillac Championship in Florida this past weekend, but the conditions on the recently renovated course combined with the poor weather, which delayed play, had the entire field frustrated with their play. The scoring average during the second round was 76, four above par. Scott started the season with two top ten finishes at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in Hawaii, look for him to take home the title again this year.
2. Phil Mickelson – United States
Mickelson is the most successful golfer hailing from the U.S. over the past five years, with his two major championship wins, and his consistency will keep him competitive at the Masters this year. He is currently ranked fifth in the world, and has five major wins in his career. Three of them have come at the Masters. Since 2000, Mickelson has finished outside of the top ten at the Masters just three times. Needless to say, he is comfortable at Augusta. Known as one of the biggest risk takers with his playing style, expect Mickelson to put on a show at his favorite tournament. His 2013 victory at The Open Championship was an impressive showing. Expect him to pick up where he left off last season.
3. Henrik Stenson – Sweden
Perhaps 2013 was a fluke year for Stenson, but you can argue that no golfer was more consistent than the 37-year-old Swede last year. Consistency, however, did not lead Stenson to a major championship. It earned him a third place world ranking — and a boatload of expectations heading into 2014. Picking up that coveted first major championship win isn’t going to be easy, but his second-place finish at The Open Championship in 2013 and a third place finish at the 2013 PGA Championship (two of the four major championships) were promising signs that he might be ready to win one this year. Stenson likely won’t win the Green Jacket, but his name will float around the top of the leaderboard through all four rounds.
4. Bubba Watson – United States
Bubba Watson has one career championship title to his name, and it came in Augusta in 2012. Watson is enjoying great form of late, coming in at three-under-par at the WGC-Cadillac Championship — he was one of only three golfers to shoot under par at the tournament. In February, Watson won the Northern Trust Open and finished second at the Phoenix Open the week before. He is among the top five 2014 money and point leaders and has the best drive in the sport with an average of 318.63 yards per drive. No player is in a better groove than Watson early in 2014, and winning a second Green Jacket would put him permanently on the golf map and likely move him into the top ten of the World Golf Rankings.
5. Tiger Woods – United States
The world’s number one golfer hasn’t won a major championship since the U.S. Open in June of 2008. It’s incredible he has been able to maintain the top spot despite this fact, but a bad showing at Augusta could quickly end that run. Woods has been battling back issues and has withdrawn from a tournament already this season. He finished five-over-par and in 25th place at the WGC – Cadillac Championship this past weekend and was in pain by the final round Sunday. If Woods keeps playing through pain, it’s unknown how ready he will be for the Masters come April. If he takes off the rest of the month to let his ailing back heal, the same uncertainty presents itself. He doesn’t seem like he is capable of winning big tournaments anymore, but if he does, the sports world will run wild with it.
VISUAL CONTEXT: GRAND SLAM WINNERS OVER THE PAST FIVE YEARS