Because Tiger Woods has already been tabbed the favorite and needs no more analysis, and Billy Payne’s aim as chairman of Augusta National is to grow the game globally, here’s each continent’s best chance to put on the famed Green Jacket that comes with winning the Masters.
Masters played/cuts made: 17/12
Best finish: 2 (2001, ‘04)
Masters average: 72.04
2010 average: 69.17
Why he can win: The big South African seems to have finally gotten comfortable with his swing after years of frustration. He’s won back to back tournaments this season with two additional top-10s and two more top 25s. Before this season he had just one win in the previous five years, causing some to forget that Els already has three majors to his credit (two U.S. Opens, one British Open). He has six top-10 finishes at Augusta National.
Two to watch: Retief Goosen (South Africa), Rory Sabbatini (South Africa).
Masters played/cuts made: 3/1
Best finish: t-30 (2007)
Masters average: 74.67
2010 average: 70
Why he can win: After he beat Woods to win last year’s PGA Championship, who is to say the South Korean can’t win the Masters? He has one top-10 finish this season and three more top-25s. He’s dangerous because he’s long (292.4 yards per drive) and accurate (63.46% fairways hit) off the tee. Plus, he hits almost 70 percent of the greens in regulation.
One to watch: Ryuji Imada (Japan).
Masters played/cuts made: 5/4
Best finish: t-15 (2009)
Masters average: 72.94
2010 average: 70.06
Why he can win: When the Aussie can find the fairway, he’s a contender. Unfortunately, he’s finding the short grass just 54 percent of the time this year. But he can scramble (70% greens in regulation) and putt (28.63 putts per round). So, if he can find Augusta’s fairways, he could be among the leaders on Sunday. He’s also very tough against tough fields, posting two wins in World Golf events the past three years. He was one of the favorites to win the Masters three years ago on the basis of his U.S Open championship the previous summer, but crashed and burned with a third-round 81.
Two to watch: Robert Allenby, Marc Leishman.
Masters played/cuts made: 6/4
Best finish: t-6 (2004)
Masters average: 72.89
2010 average: 69.08
Why he can win: The Englishman is magic with the flatstick this year, averaging a third-best-on-Tour 1.703 strokes per hole. Because of that, he’s first in eagles and ninth in birdies. Augusta demands an all-around game, but those who can putt are in much better shape than those who can hit the ball 350 yards off the tee. He hasn’t won this year, but he has one second-place finish and three top-10s.
Three to watch: Ian Poulter (England), Luke Donald (England), Padraig Harrington (Ireland).
Masters played/cuts made: 13/9
Best finish: t-3 (2008)
Masters average: 72.81
2010 average: 71.05
Why he can win: Though his scoring average is higher than the tour’s (70.93), Cink knows what it takes to win majors after rallying to win the last year’s British Open.
His troubles this season can be traced a putting average of 29.68 per round, 130th on tour. However, he still has two top-10s this season. A Duluth resident and Georgia Tech grad, Cink gets the hometown edge over Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, who is ranked second in the world but has made the Masters cut just four times in 10 appearances.
Four to watch: Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk, Anthony Kim, Phil Mickelson.
Masters played/cuts made: 4/1
Best finish: t-13 (2009)
Master average: 74.63
2010 average: 69.36
Why he can win: The Colombian was never able to figure out Augusta National until last year. Now, the player nicknamed spiderman for the peculiar on-plane way he reads greens, could be among the leaders on Sunday because not only is he putting well (28.86 ppr) but he’s bombing the ball off the tee (297.7 ypd). He has one win, a third, another top 10 and a top 25 this year in the four events in which he’s made the cut. So, when he’s on, he’s on.
One to watch: Angel Cabrera (Argentina).