We're fewer than 24 hours away from the start of the 2013 Masters, and Tiger Woods will begin as the No. 1 player in the world for the first time in two years. The anticipation of a Tiger victory is at an all-time high as fans and media want to validate the "back" narrative. Here are some of the predictions for Tiger and the rest of the field this week from the golf staffers at SB Nation:
Who is your darkhorse pick? (ideally odds that are 50/1 or lower)
Adam Fonseca: Graeme McDowell should never be considered a darkhorse in any tournament, but he's never cracked the top-ten at Augusta. If he can find about ten yards off the tee somehow this week he very well could be right there on Sunday.
Brendan Porath: I'll go with Peter Hanson, who is currently 75/1 to win it. Hanson was the 54-hole leader last year, and is coming off a final round 66 in San Antonio last week. The Swede has played in the biggest events with the biggest crowds throughout his career, and has taken up residence inside the top 25 in the world. But it's only his third Masters appearance, and he's not a name most golf fans, let alone casual observers, know at all so he's my darkhorse pick to be in contention on Sunday.
Hart Van Santvoord: Not quite 50/1 but, at 40/1, Ian Poulter should make some noise this week. He has had a solid start to 2013, is an excellent putter and looks ready to start competing regularly in the majors.
Emily Kay: I'll take Keegan Bradley and his soon-to-be obsolete anchored putting stroke. Bradley has chalked up four-straight top tens after a so-so start to the season and, though he recently told Golf.com he still views Augusta as "magical," he is not the "star-struck" Masters rookie he was when he finished 27th last year. Plus, he has gleaned a ton of institutional knowledge playing practice rounds with his mentor Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els.
Which big name, or names, will flame out or miss the weekend?
Adam: I would say the surprising missed-cut for this year will be Phil Mickelson. He hasn't played a competitive round in 11 days and has already expressed his nervousness and a lack of confidence heading in to Thursday.
Brendan: I'll go with Louis Oosthuizen. It's a big name to throw out there, and he's someone I had listed among the top-five favorites to win at the start of the year, but I didn't like the sight of Oosthuizen working on an achy back on the range on Tuesday. It was hot and humid and Oosty looked to be struggling to get loose. Aside from that concern, he's been up-and-down all year, missing cuts and losing the consistency that he acquired with the sweetest swing in the game. I'll take last year's playoff loser to Bubba as my early departure, but I also think Luke Donald will miss the weekend.
Hart: Unfortunately, Martin Kaymer won't reach the heights of his "skip it" ace on No. 16 last year and will fail to make the weekend. Luke Donald will win the par 3 and, thus, render himself a non-factor at the weekend.
Will Tianlang Guan make the cut?
Adam: Tianlang Guan will not make cut.
Brendan: The 14-year old will not make it through to the weekend. It's an incredible feat to even make it to Augusta, but like Andy Zhang at last year's U.S. Open, Tianlang will (understandably) struggle on the Augusta greens and probably card a few big numbers that hurt his chances.
Which rookie will have the best showing?
Adam: Scott Piercy will be the low rookie. (Piercy also spoke with SB Nation at the start of the week, discussing his first ever trip to Augusta National.)
Hart: Nicolas Colsaerts has the game to succeed at Augusta. He bombs the ball off the tee and, if he putts half as well as he did at the Ryder Cup at Medina last fall, he'll enjoy his time on the greens.
Brendan: I loved Piercy at the start of the week, but then those pairings came out on Tuesday. The Masters rookie will be making his first loop around the course in front of the largest and most chaotic galleries he's ever played in front of with Tiger Woods marches at his side. So I will stay away from Piercy, and opt for Thorbjørn Olesen, the best name in the field. Olesen's given name alone will scare off anyone, but Thorbjørn is a top-50 player who is capable of getting on a birdie run and going low at Augusta.
Will Phil Mickelson have a triple bogey or worse?
Brendan: Of course, it's Phil and it will happen at some point in those 72 holes. Let's just hope he gets it out of the way early so we don't have to use the Benny Hill music on Sunday this year.
Adam: Nope! He will not make a triple bogey.
Hart: Yes. And then he'll smile and give a thumbs up as he walks off the green.
What will be the winning score?
Hart: 15-under, 273 will win the 2013 Masters. The way Tiger is playing this year it's going to take a special week to compete for the green jacket.
Adam: Depending on the weather, we should see a winning score around 10-under. If the grounds stay soft, scores will go even lower.
Brendan: Indeed, all about the weather with this one. I think the winner will end at 12-under, but if those storms do roll in early in the tournament (looking less likely now), that should move to 15-under.
Expectations and finishing predictions for:
Hart: It's hard to count out Phil at Augusta. I think his success hinges on how Tiger plays. If Tiger is out of the picture, Phil could make a run for his fourth green jacket. With Tiger in the mix, I don't see it happening.
Emily: Lefty had last year's Masters in the win column but for costly jaunts through the jungle. As always, he'll be in the hunt, but Phil won't claw his way to the winner's circle this year.
Brendan: Like Tiger, the odds are greater that Phil will be there in the top ten on Sunday. He has finished inside the top ten 12 times since 1999, showing remarkable consistency at his favorite event. If it weren't for the blow-up early on Sunday last year, it's unlikely Bubba and Oosthuizen would have ever made it to a playoff and Phil would have walked off with his fourth green jacket. Mickelson said on Tuesday that he was "nervous" about his pre-tournament preparation, because he did not play the week before, which is his traditional preference. He's also screwing around with a new "Phrankenwood" off the tee, and might be over-thinking things just a touch. There will be plenty of birdies on his scorecard, but I think that will yield only another top-ten finish.
Brendan: Bubba has not won a tournament since the 2012 Masters, which isn't exactly the greatest concern. But he has not looked particularly strong since the career-defining shot and playoff victory, sort of checking out last summer after the win to spend time with his newly adopted son (again, understandable!). He has contended at a few smaller tournaments on Tour, but Bubba's been relatively quiet on the course since that win. This year has been a marked improvement, but it's been a busy week of reminiscing so far and I don't think he puts it together to defend. He'll finish around 25th in the field.
Emily: There will be no miracle shot from the trees or repeat for Caleb's daddy.
Hart: Bubba will make the cut, but won't be a factor come Sunday. He should have served Gator!
Hart: Rory will grind out a top ten this week. Even with all he has been through to start the year, he showed signs of his former self at Valero. He's too good to not be a factor at the weekend, though I'm not sure he's quite where he needs to be to compete for a major.
Emily: The boy wonder regained some if his confidence and looked far more comfortable with his swing last week in Texas. But for the other-worldly play of Martin Laird, the two-time major champ would likely have cadged his first win of the season and reclaimed the world's top ranking but his shaky putting means he'll leave Augusta empty-handed as well.
Brendan: It will be another middling 2013 showing for Rory, despite his encouraging finish last week in San Antonio. There are still too many questions about McIlroy's form, and his comfort-level with the new Nike equipment, even if he says they're a "part" of him. He'll exorcise the demons from the 2011 collapse someday, just not this year. I think he'll finish around 30th in the field.
Adam, Emily, Hart: See below.
Brendan: Tiger has finished inside the top six in seven of the past eight years, dating back to his last win in 2005. The T40 last year was his worst finish in his career at Augusta, but much has changed since then. Given his track record at this course and his recent form as undisputed best player in the world, Woods will absolutely be there on Sunday, playing in the last few groups. But despite his recent success, there are still some holes there as he works to fully finalize the Sean Foley redesign, and the putting will need to be nearly as smooth as it was at Doral. This may be the most bold prediction I make, which speaks more to just how heavily favored Tiger is this week, but I think the No. 1 player in the world finishes with another top ten, just not a win.
Who will win the green jacket? And by how many shots?
Emily: Yeah, yeah, Tiger's the trendy choice of wise guys and casual golf fans alike, which means he'll probably leave Augusta Sunday still in want of that elusive 15th major. But c'mon, man, the guy comes in with three PGA Tour wins, two healthy legs, and the No. 1 ranking in the world and in the all-important strokes gained-putting stat. And as Curtis Strange noted last week on a conference call, Woods has regained some of that intangible intimidation factor he lost in the wake of his stunning loss to Y.E. Yang at the 2009 PGA Championship -- and everything else that came after that. So, yeah, it's Tiger Woods in the A division and everybody else playing for second come Sunday.
Brendan: When we did one of these roundtables for the Match Play, I took Justin Rose to win it all and I'll try that again this week. A Euro has not won at Augusta since 1999, and every year we say the Rose-Rory-Westwood-Donald group is finally ready, but the drought continues. I think Rose finally ends it this year and wins his first major by a shot, completing a full career rejuvenation and highlighting an impressive three-year run for the Englishman.
Hart: Tiger Woods wins the 2013 Masters by three shots over Lee Westwood and Adam Scott.
Adam: Anyone who picks someone other than Tiger Woods to win this week is going out on a limb. I'm not ready to call his capturing a fifth green jacket a sure thing by any means, but the last time I was this certain of an outcome was this year's Bay Hill Invitational ... which Tiger won. He's playing better than he's played in nearly four years and he's putting better than ever before. As long as the weather holds out, look for Tiger to win his first major since 2008.