If you want to know whether a player can win at the Masters this week, ask yourself these questions:
1.) Is he playing well? Golf’s a streaky game, and the guys who have the best chance to win a tournament are often the ones who played well the week before.
2.) Has he had success at Augusta National before? Horses for courses, as they say. If a course fits a guy’s game, he’s going to have success there.
3.) Does he play an aggressive style? No offense to Jim Furyk, but he has no chance at Augusta National because of his conservative play, which is more suited to a demanding U.S. Open track where one mistake can kill you. Augusta National is still a gunslinger’s course where you run off a couple birdies to offset a bogey.
4.) Is he clearly the greatest player of his generation and possibly the best of all-time?
Yup, despite his scandals and layoff, Tiger Woods is my Masters favorite, but I see a group of five other guys who have a great chance to win this week. Here’s my unofficial odds breakdown of the contenders, the pretenders and a couple of long shots who might surprise you this week.
Tiger Woods: 5 to 1
He’s just better than everybody else, and he has been for 12 years. Woods is the only guy in the field who doesn’t have to play his best to win. Are his recent scandals going to be a factor? Let’s just say, if being a self-centered egomaniac was going to affect his golf game, it would have happened before. Once the tournament starts, it will be business as usual, and by playing at least three practice rounds there, he’s probably as prepared for the Masters as he’s ever been. If Woods is dialed in with his irons and putting well inside 6 feet, then it’s game over.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Phil Mickelson: 10 to 1
Mickelson always gives you something to talk about. His propensity for doing stupid things on the course is higher than anyone else in the field, but at Augusta he can make up for those dumb plays with a birdie or an eagle. He didn’t putt well at Houston, which isn’t a good sign, but he can be loose with the driver at Augusta and still score. Too talented to ignore, too inconsistent to count on.
Ernie Els: 10 to 1
Els is playing better than Mickelson right now, but Mickelson has had success at Augusta and closed the deal here twice, so it’s a wash. Els really wants this tournament, and with the uncertainty around Woods it could be his last, best chance.
Angel Cabrera: 12 to 1
This is the guy I’d most want to play with. I watched him play a practice round with Eduardo Romero and a couple of other guys in 2003 and it was great. They laughed and smoked cigars and couldn’t get to the bar fast enough at the end of the round. I don’t think anyone made a practice swing. With two majors, Cabrera is always a contender. He’s one of those rare guys for whom it doesn’t matter how he played last week because he probably doesn’t remember. You know he will have no fear on Sunday.
Fred Couples: 12 to 1
If Couples is putting well, he’s a force. Don’t discount those Champions Tour wins; he’s been OK on the PGA Tour too. If this were the British Open, he wouldn’t have much of a chance, but this is Augusta National, which makes Couples a Top 5 choice this week.
Lee Westwood: 12 to 1
Westwood is steady, consistent and plays well at Augusta National. Everything is lining up for him. He’s going to win a major — it’s just a question of which one.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT THEM
Steve Stricker: 20 to 1
Stricker bores the hell out of me, but he is incredibly good.
Charl Schwartzel: 25 to 1
Here’s the first of my dark-horse picks. Schwartzel swings the club really well, and he was not afraid to go toe-to-toe with Els at Doral. I really like his game.
Padraig Harrington: 25 to 1
He’s playing well right now, but he doesn’t appear to be putting together four-round tournaments lately.
Rory McIlroy: 25 to 1
The more McIlroy plays, the more his stock continues to rise.
Martin Kaymer: 25 to 1
Not playing great right now. If he were playing better, I’d give him a much stronger chance to win. Still, Kaymer has the talent to be a threat.
Anthony Kim: 25 to 1
His Shell Houston Open victory bodes well, and we know he wouldn’t be scared to win, not by a long shot. However, his driver was pretty loose in Houston (Kim found just 42 percent of fairways on Sunday). At Augusta you don’t have to be great with your driver, but you have to be good. If Kim is not driving well, how does he play No. 1, or 7, or 10, or 11?
Geoff Ogilvy: 30 to 1
For some reason, he hasn’t played that great at the Masters. Who knows why? Maybe it’s the curse of Greg Norman. Ogilvy deserves a mention at any big tournament.
Tim Clark: 40 to 1
In Las Vegas, some oddsmakers have Clark listed at 100 to 1. If you have $20 burning a hole in your pocket, that’s not a bad bet. He plays well at Augusta National. Certain guys just do. John Huston was like that, and so was Jose Maria Olazabal. Mike Weir is another good dark-horse pick for the same reason.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
Camilo Villegas: 50 to 1
Villegas can really play and he hits it a ton, but he’s never really made it happen at a major. I’d be really surprised to see him play well at a difficult major venue against an elite field.
Zach Johnson: 50 to 1
He had a great week when he needed it here in 2007. I don’t see it happening again. His shape is right for Augusta, but he hits it too low.
Dustin Johnson: 50 to 1
If it were early March, I’d give him a much better chance, but golf is a game of ups and downs and Johnson is not on an up.
Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Brady Riggs is director of instruction at Woodley Lakes Golf Course in Van Nuys, Calif. He is the host of Ask the Top 100 Live! on Golf.com Tuesdays at noon EST.