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Masters on my mind

With Augusta on the horizon, here's an early roll call

Posted: Wednesday March 1, 2006 3:23PM; Updated: Monday April 3, 2006 1:36PM
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The Florida swing is upon us, which means it is officially time to begin obsessing about the Masters, which is just -- be still my heart -- five weeks away. Between now and then, there will be monster fields at Doral, Bay Hill and the Players Championships, helping to establish the favorites heading into Augusta. But hey, why wait? It's clearly time for a premature Masters preview.

The 800-pound gorilla

Phil's been in hibernation, but he hopes to make a run at Tiger next month.
Phil's been in hibernation, but he hopes to make a run at Tiger next month.

Tiger Woods. It's always his tournament to lose. He prevailed last year even though his swing was still in transition, and the additional length that was added to Augusta in the offseason only further plays to his strengths. Figure T-Dub is going to win half of the next 10 Masters, and this year's as good as any.

Strong contenders

Retief Goosen. In the last four Masters he has a second and third and has finished no worse than 13th. And Goose looked solid at the Match Play. After his struggles in the majors in '05, I expect him to bring the wood this year.

Chad Campbell. Unflappable GNR machine is ready to go to the next level.

Phil Mickelson. Yeah, he's been goofing off since last year's PGA, but only Woods has found a better formula for getting it done at the majors. In the last seven Masters, Phil's gone 6th, 7th, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 1st, 10th. He'll be there again this year.

The wild card

Ernie Els. Beginning in 2000, Els had one sleeve in the green jacket five years running. Either the place owes him one and it's time to cash in (think Mickelson) or the extreme nature of the course magnifies his self-defeating tendencies and he's doomed to heartbreak (think Greg Norman). I fear it may be the latter.

Don't believe the hype

Rory Sabbatini. The game's hottest player has done a good job managing his emotions this year, but the pressure of being a favorite will be too much for a guy who's never finished better than 53rd in 17 career majors (a record that includes a stunning 10 missed cuts).

Chris DiMarco. He has willed himself into contention in four of the last five years but the ballpark keeps growing on this short hitter. It's hard to imagine he can continue hanging with the big boys when he's hitting lumber into the new 240-yard par-three 4th and possibly more than one beefed-up par-four.

Vijay Singh. He seems more worried about Mickelson than his own game. The once-prolific Fijian hasn't won a tournament in seven months and this year has done the kind of head-scratching globe-trotting that has annually worn down Els.

Dark horses

Angel Cabrera. He can move the ball with the best of them and his rock-solid play at the Presidents Cup was a big-time confidence boost. He was a factor at the Masters in 2002 and '03 and he's due for another run.

J.B. Holmes. He still has to play his way into the tournament, but if this fearless rookie sneaks into the field, look out.

Geoff Ogilvy. It's easy to say now, but I've always been a fan of this multi-talented 28-year-old. There's a race going on between the Aussies to see who will win a major next, and my money's on Ogilvy, who last year finished 5th at the British Open and 6th at the PGA.

May sneak into the top 10 but have no chance of winning

Stuart Appleby. One of the sport's premiere talents ... and enigmas.

Tom Lehman. He's playing his best golf in years, and though it was a lifetime ago, he finished T-3 in '93 and T-2 in '94. But his wooden short game and damaged putting stroke precludes any kind of Cinderella story.

Jose Maria Olazabal. My favorite player in golf, but he's now clearly in decline. He'll hang around but the course is simply too long and penal for the short, crooked Spaniard.

Fred Couples. The '92 champ always gets energized at Augusta but his jabby putting stroke can't hold up on Sunday.