With the first major of the year finally here, let's check in with predictions on some of the biggest names. You'll find the winner at the very bottom of the column.
Rory McIlroy: He needed to show something before the first major, and we saw it in San Antonio, a second-place check. But has his full confidence been restored enough for a date with Augusta? His track record is nothing special here: T20, cut, T15 (the year of the famous meltdown) and then T40 last season. He's be a surprise winner. Prediction: Outside Top 20.
Tiger Woods: There's no real reason not to pick him: he's been the dominant player on tour, his personal life is going along swimmingly (never underestimate what a good woman can do for a powerful man) and Tiger's always loved the look and playability of Augusta National. But is it possible to want something too much? There's not a ton of pressure when Tiger contends in non-majors; it's the big events that truly define him. Until he ends this extensive drought in the majors, I'm going to hold onto some healthy skepticism. He's not my winner this week. Prediction: T7.
Bubba Watson: He's a darling in the media room, and hats off to anyone who serves Mac & Cheese at the champion's dinner. But there's nothing from Watson's game the last 12 months that makes me think he's ready to repeat at Augusta - heck, I don't think he'll ever be close to winning here again. I'd love to be wrong on this one. Prediction: T40.
Charl Schwartzel: He's already a past champion, and his game has been in fine form overseas (two wins in South Africa). Schwartzel almost never plays poorly in majors: he's made the cut in 12 of his last 13 starts, with seven Top-20s (and the Green Jacket in 2011). Prediction: T17.
Keegan Bradley: His game has been very sharp for about six weeks, and he has the skill package to contend at Augusta: distance off the tee, height from the fairways, consistency and creativity on the greens. A little more experience here would help, of course. But he's going to look dynamite in green one day. Prediction: Top 15.
Luke Donald: He's still just 35, so it's not like the window is closed on him yet. But Donald never seemed comfortable while he was sitting with the No. 1 ranking, and his history at the Masters is ordinary, nothing special. He's still one of the best putters in creation, but this isn't the best setup for him to finally break through - the course is too forgiving to the bombers off the tee. Prediction: T44.
Dustin Johnson: He can blast the ball from here to pluto, but you wouldn't want your Friday Four Ball relying on one of Johnson's putts. Ask Johnny Miller: you can't win the first major of the year without a superb putting week. This isn't your track, DJ. Prediction: Missed cut.
Ian Poulter: He has the nerve of a burglar on the greens and has never really played poorly here. Heck, Poulter hasn't missed a single cut since the 2011 season. He's too good a clutch player not to break through at a major eventually - and he'll probably win more than one. How soon until the next Ryder Cup, again? Prediction: Top 12.
Matteo Manassero: He's too young and talented to be afraid of this course, that's a plus for the moment. It wouldn't be a shock to see the teenager flash on the leaderboard Thursday or Friday. But eventually the enormity of the moment takes over and gravity has a say in things. Look for a quick start and a humbling finish. Prediction: Top 12 through two days, but finishes outside Top 30.
Jim Furyk: It's been a consistent check-grabbing year for Furyk, that's what he does (just one missed cut, $800K in the bank). But the grinding Furyk still seems to tense up when the lights are brightest; his skill is turning a missed cut into a Top-30 check, not turning a contention appearance into a check grab. Last year's meltdowns, especially in the U.S. Open and Ryder Cup, are going to be difficult to forget. Prediction: T27.
Phil Mickelson: It's been a yo-yo season for him all the way. Two no-shot openers, and then a win in Phoenix. The followup was a wasted weekend at Pebble. The T3 at Cadillac was followed by a missed cut at Arnie's place. Form might matter less to Mickelson than it does to any other major player.
That all established, Mickelson's game clasps to the Masters like a custom-fit set of irons. Consider Lefty's history, starting from 1995: T7, 3, cut, T12, T6, T7, 3, 3, 3, win, 10, win, T24, T5, 5, win, T27, T3. On my scoresheet, he's the favorite. Prediction: Green Jacket No. 4.