Hunter Mahan: Another player who has improved his short game tremendously, Mahan will have no problem finding fairways and greens this week and his history at Augusta suggests that he could contend. In five events, all in the last five years, he’s made three cuts and they have all resulted in T12 or better. His worst stroke play finish this season in a full-field event (eight of nine cuts made) is T25. If his chipping cooperates this week, he can contend.
Keegan Bradley: His all-around game entices me this week and he showed last year that he’s a quick learner as he finished T27 in his first time here. In his last four tournaments in 2013, he’s finished T4, seventh, T3 and T10 so his game is primed and ready. With one major in Georgia already, the 2011 PGA Championship, under his white belt, Bradley has shown if it gets hairy on Sunday that he’ll be up for the fight.
Rickie Fowler: After accumulating three finishes in the top six already in 2013, Fowler has shown he’s ready to build on his 2012. He showed last year at Wells Fargo that he had the mettle to knock out Rory McIlroy in a playoff but come Sunday, he might have to be tracking Tiger Woods. In his last two Sundays with Woods, Fowler has fired 84 and 73. The 73 at API was good enough for T3 and gamers would take that in a heartbeat this week. His short game is electric as he’s 14th in total putting and eighth in scrambling. This will be his third trip around Augusta so he should have an idea of what this course has in store.
Jim Furyk: He’s only been cut twice in 16 events at Augusta so you like the fact that he’s comfortable around here. Last week in San Antonio it was great to see his solid iron play return but his putter didn’t cooperate. Another player who can really scramble, Furyk has hit the top 14 eight times in 16 tries here.
Graeme McDowell: As he mentioned via his Twitter account, Augusta might not fit his game perfectly because he plays a fade. So did Jack Nicklaus. This will be his fifth time around Augusta so he should be familiar on when to pick his spots to attack and lay back. He’s 12th in strokes gained-putting and first in scrambling. Plus, he’s a major champion and that never hurts around here or anywhere else when big stakes are on the line on Sunday.
Bill Haas: He has five top 10s in eight events this season. He’s first on TOUR in GIR, 14th in scrambling and that is necessary around this course. He would be ranked higher this week except that his lowest round here is 70 in three trips. He’ll have to go lower this week and his 2013 form suggests he will.
Brandt Snedeker: After his hot start to the early season, Snedeker was mentioned as possibly being one of the favorites this week. Nobody argues that Snedeker is a great putter but he’s down here because of his performances after his rib injury (MC, MC). He’s shown in the past that this should NOT be a concern but with a field this deep, I’m not going to stretch to get him. If he’s healthy, he’s shown a penchant for playing here as he’s racked up finishes of T3 (2009), T15 (2011) and T19 last year.
Freddie Jacobson: Speaking of guys who can really roll it, not to mention get up-and-down, in three events at Augusta, Jacobson has finished T17, T19 and MC. He was also T14 and T15 in the last two U.S. Opens so it’s time to take a closer look at Jacobson. In his six tournaments where he’s made the cut this year, he has three top 10s and three other top 25s. He’s playing well and has had successes in the past here so I’m on board this week.
Peter Hanson: After holding the 54-hole lead in only his second time at the Masters, Hanson proved that solid form leading into this tournament can be meaningful. His Sunday recovery (66 after 78 on Saturday) at Valero showed me his game is rounding into form for another run at Augusta.
K.J. Choi: He was T4 and T8 before bombing out last year (MC) but the entire 2012 was a dud for Choi. He’s close to being back on form and his short game and ball-striking has been the key. Those are handy traits to have around here, plus this will be his 11th time competing for a Green Jacket.
Jason Day: Phil Mickelson holds the tournament record with 23 birdies. Jason Day made 21 in his first visit here in 2011 when he finished T2 to Charl Schwartzel. He hits it a mile and his short game is as tidy as they come. After a fast start, three top 10s in his first four starts, he’s cooled off with finishes of T33, T43 and T45 but I cannot ignore that he likes it here. He withdrew last year after spraining his ankle.
Off the Beaten Path
Either “horse-for-course” or guys off the radar
Angel Cabrera: In his last four he’s finished T32, seventh, T18 and WIN. He has an additional three top 10s in 13 starts to go along with his recent purple patch. Cabrera is the first horse in the stable this week.
Fred Couples: The term “horse-for-course” was invented in horse racing and perfected at Augusta by Couples. No matter how bad his back is or how what his current form maybe, he shreds it here. He has 11 top 10 finishes in 28 starts including T12, T15 and sixth in his last three.
Padraig Harrington: All or nothing. In his last six events he’s missed three cuts and has finishes of T7, T5 and T8 last year. He’s high risk yet potentially high reward.
Trevor Immelman: Since his victory in 2008, Immelman has backed up those performances with T20, T14, T15 and 60th last year. Now that he’s gotten rid of those Transition lenses, LOOK OUT AUGUSTA! He’s made four cuts from eight this year with his best finish being T38 so he’ll probably beat Woods in a playoff this week…
Bo Van Pelt: He was an automatic pick every time he teed it up in 2012, no matter the venue. This year, we’ve seen rounds of 81, 79 and 78 so maybe a trip to Augusta will knock BVP out of his funk. He’s finished T8 and T17 (2012) in his last two trips to the Masters. His all-around game is very solid and he will be under zero expectations or pressures.
Matteo Manassero: Young Italian can really putt. The name of the column is DEEP SLEEPERS, relax.
Francesco Molinari: Italian can really strike it and has a T30 and T19 in three trips.
Thorbjorn Olesen: Another youngun’ who’s weapon of choice is the flat stick. He WD at SHO after a car accident but he sounds like he’s okay on Twitter.
Brian Gay: He lives off his short game and grew up in Georgia for a bit. At least has TOUR pedigree with multiple victories and he can really putt.
Henrik Stenson: He was hanging around last year before a Sunday 81 knocked him back. His game has been coming together nicely this spring but he has more rounds in the 80s (three) than in the 60s (zero) at Augusta so he fits here.
John Merrick: He was T6 here in 2009. That’s better than most deep sleepers can claim. He also has a top 10 at a U.S. Open and a PGA. Again, not terrible.
These players either have struggled recently or struggled at Augusta over their careers.
Steve Stricker: He said in an interview earlier in the week that he believes his game “is not good enough” to win at Augusta. Ok, then. If HE doesn’t believe, I’m not going to do it for him. He’ll watch his putting pupil win instead…
Zach Johnson: Since his victory here in 2007, his best finish was T20 in 2008. He was 42nd, MC and T32 in the next three. He’s missed three of eight cuts this year and his best full-field finish is T23 back in January. Guess we found our winner…
Luke Donald: I’ll catch some flack here but he’s only had one top 10 in his last five tries at Augusta. His T32 last year was thanks to a final round 68 and that was coming off a victory at Tampa Bay. I can’t connect the dots beyond his fantastic short game.
Martin Kaymer: He finally made the cut last year in his fifth try and finished T44. He’s broken par exactly once in 10 rounds here. I’ll let you prove me wrong on this one.
Sergio Garcia: Who has more top 10s at Augusta, Garcia or David Toms? Toms has three and Garcia has two. This was the scene last year where Garcia, after finishing T12, stated he couldn’t win a major. He went on to finish T38, MC and MC in the final three majors of the year. Maybe he’s right.
Ernie Els: After narrowly missing out last year and not getting a special invite, Els played himself into the 2013 edition by winning The Open Championship. His last top 10 was second in 2004. His best finish in the seven Masters he’s played since was T18 and has three MCs in that stretch. I could argue that he might just let it rip this week but he has one top 25 in five events in 2013.