Masters Roundtable: Predictions for Augusta

Rory McIlroy heads to the 2014 Masters at Augusta National fresh off a strong performance at the Shell Houston Open.

With only three days left until the 2014 Masters gets under way, our staff of senior writers and editors are taking a closer look at key players, the course and the history to preview the tournament.

Today, we offer up our picks to win and contend from three groups of players taking aim at Augusta National this week.

Here's today's roundtable:

• • •

1. Who will win the 2014 Masters?

JIM MCCABE: Henrik Stenson. Superb ball-striker who seems to be coming out of his early-season sleep. Nothing in history points to him – in eight Masters he’s missed three cuts and shot in the 60s just once in 26 rounds. But then again, nothing pointed to him winning money titles on both sides of the pond last year, either.

BETH ANN NICHOLS: Rory McIlroy. With Tiger out, Rory steps in to deliver something special. That final-round 80 is so 2011. McIlroy takes the green jacket and his third major title.

ADAM SCHUPAK: I had to wait for the dramatic finish of the Shell Houston Open before I was ready to go all-in on Matt Kuchar. Phil Mickelson won the week before the 2006 Masters, but winning back-to-back is a rarity. It was a tough playoff defeat at the hands of Matt Jones, but all will be forgotten on April13 when Kuchar slips into his first green jacket. Remember, he had a great shot at the 2012 title until he bogeyed the 16th Sunday. More than anything, Kuchar’s recent form is why he’s my pick. He nearly won the last two Tour events and has five top-10 finishes in his last nine starts. His game appeared a little shaky on the back-nine the last two Sundays – and that’s where the Masters really starts if you haven’t heard – but I think he’ll lay down the hammer at Augusta.

JEFF RUDE: Rory McIlroy. Not because Las Vegas lists him as a favorite but because he has become a top-10 machine again. He hasn't closed yet in recent months outside of Australia, but smart money figures he will soon.

JAMES ACHENBACH: Haven't you heard? The Australians are taking over the PGA Tour. Thus Adam Scott will win his second straight Masters. One major is nothing for a guy who would like to dominate golf. He has high expectations. They are justified -- realistically, right now, he is the best golfer in the world.

NICK MASUDA: Adam Scott? So 2013. Rory McIlroy? Getting closer. But I like another former major champ this week: Keegan Bradley. The guy has the distance to handle Augusta National and is streaky enough with the putter to post some birdies. I like how he handles a tournament and he looked quite good at Bay Hill two weeks ago.

ALEX MICELI: In what may be one of the most open Masters in memory, it seems that experience may be the key. Rory McIlroy should have one green jacket already, and while nothing is a given, McIlroy is the favorite to me.

• • •

2. Which amateur has the best chance to make the cut this week?

MCCABE: Matt Fitzpatrick. Just love his style, his composure, his ability to smile amid the pressure. If it’s firm, even better, or didn’t you see him handle Muirfield at last summer’s Open Championship? It’s not exactly an deep amateur group, either.

NICHOLS: Chang-woo Lee. Korea’s finest earned a Masters invite by winning the Asia-Pacific Championship. The 20year-old was the only player in the field to finish under par. Lee not only won his country’s amateur championship by a whopping 14 strokes, he also tied for second with McIlroy at the Korean Open. Seems pretty fearless.

SCHUPAK: I’d like to see Jordan Niebrugge, the second-to-last Publinx champ to play the Masters, make it. Or Mike McCoy, who won his first USGA championship, the U.S. Mid-Am, at age 51. But I'm going with Oliver Goss, the latest product of Golf Australia, a state-run golf development program for the country's young talent, to have the best chance to play the weekend. The 19-year-old Goss plays for the University of Tennessee. He hits it a mile and displayed his world of talent at the 2013 U.S. Amateur at the Country Club, losing in the finals.

RUDE: Matt Fitzpatrick. The U.S. Amateur champion spent more than 20 weeks on top of the world amateur rankings. He might look like he's 12, but he plays like a lot of good pros.

ACHENBACH: No amateurs will make the cut. The pros are too strong, the amateurs are too inexperienced. Knowing the golf course is worth a shot or two each round. The amateurs will get bogeyed to death.

MASUDA: I am going to go with my heart here and say that Matthew Fitzpatrick finds a way to hover around par for Thursday and Friday to squeak inside the cut line. He's mentally tough and understands his own game better than most at his age. Playing within himself at Augusta National will be critical to stick around for the weekend.

MICELI: It seems that the last two years were all about the Aussies. Oliver Goss is the only Australian amateur. Enough said.

• • •

3. What player outside the OWGR's top 50 will make a run this week?

MCCABE: Not sure there’s much to choose from, but at first glance you have to like perennial Masters force Angel Cabrera, No. 82 in the world order. But I’ll toss my pick to Matteo Manassero, No. 51. Hasn’t made much noise in two Masters starts, but it’s easy to forget that he’s still just 20. Lovely game, even better young man.

NICHOLS: Angel Cabrera. He’s ranked 82nd and missing cuts left and right but nevermind that, this is Augusta. The 2009 Masters champ lost in a playoff last year to Adam Scott. Look for the 44-year-old to rise to the occasion and play to the strengths of his experience and that extra rush only Augusta provides.

SCHUPAK: Chris Kirk, winner of the McGladrey Classic, is my sleeper pick. He’s cooled off of late and he’s a rookie so the other guy not to sleep on is 2009 champ Angel Cabrera. El Pato has slipped to No. 82 in OWGR and hasn’t done much since injuring his left shoulder during the Open Championship. But his whole year revolves around Augusta and he’s been training as hard as ever. He says he’d like one more green jacket and it wouldn’t surprise me if another 46 large jacket in a certain shade of green was in his future.

RUDE: Marc Leishman. He's cooled off after starting his 2014 PGA Tour season with consecutive top-5 finishes, but the long hitter has positive Masters experience, tying for fourth last year.

ACHENBACH: Outside the top 50? How about outside the top 500? I like 54-year-old Fred Couples, ranked 515th in the world, to make another run at the Masters title. This guy is phenomenal. He remains strong and flexible. If anything, he is a smarter player than he used to be.

MASUDA: Yes, I was also tempted to throw out Angel Cabrera's name. But something tells me that Jonas Blixt has the type of short game that really can help him at Augusta National. He is quietly one of the better players on Tour.

MICELI: The easy choice is Angel Cabrera. The Argentinian is still wondering how he didn’t win last year. Now he returns to Augusta a little beat up with a left shoulder that needs surgery, but will have to wait until after Augusta.

• • •

The Masters field, according to the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings

  • 1. Adam Scott
  • 2. Sergio Garcia
  • 4. Jason Day
  • 5. Matt Kuchar
  • 6. Steve Stricker
  • 7. Zach Johnson
  • 8. Bubba Watson
  • 9. Webb Simpson
  • 10. Henrik Stenson
  • 11. Hideki Matsuyama
  • 12. Harris English
  • 13. Justin Rose
  • 14. Phil Mickelson
  • 15. Jason Dufner
  • 16. Charl Schwartzel
  • 17. Jim Furyk
  • 18. Hunter Mahan
  • 19. Jordan Spieth
  • 20. Dustin Johnson
  • 21. Graham DeLaet
  • 23. Rory McIlroy
  • 24. Bill Haas
  • 25. Gary Woodland
  • 27. Keegan Bradley
  • 29. Lee Westwood
  • 30. K.J. Choi
  • 31. Luke Donald
  • 32. Ryan Moore
  • 33. Chris Kirk
  • 34. Joost Luiten
  • 36. Jimmy Walker
  • 37. Matt Every
  • 38. Jamie Donaldson
  • 41. Marc Leishman
  • 43. Thomas Bjørn
  • 44. Martin Kaymer
  • 46. Matt Jones,
  • 46. Matt Jones
  • 48. Patrick Reed
  • 50. Brandt Snedeker
  • 52. Brendon de Jonge
  • 53. Victor Dubuisson
  • 54. Ian Poulter
  • 56. Graeme McDowell
  • 57. Rickie Fowler
  • 65. Nick Watney
  • 69. Ernie Els
  • 70. Thongchai Jaidee
  • 73. Kevin Streelman
  • 75. Boo Weekley
  • 76. Billy Horschel
  • 79. Roberto Castro
  • 81. Kevin Stadler
  • 84. Peter Hanson
  • 89. Jonas Blixt
  • 99. Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano
  • 100. Miguel Angel Jimenez
  • 115. Stewart Cink
  • 123. Angel Cabrera
  • 125. Matteo Manassero
  • 129. John Huh
  • 134. Russell Henley
  • 147. Ken Duke
  • 158. Louis Oosthuizen
  • 166. Tim Clark
  • 170. D.A. Points
  • 178. Branden Grace
  • 189. David Lynn
  • 198. Sang-Moon Bae
  • 210. Vijay Singh
  • 242. Y.E. Yang
  • 252. Trevor Immelman
  • 256. Scott Stallings
  • 273. Steven Bowditch
  • 326. Thorbjørn Olesen
  • 404. Mike Weir
  • 415. Darren Clarke
  • 428. Lucas Glover
  • 531. Derek Ernst
  • 560. Jose Maria Olazabal
  • N/R. Fred Couples
  • N/R. Ben Crenshaw
  • N/R. Matthew Fitzpatrick
  • N/R. Oliver Goss
  • N/R. Bernhard Langer
  • N/R. Chang-woo Lee
  • N/R. Sandy Lyle
  • N/R. Michael McCoy
  • N/R. Larry Mize
  • N/R. Jordan Niebrugge
  • N/R. Mark O'Meara
  • N/R. Garrick Porteous
  • N/R. Craig Stadler
  • N/R. Tom Watson
  • N/R. Ian Woosnam
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