Williams reunion will help Scott bag second Masters
The winner at Augusta almost always comes from a player inside the world's top 15 at the time of the event '“ it is not a tournament for outsiders simply because it is the only one of the four majors to be played at the same venue each year and at the same time of the season.
And I would go as far as to predict a past winner being reunited with the sporting world’s most famous blazer come Sunday night.
So for me it is primarily a battle between 2012 and 2014 winner Bubba Watson and 2013 champion Adam Scott – two players who already have three victories on the PGA Tour between them this season.
Then, of course, there’s the other in-form Aussie, Jason Day, who is fresh from his win in the WGC Matchplay in Austin, Texas,
The latter was hampered by injuries in 2012 and 2014 but finished tied second in 2011 and third in 2013.
Day is bidding to become the first world number one to win the Masters since Tiger Woods back in 2002.
Scott has questioned how to keep his recent hot streak, having had to ditch the long-handled putter for this season’s new rules, going until the second weekend in April.
But for me, when play begins tomorrow the key club will be the extra one in his bag.
Steve Williams, who was the caddy for all four of Tiger’s wins and when Scott became the first Australian to wear the Green Jacket three years ago, will team up with Scott again for this weekend’s event – replacing David Clark.
No-one knows the lines for the hardest putts on Augusta’s notoriously fast and sloping greens better than Williams.
And with so many of the world’s best players seemingly on their game, that could make all the difference come Sunday on the back nine – when the old adage is that’s when the Masters really begins.
Interestingly, Phil Mickelson’s victories have come in 2004, 2006 and 2010 and therefore victory and a fourth Green Jacket – to equal Tiger’s haul – should not be ruled out as his game continues to improve, after last year’s runner-up to Jordan Speith split with long-time coach Butch Harmon.
Another in-form PGA Tour winner is South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel, who claimed victory at Magnolia Lane in 2011.
But if I had to pick a first-time winner for 2016, I would be tempted to back fellow countryman Louis Oosthuizen.
He lost the play-off to Watson’s wonder shot in 2011, and is clearly in-form and healthy again after his near miss in the World Matchplay.
I would like to have seen a bit more consistent form from Rory McIlroy, who is obviously keen to snatch the number one crown back from Day, and finally banish the memories of his back-nine meltdown five years ago.
I cannot see defending champion Speith reversing his recent run of indifferent results – by his very own high standards.
Anything more than being in contention on Sunday would be miraculous given the spotlight he will be under all week.
The other great stat about the first major of the season is that the winner will almost always play in the final group in the last round.
The other past winner in a rich vein of form is last year’s Open champion Zach Johnson.
He denied Justin Rose a maiden win in Georgia back in 2007 when the course, ironically for the man from Iowa who often moans about the bombers’ paradises he finds himself playing most weeks, played long and was set up as tough as it has ever been in its 83-year history.
With a winning score of one over par in 2007, Zac played every par five as three shotters and ended the week on -11 on the par fives, so don’t be surprised to see that strategy play dividends again.
Rose has a good record generally at Augusta but has struggled for early season form.
He has said his big goal is winning Olympic gold in Rio in August, so he may have deliberately opted for a low-key schedule to conserve energy for the summer when the Open and USPGA are just two weeks apart in July.
He tends to start the tournament well and with so many of his rivals seemingly having better preparation, he may sail under the radar and be the first-round leader for a third time as in 2004 and 2008 in what will be his 11th Masters.
Equally, Brandt Snedeker, who had a really hot West Swing in California in January, blew his best chance to win a Green Jacket in 2008, famously being reduced to tears in his Sunday press conference.
I would not be surprised to see his name at the top of the leaderboard – certainly on Thursday night and or Friday.