The Masters has returned to its rightful place in the Grand Slam rota: a paradise for bombers and great putters, with rewards for local knowledge, too. This distinct combination of skill sets make it the easiest major to handicap, especially when contrasted with a U.S. Open looming at a modern links that almost no one has played.
The last five Masters have played into the hands of those who can power past the Hootie-Johnson era tree plantings and not appear phased by Tom Fazio's tee extensions. And as much as ever the course seems to reward putting proficiency more than any other major. Finally, to make the likely winner's list, a player needs to have show signs of golfing life during the West Coast and Florida swings.
With those traits in mind, the 2015 Masters winner is almost guaranteed to come from this list of a dozen names. In order of likelihood to put on the green jacket:
The defending champion is in a great place mentally and continues to hit his driver far and accurately in a way no one else can. Bubba can still putt, too. He's T-2nd in driving distance and 12th in overall putting, with no 2015 start worse than a T-14 at Riviera. Now it's up to the golf gods giving him a favorable tee time draw to help him win a third.
The numbers don't lie: five wins in 18 months, a top 10 in his first Masters, 18th in driving distance and ninth in total putting. Oh and he comes into Augusta off an impressive win in San Antonio. Now is his time.
His game was pretty ugly at Riviera and he missed a playoff by one. The putting that carried him through several early season weeks continues to be brilliant and he has set up his schedule for at three-week run, his favorite way to peak. Finished T-2 in his first Masters, so Spieth just needs help with the tee time draw and to tighten up the attitude that got away from him a bit last year.
Back from his six-month study of Sherwood Country Club's design, DJ is not just longer than ever (first on the PGA Tour in driving distance), he's averaging an impressive eight yards more than second place 317.3). Statistically he's not quite so swell on the greens at 111th in total putting. But remember that his impressive win at Doral was highlighted by zero three-putts. And we know most Masters winners rarely have more than one three-putt the entire week, an always mind-boggling accomplishment on those greens. Note that DJ still picked up a top 10 at the Valero Texas Open despite getting the awful tee time draw, outperforming the field average by 11 shots over the weekend.
The stars are aligned, now Day just has to stay healthy. He's eighth in driving distance at 305.1, second in putting average and finished off a strong West Coast with a win at Torrey Pines along with five top 10s. Should have great memories of nearly winning here in 2011 and 2013.
Hitting the ball as long as ever (T2, 309.0 average), just needs to figure out which putter he will use (175th in total putting). Some suspect he was caught up in defending champion euphoria last year. That won't be an issue this year as he'll come in under the radar, just the way the humble Australian likes it.
Everyone's pick has thrown up some alarmingly high scores at Augusta National (at least one 77 or higher in his last five appearances). He has the length and touch to contend, and two Florida finishes near enough to the top 10 to give rise to optimism. Still, if the greens are firm and there's wind, his comments in the April Golf Digest suggest he may not be ready to manage Augusta National in such conditions.
The South African almost won in 2012 but also has three missed cuts in his five Masters. His length, ball striking consistency and ability to avoid three-putts (13th in 2015) makes him formidable. He has two top 10's to start his 2015 PGA Tour season and should glide into Augusta under the radar (again).
Statistically he doesn't do anything exceptionally well, but there are also no weaknesses in Reed's game. Bolstered by a strong Ryder Cup performance and another solid early season start that saw him win the Tournament of Champions, the Augusta State standout has enough power to handle the course and just needs more experience before inevitably contending.
Got off to a great start with near-wins in Hawaii and La Quinta but has cooled since. Kuchar makes up for his average length off the tee with prowess on the greens and has a strong track record at Augusta National, with top 10 finishes the last three years (T-3, T-8, T-5). Watch his form at Houston this week, where he lost in a playoff in 2014.
The self-taught defending Memorial Champion has proven he can handle fast greens and played well on the West Coast (T-4 Northern Trust Open, T-2 Phoenix). He's long off the tee, can putt and now just needs to figure out Augusta National, where he made the cut as an amateur and missed last year.
The powerful Swede loves tough courses, has shown flashes of figuring out Augusta National and nearly won the Arnold Palmer Invitational. But he faces a couple of huge obstacles, starting with a case of the flu that has forced him to pull out of this week's Shell Houston Open. And then there is his maddening tendency to three-putt even though he's one of the world's best with the flat stick (currently fourth in total putting and second in strokes gained on the greens).
First Alternate: Brandt Snedeker
Second Alternate: Angel Cabrera
Third Alternate: Phil Mickelson