2012 Masters Preview: Top 7 Players To Watch

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Updated: April 3, 2012

The Masters Tournament is one of the mostly highly-watched golf events on the PGA Tour year in and year out, and for good reason.  It features all of the top golfers from around the world, and is played on a golf course that is steeped in history and tradition.  With that being said, who are the top 7 players to watch at the Masters this year?

1. Tiger Woods

Obviously Tiger is going to be the top person to watch in any golf tournament he enters in, but there is sort of a special significance heading into this year’s first major.  Tiger hasn’t won a major since 2008, when he beat out Rocco Mediate on a gimpy leg.  He has had a great year in 2012 to this point, with a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational along with 4 top 25 finishes in 5 total starts.  What I’m impressed with the most is his driving, as he currently ranks first on Tour in total driving.  Combine this with a great putter and we may be looking at another great run of wins for Tiger in 2012.

2. Rory McIlroy

We all know about Rory’s huge win at the U.S. Open last year, and the expectation will continue to rise for McIlroy as each event continues to pass.  Rory won the Honda Classic earlier in the year, beating out none other than Tiger Woods for the title.  He certainly has the complete golf game that allows him to compete at any venue, and the only real problem that I can find in his game is that he gets a bit loose with the driver from time to time.  It shouldn’t affect him that much at the Masters, as he is incredibly long off the tee and could use a three wood most of time.  McIlroy should definitely be in contention on Sunday.

3. Luke Donald

Can Donald finally get the monkey off of his back and win a major this year?  He won the Transitions Championship earlier this year to take back the number one ranking from Rory McIlroy, and has arguably the best short game of anyone on the PGA Tour right now.  The main concern for Donald comes in regards to his approach game, where he ranks well over 100 in many green in regulation categories from 225 yards and in.  Augusta is the sort of place where someone needs to hit a lot of greens in order to win, and that is why I don’t think Donald will win this week’s event, although I do think he will finish in the top 10 when all is said and done.

4. Hunter Mahan

One of the players that may not be as well-known but that could make some noise in this week’s tournament is Hunter Mahan.  Mahan has won two events on Tour this year, with his most recent one being last week’s event.  What I like most about Hunter is that he is solid from tee to green, ranking 6th on Tour in driving accuracy and 9th in greens in regulation.  To top it all off, he has been making putts left and right in recent weeks, currently ranking 5th on Tour in putting from 20-25 feet.  If he can continue this hot streak of putting I could definitely see Mahan winning the Masters in 2012.

5. Lee Westwood

Westwood has been flying under the radar for much of the year as Woods, McIlroy, and Donald have all won tournaments.  Lee has played in four events on the PGA Tour to this point with 3 top 25 finishes, so he has played well but not well enough to get recognized by many.  While he ranks second on Tour in greens in regulation, the main knock on his game to this point has been his putting, as he ranks 135th in strokes gained from putting.  Unless he somehow starts making putts the same way Mahan has been over recent weeks I don’t see him finishing in the top 10.

6. Keegan Bradley

Like Westwood, Bradley has been flying under the radar, and I think he is one of the most underrated players on the PGA Tour in 2012; it is hard to beat 9 top 25 finishes in 9 starts.  The only real problem for him has been consistency to this point, as even though Keegan has all of those top 25 finishes he does not have a win to his credit thus far.  He is going to win an event sometime this year though, as he is too talented not to.  Will it be this week’s Masters?  Who knows, but I think he has a great chance to be in contention on Sunday.

7. Phil Mickelson

Am I saving the best for last?  Yes and no.  Yes in considering that Mickelson has played well at this major for some time now and has a win on the PGA Tour this year at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.  No in that I don’t like the way he has been playing of late.  His putting has been great, but he currently ranks 89th on Tour in greens in regulation and 150th in driving accuracy.  That simply won’t get it done at Augusta National, and even though he showed signs of improvement at the Shell Houston Open, I think a top 10 finish would be good for him at the Masters.

Ryan Kekoufski is a scratch golfer who has both played and watched the sport for over a decade and currently runs The Yips Blog, a blog dedicated solely to the game of golf. He covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network, and currently resides in Virginia.

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