THE MASTERS is always very special, not least because we know it so well. We in Britain all grew up watching it on television, beamed from that same immaculate Augusta National setting year after year.
We all have favourite parts that we’ll get excited about seeing again this week. I can’t wait to see them playing the par-three 12th. You just don’t get that same kind of anticipation with other Majors.
I’m also excited that Tiger Woods has decided to play. It might be difficult to expect too much from the former world No1 after several weeks away trying to sort out his short game, but it’s great for the viewer that he is going to be there, in with a shot at a fifth Green Jacket. It’s the Masters; I want to see Tiger playing.
Others, such as obvious favourite Rory McIlroy, may be happy Woods is there too because, however he plays, Tiger is guaranteed to attract much of the media attention. That can take some of the pressure off his rivals.
We’ve seen short hitters, such as Canadian Mike Weir and American Zach Johnson, win the Masters before but the length of the course now favours longer drivers, such as defending champion Bubba Watson and 2013 winner Adam Scott.
At Augusta it is a case of horses for courses, as the repeated successes of Watson, who also won in 2012, and three-time victor Phil Mickelson, illustrate. World No3 Watson has had a good 12 months since donning the Green Jacket, winning the WGC-HSBC Champions and finishing second and third in his last three outings.
He’s far from the only American of interest, too. Patrick Reed has the form – one win and two more top-10 finishes this season – and certainly the confidence to be in contention, while Dustin Johnson has been superb since returning from a six-month absence, a break that means he benefits from being mentally fresher than most others.
Rickie Fowler is off form but will hope that the Masters brings back the form that saw him finish top-five at all Majors last year, while Augusta expert Mickelson will arrive in high spirits after some exceptional – and overdue – form last week at the Houston Open.
You can’t rule out Jimmy Walker, who has two wins already this year and is a long hitter, while Jordan Spieth is also well suited to the course. The fast greens make putting tremendously important, with mistakes severely punished, and I’ve not seen many better than 21-year-old Spieth, who came second to Watson last year. With that surely in mind, Scott has gone back to his long putter, and that can only enhance his chances.
The man I’m backing, however, is probably Europe’s most in-form player: Henrik Stenson. I love the Swede’s game and he has one win, three runners-up and three more top-fives in his last 11 events.
My only slight concern is that he tends to be aggressive with short putts and, as I’ve mentioned, there is very little margin for error at Augusta, where missing even from eight feet can leave you a long way back to the hole.
World No1 McIlroy is, of course, the favourite. He is virtually flawless and has the game to win the Masters with ease. It would be great to see him chasing Tiger down in the closing stages. In the week it emerged that a nine-year-old Rory wrote to Woods to tell his hero that he wanted to one day take his place, he can legitimately say: “Well, here I am.”
McIlroy has struggled with his putting at previous Masters, but that is not a worry. He is a still a four-time Major winner and knows how to win on fast greens. Playing at Augusta is a learning experience; very rarely do people win it first time, so it may be a case of him going through a process.
Australians tend to prosper at the Masters, helped by the fact that the greens at Royal Melbourne are almost identical to those at Augusta, and, though there are others in better form, I rate world No5 Jason Day, the 2011 joint runner-up, as a contender.
Finally, I would love to see Justin Rose do well. The Englishman is without a top-10 finish this season but has spent two weeks working hard with his coach in order to change that this week.
Sam Torrance OBE is a multiple Ryder Cup-winning golfer and media commentator. Follow him on Twitter @torrancesam