The Masters 2014: Sky Sports looks at the fortunes of the favourites in the lead-up to Augusta
By Paul Higham Twitter: @SkySportsPaulH. Last Updated: 01/04/14 10:34pm
Tiger Woods has pulled put of the Masters after having surgery on a pinched nerve in his back
It's often said that winning the Masters is all about survival of the fittest, with the green jacket a reward for surviving four gruelling rounds at Augusta National - and this year there's a big battle for the major stars just to get to the starting line!
This year perhaps an injury report is more useful than a form guide with Tiger Woods out due to his back, Jason Day struggling with a thumb injury and Phil Mickelson joining them at the weekend with a pulled side muscle forcing him out of the Valero Texas Open.
It leaves the big five in the betting market all looking shaky, with Rory McIlroy as the current 7/1 favourite with Sky Bet - and we all know what's happened to him at Augusta in the past.
Could that then leave defending champion Adam Scott (9/1) a clear run to a successful title defence? History would suggest not, as would his capitulation at Bay Hill when he failed to convert a seven-shot halfway lead into a victory that would have taken him to world No 1.
Tiger Woods has had back problems in the Masters build-up
Woods will miss The Masters for the first time in 20 years after having surgery on his back for a pinched nerve. It's another monster blow for Woods who just can't seem to find his way back to winning major form.
He pulled out during the Honda Classic on March 2 with back spasms and now must watch from afar as the rest of the field tackle Augusta - and it'll be some tim ebefore we see him back on the fairways again.
Lefty is always a popular figure at Augusta, but the three-time champion had to pull out of the Texas Open over the weekend with a pulled muscle - although the move was described only as a precaution.
Still, it means he will be at his doctors in San Diego this week instead of heading to Georgia to have a look around Augusta, and the 43-year-old had only entered the event in San Antonio to sharpen up a struggling game, so another lay-off is hardly ideal.
Even with his miraculous shot-making and one less tree for him to be stuck behind, an aching side muscle will not help his chances of pulling off any wonder shots from the pine straw this year.
Probably has the best chance of winning out of the leading pack if fit judging by his form already this year from his win at the WGC Matchplay Championship in Arizona in February - but he has not played since due to his continuing thumb injury.
A third place last year and second in 2011 show that Day can get around Augusta, and he's long been touted as a major winning in waiting - and he'd have a great chance if his thumb will allow him to make it through a long week.
If he can grit his teeth and just play through the pain he will do - he's already said he'll have a cortisone injection if needs be, so if he does get the thumbs up (pun intended) to go at full steam he could yet capture that green jacket.
So who's in the running?
As mentioned McIlroy is now the favourite and would be a sentimental choice for many after his back-nine implosion in 2011. He's not been at his best since his club change and even at the Honda Classic when he looked on course for victory, he faltered coming home and lost in a play-off.
Woods was the last back-to-back winner in 2001-02, just the third in history, and Scott is 9/1 with the online bookmakers to become the fourth and on the face of things looks to have a great chance. However, the pressure of defending is huge, demands on his time will be vast and with so much on his mind it'll be a tough ask.
Former winners Bubba Watson (22/1) and Zach Johnson (33/1) suddenly come into focus, as does the all-conquering Henrik Stenson (22/1) who must really fancy his chances if he plays anything like he did in the second half of last year.
Even last year's US open winner Justin Rose has been troubled by a shoulder injury and may not be up to full speed for Augusta, so it looks like one of the most open contests for many a year as we approach the first major of 2014.