2013 Masters: Tiger Woods favourite for Augusta but who else is shaping up for a challenge?
By Paul Higham Twitter: @SkySportsPaulH. Last Updated: 17/03/13 7:24pm
With exactly four weeks to go until the 2013 Masters begins, just how are the top challengers getting on in the build-up to the opening major of the golf season?
There are different ways to go about gearing up for the opening major of the year, some players decided to take a break and ease their way back into things, while some like to keep as busy as possible.
Tiger Woods may have missed the cut in Abu Dhabi but his year since has gone from strength-to-strength, while Rory McIlroy has found life even tougher in 2013.
Much can change on the road to Augusta, but here's how the main challengers have been jockeying for position in the build-up to the big one.
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After a slow start in the Middle East, Tiger has roared back. His win at Torrey Pines was almost routine given his form around that course, but his victory at the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral was a much brighter seen of big things to come.
He looked like the Tiger of old when he led from wire-to-wire and his putting, thanks to a lesson from Steve Stricker, was his best performance on the greens since returning from his problems revamping his swing.
With seven top-eight finishes in last eight years, Tiger loves Augusta and given the way he has performed at his other favourite tracks already this year he must be right back in the mix, especially if his rediscovered putting holds.
Rory and Nike team-mate Tiger
He might have finished 2012 as world No 1, topping the money lists both sides of the Atlantic, but 2013 has been a real struggle to date for McIlroy, with a big-money move to Nike seemingly adding further weight of expectation on his young shoulders.
A missed cut in Abu Dhabi, a first-round exit at the WGC Matchplay and a second-round walk-off during his Honda Classic title defence saw the criticism raining down on the Northern Irishman.
Finally playing four rounds and shooting under 70 for the first time will do him the world of good, although returning to the scene of his famous final-round meltdown at Augusta in 2011 could go either way.
The defending champion has had a so-so start to the campaign, producing some fairly solid golf but nothing from his spectacular box of tricks that would suggest he is on the verge of a strong title defence at Augusta.
Having to deal with all the media in the build-up could also detract the big-hitting left-hander from his game, but that game is so free flowing that anything is possible if he strikes a vein of form.
Semi-retirement obviously agrees with Stricker after he pocketed $1.8million from his first three events of the year - playing once a month seems to suit his game and his putting remained as good any anyone.
That flat stick, plus a more relaxed approach could add up to a big Masters effort for the American, although he would be kicking himself again if Tiger pipped him to the green jacket after handing out some tips.
G-Mac taking it easy
Could it be G-Mac getting fitted for the green jacket? Well, the former US Open winner certainly seems to be cranking up his form at the right time and did well enough going toe-to-toe with Tiger at Doral to suggest he is in the groove.
He had a decent record in all the majors last year finishing 12th, 2nd, 5th and 11th - which is form not to be sniffed at by any means and runs of T5, T9 and T3 finishing with Doral puts McDowell right in the sort of form you need for a major.
Could the Englishman be Europe's big challenger at Augusta? If McIlroy is still struggling with his game then he could well be, with Rose continually improving his game and standing in world golf.
Rose has not won in 2013, but has been a solid top-ten man, is up to No 5 in the world rankings and is becoming more and more respected in America - couple that with finishes of fifth and eighth at Augusta and he could be your man.
Snedeker knows how to win
A win at Pebble Beach and three other top-three finishes in five events is not a bad way to start the season for the reigning Fed-Ex Cup champion, and his putting and temperament would suggest a green jacket is not out of reach.
A tied third in the 2008 Masters also means Augusta is to his liking, and with his ability to hit greens consistently he'll be in and around the leading fancies come April.
The Aussie has the look of a man due a major win, after coming so close at the Open last year before handing the Claret Jug to Ernie Els in the closing stages.
Finished second and eighth in the last two Masters, and a third place at the Cadillac showed that he has maintained his form going into 2013 - plus he has the famous Steve Williams on the bag!
The winner of the first WGC title of the year might have done it in a matchplay situation, but the world number nine will take huge confidence from that as he looks to bag a maiden major title.
His strokeplay form is not what you would like so far in 2013, but with a tied third in last year's Masters Kuchar knows how to go low at Augusta.
Not much has been spoken about Donald, but the Englishman is still the world number three and must be respected as a big challenger for the Masters.
Donald took a long holiday over the winter and although he's made a slow start to 2013 he's got three top tens at Augusta and was tied forth two years ago, and you get the impression his entire year will be geared around the majors.
Watch the Masters live and exclusively on Sky Sports with all four days of action in HD & 3D with Red Button options of Amen Corner & 15th & 16th starting at 7pm on April 11.