For the first time in recent memory, or distant memory for that matter, Tiger Woods won't be the favorite among the bookmakers for this staging of the Masters, the year's first major golf tournament.
That distinction belongs to Phil Mickelson, who blew away the field this past weekend to snag the Shell Houston Open. Phil's 63, 65 scores on the weekend imply his game's in peak form for Augusta. Birdies in bundles is a great thought to have when being fitted for another green jacket.
As of press time, 99 players will tee it up on Thursday. It had been an even 100, but for the withdrawal of Bernhard Langer, the victim of an ill-timed bicycle crash. We'll use Ladbrokes' current odds and handicap the limited field.
Though it's the smallest major field by a long shot, handicapping golf is still a crap shoot when you take into consideration all the variable factors over four days and 72(+) holes. With that disclaimer in mind, lets' go...
Phil Mickelson, 7/1 - Defends. Hot, hot after winning this past weekend. Tons of course knowledge. Obviously could win. Deserved favorite.
Tiger Woods, 11/1 - Odds too low based on recent performance. Should be more like 15/1. Still, loves it here, past wins mean possibly could win. Not solid enough to bet on though. Low return value.
Lee Westwood, 16/1 - Solid choice. 2nd last year. Decent value. Very well could win.
Nick Watney, 16/1 - Won Cadillac Championship against great field. 7th here last year. Can win? You bet!
Martin Kaymer, 20/1 - Missed cut here in all four attempts. Doesn't have a draw shot in the bag needed to win here. Stay away.
Dustin Johnson, 25/1 - 72.6 scoring average in 3 Masters' starts. Doesn't have the discipline needed to win here. Won't happen.
Hunter Mahan, 25/1 - T8 last year. Has the chops. Low round of 66 here. Outside shot. Worth the 25/1 odds.
Luke Donald, 25/1 - 4 of 7 Masters' cuts made. 73.0 scoring average. Peaking this year after match play win. Possible, but doubt it.
Rory McIlroy, 33/1 - 1 for 3 cuts made here. Nothing of note so far. Expect better play from Rory this time, but no win.
Paul Casey, 33/1 - Decent enough odds to take Casey. 4 of 7 cuts made here. Long shot, but hot putter could go far. True of everyone I guess.
Justin Rose, 33/1 - T5 is best here. Game and confidence rounding into form. Shares teacher with Woods. Like him at these odds. Could win.
Matt Kuchar, 33/1 - Mr. Steady. Fairways and greens. Nice quality for this track. Not a great history here, but his game's peaking. Possible, but not likely.
Graeme McDowell, 40/1 - Rather large odds for world #4. Just 1 for 4 in cuts here. Still, it's a lotta player for 40/1. Worth a flier.
Padraig Harrington, 40/1 - T5 last year. Latest round of swing changes may be showing results. Like him at 40/1.
Bubba Watson, 40/1 - T20 best here in just 3 tourneys. Can shape shots, big bonus. Best chance he's ever had at Augusta. Doubtful, but possible.
Best of the rest.....
Ian Poulter, 50/1 - Hot putter could return value with the peacock.
Steve Stricker, 50/1 - Just starting his season from up north. T6 in '09 best finish.
Anthony Kim, 50/1 - Owns single round birdie record here at 11. 3rd last year. Great value at 50/1.
Ernie Els, 66/1 - Hey, he's still Ernie Els. 2 career seconds. 72.02 scoring average.
Average Golfer's 2011 Masters Picks...
1. Phil Mickelson
2. Justin Rose
3. Nick Watney
Dark horses.... Tim Clark, Rory Sabbatni, Vijay Singh
Top amateur...... Peter Uihlein
There you have 'em. Bet early and often.