Masters title and green jacket up for grabs

There was a time when any preview of the prestigious Masters golf tournament started and ended with Tiger Woods. And although he is always a threat to walk off with the green jacket, it’s surely not the given that it was for so many years.

What Tiger’s recent skid has done, though, is make the sport a lot more exciting. When he was at his peak, it was almost a foregone conclusion that he was either going to win most of the majors or be in the hunt down the stretch. Now there are dozens of golfers who are capable of winning, and that is actually a good thing for the game of golf.

If there is a favorite going into this week’s tournament (TV coverage begins Thursday on ESPN at 3pm ET), it has to be Phil Mickelson. Not only is he the defending champion, but he is coming off a dominating performance last week at the Houston Open in which he shot 20 under par.

As impressive as Mickelson can be, he can also be his own worst enemy. His ability to hit miraculous shots — anybody remember the shot through the trees at the Masters last year? — can also lead to blow-up holes that destroy his chances to win tournaments.

Should that occur this week, there will be plenty of competitors (including Woods) who will gladly take advantage of it. Other golfers to look out for include Lee Westwood, Nick Watney, Martin Kaymer, Aaron Baddeley, Luke Donald, Hunter Mahan and Dustin Johnson.

Regardless of who wins, the Masters is without question one of the premier events in all of sports (especially in high definition). And with the suspense of not knowing which Tiger will show up, this could be one of the most interesting tournaments in many years.