Which rookie has best shot at a win?


Does anything smell as sweet as the start to Masters week? Although many parts of the country aren't feeling spring, at least this week's first major will bring blooming azaleas into our living rooms.

As for the play on the course, what will be the major storylines heading into Augusta National? And could a first-time Masters invitee actually slip his arms into the green jacket come Sunday night?

Our scribes dive into those topics and more in the latest edition of Four-Ball.

1. Which Masters rookie do you think has the best shot to win and why?

Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf analyst: I really like Harris English's game going into the Masters. His length compared to the other rookies should give him a slight advantage. But like all the rookies, the question is who can adjust to the moment the best. In that area, I'm a huge fan of Patrick Reed.

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Patrick Reed, a former All American at Augusta State, has twice won on the PGA Tour in 2014. But Reed's got much more going for him than just the ability to win. His greatest asset, perhaps, is that he believes that he is one of the most elite and prepared players on tour. He will be hard to beat if he takes this self-confidence into Amen Corner on Sunday with a chance to win.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Victor Dubuisson. I don't particularly like the chances of any first-timer, given the overwhelming history, but if someone were to be immune to such pressure, the Frenchman seems to have the perfect demeanor. He might not realize the difficulty of the task.

Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: There are 23 rookies in the field of 96, which equals about 24 percent. That's a hefty allotment. That being said, watch out for a guy like Graham DeLaet. You have to think 2003 Masters champion -- and fellow Canadian -- Mike Weir will share a few insider tips. And DeLaet sits top 10 on the PGA Tour in driving distance and greens in regulation, a key statistic to playing well at Augusta National.

2. What's the biggest storyline heading into the Masters?

Collins: There are two. What will Augusta feel like with no Tiger? More importantly, will Mother Nature play nice? A horrific winter that took away an iconic tree and heavy rain forecast for early in the week makes me wonder what kind of course we're going to have for the weekend.

Evans: It's the absence of Tiger Woods. Which of the top players will step up to fill the void left by the 14-time major championship? This has been the year so far of new winners emerging to challenge the old guard. Can Phil Mickelson or Sergio Garcia or the reigning Masters champion, Adam Scott, show that the past several months were just the side show to the real action in the major championships?

Harig: With Tiger Woods out and Phil Mickelson coming off an injury, there is no clear favorite. Nobody in the top five in the world this year has a victory, and the biggest winners ( Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed) have never played in the Masters. There is a lot of uncertainty heading into the year's first major.

Maguire: That no one has a clue (even more than usual) who will win the Masters. With so many of the top players in the world either out with injury (see Woods, Tiger) or having physical issues in the recent past (too many to list), it's truly anyone's game at Augusta National. That's what makes the Masters, this year more than usual, so exciting/unpredictable.

3. Give us a top 10 player in the world you think has the best shot at winning the Masters and one you think will be slamming the trunk come Friday night.

Collins: With this question, I "plead the 25th" because my top 25 rankings will be coming out Wednesday morning and there will be enough surprises there.

Evans: Sergio Garcia has been in the shadow of Tiger Woods since he stepped onto the international stage during the 1999 PGA Championship. With his long-time nemesis, Tiger, out of the spotlight this week, the Spaniard has a chance to finally win his first major championship. His third-place finish in Houston is a good indication of his readiness for the Masters.

And although Jason Day says that his injured thumb feels great, putting it under competition condition after a month-long break could make the cut a difficult challenge.

Harig: Zach Johnson is the only player who has won this year while ranked in the top 10 and he has been playing nicely all season. He also has the experience of having won the Masters. As for someone who could be leaving on Friday, Jason Day is getting a lot of hype but hasn't played since his Match Play victory six weeks ago. He is back from a thumb injury, but you wonder about his ability to turn it on again after a lengthy absence.

Maguire: Although many pundits like Dustin Johnson's chance this week at the Masters, keep your eye on the slightly shorter hitting Zach Johnson. Of course he's a former Masters champion, so he knows his way around the azaleas, but Zach hasn't missed a cut in 10 starts this season that includes four top-10s and a victory.

If forced to choose an MC, Henrik Stenson is the pick. The Swede has never finished inside the top 15 at Augusta National in eight career starts and although he hasn't played badly this year, he hasn't lit the world on fire, either. The thought here is that Stenson is still trying to recover from a whirlwind tour at the end of 2013 where he became the first person to win the FedEx Cup and Race To Dubai in the same season.

4. What's your favorite part of the Masters?

Collins: I love being under the "Big Oak Tree" talking with members and past champions about the history of the course. It never gets old and there is always a story that makes the hair on your neck stand up. Watching first-timers trying to gag down a pimento cheese sandwich is a close second.

Evans: Sunday morning at the Masters is very special. There is a real sense of anticipation for drama to come that afternoon. Player and patrons on the course feel it. Folks are talking about Amen Corner coming out of church. This waiting period is the most sacred time all year in golf.

Harig: Augusta National is one of those rare places that exceeds the hype. There is no letdown when entering the gates and it never seems to get old.

Maguire: That's like saying which kid is your favorite, but it's how everything is just different at Augusta National. No one other than players is allowed inside the ropes. A smaller field gives it a cozier feel. No split tees. No pro-am. You name it, and the Masters does it right. When a guy wins a tournament in late March, you expect them to say how excited they are having clinched a spot at Augusta. It's when they do it in July that says how truly special the tournament is.