| Capsules of the Leading Contenders |
Wednesday, April 6, 2005; 1:45 p.m. EST
A capsule look at a handful of the top golfers in the Masters, to be played April 7-10 at Augusta National Golf Club:
World Ranking: 4
Number of Masters: 12
Best Masters finish: won in 2004
• Ended a 12-year wait for his first major title with a dramatic one-shot victory over Ernie Els at last year's Masters. Holed an 18-foot birdie putt at the final hole to complete a blistering back nine of five-under-par 31, he and Els having produced an epic battle of shot-making.
• Has been in sparkling form this season with back-to-back PGA Tour wins at the Phoenix Open and Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February and a playoff victory at the rain-hit BellSouth Classic on Monday. Expect him to challenge again at Augusta, where he has finished no worse than tied for seventh over the last six years.
• After an outstanding amateur career, the Californian left-hander turned professional at the 1992 U.S. Open and became the third player after Jack Nicklaus and Jerry Pate to win five titles by the age of 25.
• Last year, he produced 13 top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, including victory at the Chrysler Classic in January. After his Masters success, he finished second behind Retief Goosen in the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, third in the British Open at Royal Troon and tied sixth in the U.S. PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
World Ranking: 1
Number of Masters: 11
Best Masters finish: won in 2000
• Hottest player in the game over the last two-and-a-half years, winning 14 times on the PGA Tour and piling up record earnings of $10,905,166 in the United States last season. Ended Tiger Woods's five-year reign as world number one by winning the Deutsche Bank Championship last September.
• Has maintained his astonishing run of form on this year's PGA Tour, winning the Sony Open in Hawaii in January, tying for third at the Doral, losing the Honda Classic in a playoff and tying for second at last month's Bay Hill Invitational. Lies second behind Mickelson on the U.S. money list with $2,699,113.
• A Fijian of Indian descent whose name means 'victory' in Hindi, Singh is known for his work ethic. Claimed his first major title in the 1998 U.S. PGA championship at Sahalee and won his second at the 2000 U.S. Masters, beating Els by three strokes. Clinched his third major in a three-way playoff for last year's U.S. PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
• Usually plays well at Augusta National and has recorded top-seven finishes there the last three years. Recovered from a 75-73 start in last year's tournament with successive rounds of 69 over the weekend to tie for sixth, seven strokes behind Mickelson.
World Ranking: 2
Number of Masters: 10
Best Masters finish: won in 1997, 2001 and 2002
• Best player in the world since Nicklaus but his dominance has diminished over the last two years. Has not won a major since the 2002 U.S. Open, the same year he parted company with swing coach Butch Harmon. Spent much of 2004 revamping his swing for the second time since turning professional.
• Appears to be close to his best form this season, though, with two wins and a tie for third in his first five PGA Tour starts. His one-stroke victory over Mickelson at last month's Doral Open owed much to magical shot-making and superlative driving all four days with a new three-wood.
• Won his third Masters title in April 2002 and his second U.S. Open crown at Bethpage Black in June to lift his career haul of majors to eight in only 22 professional starts, drawing him level with Tom Watson in the all-time listings.
• Was youngest player, aged 21, to win the Masters in 1997 with a record 12-stroke victory and became the first person to hold all four majors at the same time with his two-shot triumph over David Duval at the 2001 Masters.
World Ranking: 3
Number of Masters: 10
Best Masters finish: 2nd behind Vijay Singh in 2000, 2nd behind Phil Mickelson in 2004
• Was probably the form player at last year's majors after being edged out by Mickelson at the final hole of the Masters, tying for ninth at the U.S. Open, losing a playoff for the British Open and sharing fourth at the U.S. PGA Championship.
• Possesses one of the smoothest swings in golf and is also one of the longest hitters. Has finished no worse than tied for sixth in his last five Masters starts. In addition to last year, he also finished second in 2000 -- three strokes behind Singh.
• Arrived at Augusta National in upbeat mood following three top-six finishes on the 2005 PGA Tour and back-to-back wins on the European Tour in the Arabian Gulf. Would be a surprise if he is not in contention this weekend having become a regular factor at the majors over the last five years.
• Won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 but his 2002 British Open victory finally convinced him he has the game and mind to deal with the last-day pressures down the stretch. In 2000, became the first player to place runner-up in three straight major championships, finishing second behind Singh at the U.S. Masters and to Woods at the U.S. and British Opens.
World Ranking: 5
Number of Masters: 6
Best Masters finish: 2nd in 2002
• Made his major breakthrough in 2001 with a playoff triumph in the U.S. Open at Southern Hills after nearly squandering his victory chance when he three-putted the 72nd green. Clinched his second U.S. Open crown at Shinnecock Hills last year, holding off Mickelson by two shots in difficult last-day conditions.
• Has become an excellent performer in majors played on difficult courses and is seen by some as the dark horse for this year's Masters, ahead of the so-called "Big Four." Although he has produced just one top-10 finish at Augusta in six starts, he was runner-up to then world number one Woods in 2002.
• Improved results since 2000 owe much to his work with Belgian sports psychologist Jos Vanstiphout. The pair no longer work together but the quietly spoken Goosen has become a proven front-runner with an ice-cool temperament and one of the smoothest swings in the game.
• Was European number one in 2001 and 2002 and has since become a consistent performer on both sides of the Atlantic. On the European Tour, has won the 2003 Lancome Trophy and the 2004 European Open. On the PGA Tour, has won the 2003 Chrysler Championship and the 2004 season-ending Tour Championship.
World Ranking: 6
Number of Masters: 5
Best Masters finish: tied for fifth in 2002
• The consistent Irishman, one of just two Europeans in the world's top 10, is the continent's most likely winner at Augusta where he tied for fifth in 2002. Became the first Irish winner on the PGA Tour when he edged out Singh at the second extra hole in last month's Honda Classic.
• Has produced just one top-10 finish in five Masters starts but is almost certain to be a factor at Augusta with his renowned scrambling ability. Tied for 13th last year after carding rounds of 68 and 72 over the weekend.
• Surprisingly failed to shine in the other three majors of 2004, however, sharing 31st place in the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, missing the cut in the British Open at Royal Troon and finishing joint 46th in the U.S. PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
• Has worked hard on his fitness after struggling with an ankle injury and neck pains in late-2002. Finished third in the 2003 European order of merit, winning that season's Asian Open and the Deutsche Bank TPC of Europe, and third again last year, after wins at the Hong Kong Open and the German Masters.
© 2005 Reuters