Just after the new year hit, I offered up my five early favorites to win the Masters along with three honorable mentions. You can read that piece here.
Knowing what we know now -- stuff like Tiger's struggles, Dustin Johnson's return, Patrick Reed's continued solid play, etc. -- there are a few amendments I'd like to make to the list.
So, here's my new -- and certainly not "last" Masters favorites list -- before that first full week in April that we all long for finally arrives.
5. Patrick Reed
This spot was previously occupied by Matt Kuchar (more on him later). Reed has earned a place in my five to watch because he has put his money where his mouth is plenty of times over the last 12 months when he easily could have put his foot there instead. Reed has established himself as one of those players where the rest of the field takes notice when his name appears on the first page of a leaderboard. He's a winner already this season, having won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in a playoff over 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup teammate Jimmy Walker. Along with that, Reed just finished in a tie for seventh at the Honda Classic, where he just as easily could have won. He's also looking to avenge that missed cut in his first Masters from a year ago. I'm not saying he'll win this time around, but all indications are that he will be a factor.
4. Bubba Watson
Jordan Spieth was here in January, but moved up leaving this spot open for two-time Masters champ Bubba Watson (who, in all honesty, should have been among the top 5 on the last list). Watson's four starts in the 2014-15 season include a win at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions and a tie for second at the Waste Management Open. He's proven himself to be a force at Augusta National and should be a factor there for as long as he's one of the game's longest hitters and most creative shot-makers.
3. Jordan Spieth
Yes. This guy is still firmly among my top-5 to watch at Augusta National. He was No. 4 when I made these predictions a couple of months back, but has propelled to No. 3 after a strong start to 2015. Five starts this season and Spieth has already got himself three top-10 finishes, highlighted by a T4 at the Northern Trust Open. He nearly became the youngest ever to win the Masters in 2014.
2. Jason Day
The Aussie was holding down the No. 3 spot last time around, but has moved to No. 2 (Rickie Fowler, who occupied this position previously, has moved on to an honorable mention) with three top-10 finishes in four starts this year, including a win at Torrey Pines in the Farmers Insurance Open. I love Day at Augusta National too -- he tied for second in 2011 and finished third in 2013. It's only a matter of time before he wins a major. Since he started playing the majors in 2010, Day has snagged a top-10 finish at least twice in the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship. He has yet to crack the top 10 in the Open Championship.
1. Rory McIlroy
Forget the missed cut last week in the Honda Classic -- his first appearance of the 2015 PGA Tour season. McIlroy is still the guy to beat at Augusta National as he looks for his third consecutive major championship victory. His position on my list hasn't changed since December and, unless someone else does something otherworldly before April, it won't.
Honorable mentions: Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson
Honorable mentions from January were: Tiger Woods (who knows when he'll play again?); Henrik Stenson (hasn't played competitively on the European Tour or PGA Tour in a month); and Ernie Els (three missed cuts in four starts this season on the PGA Tour).
Just always one of the most consistently solid players out there. Loves Augusta National, evidenced by three consecutive top-8 finishes there. He's won seven times on the PGA Tour, including the Players, a World Golf Championship and a playoff event. The only thing left to do is win a major. In my next rendition of this list, I suspect Kuchar will have worked his way back into the top 5.
I just want to see how he backs up 2014 in the majors, which will be nearly impossible. He top-5'd in all of them a year ago. Fowler hasn't finished any better than a T41 in his last three starts. That's not of much concern, however. He really didn't turn it on in stroke-play events until the beginning of April in 2014 (he finished third at the WGC-Accenture Match Play held in February a year ago).
A sixth-month layoff doesn't seem to have impacted Johnson's game negatively. The booming hitter has four starts on Tour already and two of those resulted in missed cuts while the other two -- impressively -- resulted in a T4 at Pebble Beach and a playoff-loss the following week in the Northern Trust Open. The Masters is the lone major in which Johnson has yet to top-10, but that's going to change. It's too much of a bomber's paradise for it not to.