2014 Masters Tournament | Five players to watch

Phil Mickelson
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Phil Mickelson is seeking his fourth Masters victory this week.
By T.J. Auclair
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Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Wednesday, April 09, 2014 | 10:45 a.m.

The first major of the season is upon us. The dogwoods, the azaleas, the magnolias, the towering pines and oak trees -- Augusta National Golf Club in all its glory for what is sure to be yet another fantastic Masters.

If you like drama (who doesn't?), it doesn't get any better than the back nine on Sunday where Amen Corner can ruin, or boost, the hopes of slipping into a coveted green jacket.

Many have suggested this particular Masters may just be the most wide open in years.

RELATED: Complete Masters coverage | Round 1 tee times | Scott goes for No. 1 | Photos

That may be true, but I really like the chances of any one of the five men listed below. Keep an eye on them this week.

5. Justin Rose
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Fifth in the WGC-HSBC Champions
Reason to watch: Rose enters the Masters coming off a missed cut in his last start -- the Arnold Palmer Invitational. That should be cause for concern, right? Sure. But that's also the reason I like the reigning U.S. Open champ to make some noise this week... he's flying under the radar. He's not getting the attention you'd expect a full-on favorite to have. When he's on, few possess the all-around game Rose does. If that comes together this week, I have a feeling England will have its first Masters champ since Nick Faldo in 1996.

4. Phil Mickelson
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
T12 at the Shell Houston Open
Reason to watch: It seems almost impossible, but some how, Mickelson has yet to record a top-10 finish this season. There is reason to be optimistic, however. Last week's T12 in Houston is his best this year. Oh yeah, and over the course of his illustrious career, Mickelson has racked up a whopping 14 top-10 finishes in the Masters, including three victories. Augusta National brings out the best in Phil. When he arrives for Masters week, it truly is like an excited kid on Christmas morning.

3. Jason Day
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship
Reason to watch: This week will mark Day's first start since winning the Match Play Championship in February. He hasn't played since due to a thumb injury. Day says the thumb feels great now and that's a terrific sign for the Aussie this week, as he's finished in a tie for second and alone in third in two of his last three Masters trips. Based on that, along with the fact that Day finished in the top 10 at three of the four majors in 2013, it seems as though a major championship win is in Day's very near future. Why not this week?

2. Adam Scott
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational
Reason to watch: For starters, he's the defending champion. He's also got a chance to become the world's No. 1-ranked player and the first player since Tiger Woods in 2001 and 2002 to successfully defend his Masters title. Scott just seems to have his eyes set on winning majors now that he's finally gotten over the hump. Major win No. 2 could very well result in his second Masters.

1. Rory McIlroy
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Playoff runner up at Honda Classic
Reason to watch: What a difference a year makes. After a tumultuous 2013 season, McIlroy is right back on top of his game and clearly a favorite to win this week at Augusta National. Golf is so much more fun to watch when the best players are on top of their respective games and that seems to be where McIlroy is at in 2014. A win at Augusta National would put the 24-year-old three-quarters of the way to a career grand slam.

Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.