Field of Dreams: Get ready for the most star-studded Masters ever

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The fairways might be narrow, but the field is wide open for this year's Masters tournament at Augusta National.

It's shaping up to be an all-time tournament, with a host of big names expected to be in contention come Sunday.

Consider that Jordan Spieth hasn't won a tournament yet in 2017-18, and yet, he's the betting co-favorite. Winners on the PGA Tour this year include Justin Thomas (twice), Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Jon Rahm, Jason Day, Bubba Watson (twice), and Rory McIlroy.

And, of course, Tiger Woods is back.

"The storylines around here have got to be pretty good," Watson, a two-time Masters champion, said in his pre-tournament press conference.

In other news, the water is flowing through Rae's Creek.

First-time participant Xander Schauffele, the PGA Tour's Rookie of the Year last season, said he tried to find the slickest greens in his native San Diego to prepare for his Masters debut. It didn't help, Schauffele said with a smile.

The field is the smallest it's been since the late 1980s, so with that, a plethora of names could contend for this year's green jacket.

Sergio Garcia, the defending champion, has only played four times on the PGA Tour this year, but he comes into the week with three top-10 finishes (he and his wife, Angela, did just have their first child a few weeks ago - appropriately named Azalea, after the 13th hole at Augusta National).

Garcia bucked the notion that one needs to be a good putter to win at Augusta. Coming into the Masters last year, he was 168th in Strokes strokes gained: putting. Considering Bubba Watson (2014 and 2012), Adam Scott (2013), Charl Schwartzel (2011), and Phil Mickelson (2010) were all outside the top 100 in the same category but went on to win, it's clear you can have a streaky putting week - and not be a good putter overall - and still contend.

The more important statistic to look at - the stars of the PGA Tour would agree - is strokes gained: approach to green, which speaks to one's approach shot prowess. Augusta is a second-shot golf course. If you end up on the wrong side or the wrong tier of a green, you're staring bogey (or worse) in the face.

Per the Golf Channel's Justin Ray, each of the last six Masters winners were ranked seventh or better in that statistical category heading into the week, and five of the last six were in the top 25 in bogey avoidance. The steadier a golfer, the more reliable they'll be around Augusta National's tricky layout.

Here's a look at who should win, who will contend, and who's worth a look, even with the odds stacked against them:

Favorites

Jordan Spieth (10-1): Spieth is struggling with his putting this year, but you can't ignore the fact that he should really have two green jackets (versus just the one), and a case could be made he should've won all four of the Masters he's played in. Spieth knows Augusta National, and he's coming into the Masters after his best finish of the year, a T3 at the Houston Open last week.

Dustin Johnson (10-1): Last year, Dustin Johnson was ranked No. 1 in the world and was a Masters favorite, but he tripped and fell at his rental house and had to withdraw. This year? New rental house, same spot on the Official World Golf Rankings. Johnson has one win already in 2018 and hasn't finished outside the top 20 at a stroke play event. He's also first in scoring average on tour this year and second in bogey avoidance.

Justin Rose (12-1): In his last 10 starts at Augusta National, Rose - whose lone major championship is a U.S. Open - has finished in the top 10 five times. After losing in a playoff a year ago, he told reporters this week at Augusta that he took a month off in 2018 in hopes of being fresh and ready. "I've played a nice run of golf since then so I feel tournament sharp," he said, according to BBC Sport. Rose has made the most combined birdies and eagles at Augusta since 2012 and has the best score to par overall since 2011.

Trending

Bubba Watson (16-1): Watson is a two-time winner at Augusta National. He's won twice already on the PGA Tour this season, including just two weeks ago at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. He switched golf balls this year, and that switch has paid dividends.

Justin Thomas (10-1): His game fits Augusta National (he hits it high and far), and although he hasn't yet had a top-20 result, the first two spins around the storied course will do wonders to help him feel more comfortable. Thomas has won twice already this season.

Tiger Woods (12-1): Woods hasn't played in the Masters since 2015, but that year he hadn't played in two months and was still in one of the final four groups on Sunday. He also finished T4 in 2010 in his return to action after the scandal that broke Thanksgiving weekend in 2009. He remains built to contend at Augusta, no matter the circumstance, and he's playing great golf right now.

Dark horses

Adam Hadwin (150-1): The Canadian told The Canadian Press this week that he's playing better than he was a year ago - and a year ago he was coming off his first PGA Tour victory. He's improved by almost 100 spots in greens in regulation this season and has long been known as a solid putter. He has three top-10 finishes on the year, and it's the 15th anniversary of his countryman Mike Weir's Masters win in 2003.

Daniel Berger (1251): This is only the third Masters start for Berger, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, but his results - a T10 and T27 - speak volumes. He was part of the Presidents Cup team in September, clinching the winning point for the American side.

Rafa Cabrera-Bello (125-1): The Spaniard saw countryman Sergio Garcia capture the green jacket last year, and like Garcia, Cabrera-Bello has all the tools to contend. He notched a top 20 in his Masters debut in 2016 and is seventh on the PGA Tour in that key strokes gained: approach stat (he's 25th in bogey avoidance, too).

Adam Stanley has written about golf since 2011 for PGATOUR.com, LPGA.com, and The Canadian Press, among other organizations. He's also a frequent contributor to The Globe and Mail. Find him on Twitter @adam_stanley.

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