It's the first of the golf majors this week as the players make the surreal trip down Magnolia Lane to arguably the finest stop on tour all year - Augusta National Golf Club. Founded by Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts in 1933, Augusta National is home to the US Masters, possibly the most anticipated tournament in golf.
Playing to a par of 72 and just under 7,450 yards long, Augusta National can be a brute of a course with many of golf's finest coming unstuck down the years; the most notable of those in recent times being Rory McIlroy's final round capitulation only last year. McIlroy can be backed at 6.5 favourites to hold his nerve this year.
The Augusta course will be set up tough but fair and will catch out any player that isn't on top of the majority, if not all aspects of their game. Playing firm and fast, fairways and greens will be in pristine condition and players will be rewarded for good ball striking and punished for poor approach shots. Tiger Woods is ranking 1st in total driving and 7th in GIR% on tour in 2012, is coming off the back of a win at Bay Hill and has the perfect game for Augusta and a proven record here, ominous for the rest of the field. Woods is the tournament favourite at 5.5.
Augusta is an aesthetical delight, with fairways winding through tree laden terrain, in amongst which lies the famous Rae's Creek and Amen corner (part of the 11, 12 and 13th hole stretch), where some historic moments have taken place down the years and expect things to really heat here up around the turn on Sunday, when the contenders begin to realise that their major dream may not be far away from becoming a reality.
While many fairways are indeed treelined, they are also relatively generous, with rough not overly penal and errant tee shots may go unpunished, even if you find yourself venturing into the trees. Mickelson demonstrated this in his 2010 US Masters win, hitting arguably one of the best shots of all time; here he somehow managed to nail his second shot on a par five down the stretch from behind a tree, a shot that had to be fired over water.
The ability to draw the ball is widely accepted as a key attribute around the Augusta course. Graeme McDowell mentioned in a recent interview that one of his biggest weaknesses for the US Masters is his inability to "draw the ball hard enough off the tee", while in 2011 Martin Kaymer tried to completely change his game in the run up to the Masters to bring the right to left shot shape into his game.
The real key around Augusta though is the greens, the biggest defence of the course. Large, multi-tiered greens that according to Nick Faldo can be "unfairly fast" on occasions, usually running over 13.0 on the stimp. You must hit the greens in the right part to avoid treacherous up and downs or long putts.
Players will find themselves with a lot of putts from five to ten feet for par which is why the likes of Luke Donald at 16.0, stands out from the market leaders. Luke already ranks 1st in strokes gained putting in 2012 and ranked 1st in putting from 5-10' in 2011. Steve Stricker and Webb Simpson (both available at 60.0) at are two bigger prices that stand out in this department, both lovers of slick putting surfaces.
As well as putting, power hitters of the ball, especially those who have right to left tendency from the tee tend to dominate the leaderboards at Augusta where taking advantage of the par fives is also a premium. It's no coincidence that the likes of Nick Watney, Charl Schwartzel and Anthony Kim have made birdies in bunches at the US Masters.
The further off the tee, the shorter the approach shot and the better the chance of getting close to the pins. Those with a high ball flight may also benefit this week, depending on just how fast and firm the conditions are and Justin Rose is one that fits the profile and is more than sneaking onto my US Masters' radar after a fabulous few weeks.
Keegan Bradley at 35.0, is another with all the above attributes to go well here and coming off the back of yet another top five finish at the Shell Houston Open. As McDowell mentions in his interview, attacking the Augusta National course is the way to go this week if you want to get your hands on the trophy and backing these types of players is the way to go.