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Who's the Early Favorite to Win the 2014 Masters?

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Who's the Early Favorite to Win the 2014 Masters?
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
This look will be replaced by a big smile at the Masters.

It's usually very easy to pick an early favorite to win the first major of the year.

You ask yourself: Is Tiger Woods still playing on the PGA Tour?

OK, that was easy.

Well, at least it was easy prior to 2008 when Woods was a good pick every April. Now he's not a good pick in any month that ends with a "Y."

There's always Phil Mickelson. He's won three of those green jackets and is creative enough to make that sometimes wild-and-crazy game work around Augusta National Golf Club. But Mickelson has done little other than a tie for third two years ago since winning his third Masters title in 2010.

Until Rory McIlroy wins a Masters, he's always going to be the sentimental favorite because of his historic collapse in 2011. He made the turn to the back nine that fateful Sunday with the tournament in his hands and lost it with a drive on the 10th tee that started left and then hooked farther left.

He wasn't able to recover, shot an 80 and finished tied for 25th. It's three years later, and just when you think Rory might be about to stamp himself as one of those to seriously be considered as a Masters favorite, he suffers another back-nine collapse.

This time it came in the Honda Classic, Sunday afternoon. McIlroy had been the wire-to-wire leader. Boom! He started missing fairways and greens, missed an eagle putt that would have won it for him on the final hole, found himself in a four-man playoff and lost to Russell Henley on the first hole.

Matt York/Associated Press
Jason Day after winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play.

Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Victor Dubuisson? All very nice young players, who may some day get to put on that green jacket, but they don't have the experience necessary right now.

So, who does that leave us as a worthy nominee for favorite in just a little over a month? Adam Scott proved to be a very fine champion in 2013. He played the course smartly, accurately and with the just amount of force and delicacy that's required on Augusta National.

He summoned up all of the intestinal fortitude that he had to win in a playoff after a certain victory seemed to have been snatched from him by Argentinian Angel Cabrera's 7-iron laser shot that landed just a few feet from the hole on the 72nd hole. Cabrera made the putt and forced the playoff, but it was Scott who closed it out on the first hole.

But then there's the thing about back-to-back winners being about as rare as double-eagles at Augusta National.

When was the last time that happened? Oh yeah, that would be 2001 and 2002 when the Woods fellow was terrorizing the game.

Scott's a great player, and he could actually become the world's No. 1 player if he plays well at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and other things fall into place. But I'm not going to stare down history and make Scott my pick.

No, I'm going with his fellow countryman, Jason Day.

This man is in the prime of what looks for all the world like a monster career, and he nearly won the Masters last year. He has the game, guts and drive to become one of the elite players in the world.

Most importantly, he has a year's experience working his way around Augusta National under the heat of a Sunday afternoon in early April. For 69 holes, Day had things under control. But that control slipped away as he made two bogeys in the final three holes.

He bogeyed the 16th and 17th and finished two shots out of the playoff with Scott and Cabrera.

That will be a valuable asset for Day. The Australian has six stars in his 2013-14 season, and he had top 10s in five of those. His last start was the WGC-Accenture Match Play that featured a spectacular final between him and Dubuisson.

Day won on the 23rd hole, a win that put an exclamation point to one of the best starts on the PGA Tour this year.

His third-place finish last year, along with his T2 in 2011, shows he knows how to play Augusta National.

Yep, he's the guy. Wait for it.

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