By Brant Brice

GolfWRX Contributor

The winner of the 2012 Masters is … not Tiger, Phil, Rory or Luke. While you may believe one of these men will roll to victory, there is s new class of PGA Tour professionals poised to prove you wrong.

So what does it take to win the Masters?

The first obvious challenge at Augusta National is length. At over 7400 yards, the course is much more difficult for a shorter hitter like Luke Donald who averages just over 270 yards off the tee and is 70th on Tour in driving accuracy.

Unfortunalely, Luke Donald can’t win here.

Next, the course demands you hit the fairways. The rough is cut very short, which makes errant shots worse as off line shots tend to scoot further into trouble. When you do hit a fairway at Augusta, there aren’t many even lies to be found on the course. So even from the right places, it’s hard to hit greens at the Masters.

Mickelson can surely hit it long enough he just isn’t hitting it straight; in 2012, he is 158th on tour in fairways hit. And even though Mr. Unpredictable has won this year, this course won’t let him get away with the wild tee shot misses.

Scratch Phil Mickelson.

The third necessity needed to tame the field at the Masters is a swing that repeats under pressure. A pro has to have incredible confidence for all four rounds and trust his swing under the most intense pressure cooker of any tournament in golf.

Exit Tiger Woods.

Although he will be the crowd favorite and seems to be returning to classic Tiger form, his TW 3.0 swing is still under construction. While the framework of the new swing is appears to be ingrained, he still has trouble trusting his distances and still fears the occasional double cross. At Augusta, precision is an absolute if he expects to finish with the lowest total score on Sunday. He’s not there yet.

Enter Rory Mcilroy, last year’s sweetheart who had an epic choke in the final round of the 2011 Masters. The young Irishman can crush the ball, and is averaging just a shade shy of 300 yards off the tee with the preferred high draw. But he only hits the fairway and greens 60 percent of the time.  This was a huge reason for the debacle last year. See Phil above.

Statistically, he is a little better than average putter, but has been underwhelming from 100 yards and in, and struggles with making lots of birdies, ranked 181st. Although he is 1st in scrambling, pars won’t win at Augusta. Rory will eventually wear the green jacket but not this year.  Of the four his game is the closest.

No glory for Rory this year.

So who will win in 2012? Look out for these big hitters, straight shooters and steady putters: Keegan Bradley, Martin Kaymer, Nick Watney, Gary Woodland and Kyle Stanley. These boys are young and hungry, they can hit the ball a mile, and they’re all prior tour winners and with the ability and confidence to win any given week.

So, Will Tiger be back? Is Phil on the back side of his career? Will Rory win a Masters?  Can Luke ever beat Augusta?

Tiger 3.0 is close, Phil still has plenty of gas in the tank, Rory will win more than one Masters, but I don’t think Luke can ever beat Augusta unless the field beats itself. It’s not a course that fits his strengths.

The Masters is the grandest stage of all in professional golf. It’s not the most difficult tournament setup where 34 times the final posted score was 9-under or greater, compared to the U.S. Open where only twice in its history has there been final score posted lower than 8-under (Tiger in 2000 at -12 and Rory in 2011 at -16 2000).

What makes the Masters so difficult to win is that it encompasses something far more challenging than length from tee to green or undulating fairways and lightening fast greens. It’s the chance of immortality. It’s the unmistakable noise of the galleries as well as the deafening sound of silence only heard at the Masters. It’s the history of champions past and the timeliness of the course itself. It’s the overwhelming pressure to attain the green jacket, the greatest prize in all of golf. It’s a tradition unlike any other and is the greatest sports event in the world!

Who do you think will win?

Click here for discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum.

Click here to read more from Brant on his blog: Golfensive thoughts and other shallow observations.  You can also follow Brice on Twitter @BrantBrice

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  1. Woodland is in the midst of swing changes with Harmon and has consistently under performed this year. No reason to think he finds it this week. Kaymer has never made a cut at the Masters, and has in the past made noises about having to modify his game to fit the course (i.e. hit more draws). I think you can safely scratch those too off the list.

    If Mahan’s new and improved short game is for real, he might be a non-obvious pick other than your first four mentioned to carry his momentum in and win. In any case, here’s hoping for a Sunday like last year.