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78th Masters Tournament Preview

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - With the No. 1 player in the world already out of this year's Masters, injuries are clearly the top storyline heading into the first major of the season.

Tiger Woods, as we all know, had back surgery last Monday and is out of the tournament. If that wasn't enough, three of the next four players in the world rankings are also ailing.

Henrik Stenson, the third-ranked player in the world, continues to play with wrist pain that he has been dealing with since last year. No. 4 Jason Day hasn't played since winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, while No. 5 Phil Mickelson is battling the newest injury.

The three-time Masters champion and reigning British Open champ hurt his oblique at the Texas Open, and withdrew. After some practice at Augusta, he shared 12th at the Houston Open.

While those four battle with injuries, the remainder of the field deals with a lack of momentum. Outside of the last two Masters winners, not many players have any momentum heading into Augusta.

Reigning champion Adam Scott has six top-25 finishes in six starts this season. However, he did close the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a 76 to lose the title.

The man who slipped the green jacket onto Scott's shoulders, 2012 Masters winner Bubba Watson, also has six top-25 finishes in eight starts this season. Watson also has a win and two runner-up finishes in that span.

That victory for Watson was his first since donning the green jacket in 2012. Watson already has more top-10s this year than he had all of 2013, so his game is clearly in fine shape.

As for the remainder of the field, two of the biggest storylines early in the 2013-14 wrap-around season have been Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed. Walker has three victories and Reed has a pair, making them the only multiple winners of the season.

That's the good news. The bad news for both, this is their first appearance in the Masters. Why is that bad news? Only Fuzzy Zoeller won the Masters in his first appearance.

Could one of those players add their name to that short list? Since winning three times in eight events, Walker has cooled with five top-25 finishes, but none better than tied for 16th at the Texas Open. Reed's only start since his second victory ended in a tie for 52nd at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

What about the other two reigning major champions? U.S. Open champ Justin Rose has three top-10 finishes in seven starts, but is coming off a missed cut at Bay Hill and he has broken par in four of his last 10 stroke-play rounds.

PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner has three top-10s in eight starts and he has been off since the Valspar Championship. Tough to say what to expect from either of them.

As you can tell, the season's first major is wide open with no clear-cut favorite. Will either of last year's combatants be in the mix again this year?

Scott and the man he beat in the playoff, Angel Cabrera, both are valid picks, but also have question marks. Scott, as mentioned above, blew the Arnold Palmer Invitational in the final round.

Cabrera, on the other hand, has missed the cut in six of his seven PGA Tour starts dating to last October. Honestly though, that doesn't mean much when it comes to Cabrera and the Masters. He had two missed cuts and one finish inside the top 30 in seven starts last year before playing his way into the playoff with Scott.

In 2011, the Argentine had missed three cuts in six starts, then tied for seventh at Augusta. When Cabrera won in 2009, he was coming off back-to-back missed cuts and hadn't finished better than tied for 13th. There is something about Augusta with Cabrera.

Last year, Scott and Cabrera both birdied the final hole of regulation to get into the playoff. Scott made his first as Cabrera stood in the fairway and watched.

Cabrera responded by stuffing his approach inside three feet. The 2009 Masters champion kicked that in for birdie to force the extra session.

In the playoff, both players spun their approach shots off the front of the green on the first extra hole. Cabrera nearly holed his chip as it skirted the edge of the cup. Scott's chip stopped three feet short of the hole. They both made their par putts, and it was off to the 10th.

Cabrera left himself 18 feet for birdie, but failed to convert. Scott drained his 12-footer for birdie and the win.

It was a huge turnaround for Scott, who had bogeyed the final four holes of regulation at the 2012 British Open to lose the title.

Watson also won his title in a playoff in 2012. Those were the first back-to- back playoffs since 1989-90, when Nick Faldo won consecutive green jackets. There has never been three straight playoffs at the Masters.

How the scoring plays out depends on the condition of the course and the weather. Augusta was hit with several ice storms over the winter, and the biggest result of those storms was the loss of the Eisenhower tree that framed the tee shot on No. 17.

The long range weather outlook shows dry conditions for the four tournament rounds after some rain earlier in the week. That sets up perfectly for how the tournament tends to play out. As the week goes on, the course gets firmer and faster making it harder to score.

You will hear over those first few days that the tournament doesn't really start until the back nine on Sunday. Well, the last two years, the combatants were determined on that final nine, but settled in a playoff.

Will it take another playoff this year? Time will tell, but one thing is for sure - this Masters is as wide open as any in recent memory.