Since I began covering the Masters Tournament for The Augusta Chronicle in 1999, I've been asked a simple question every year.
Who do you think is going to win the Masters?
Scott Michaux, the great columnist for the Chronicle, asks media members from around the world who they believe will be wearing the green jacket come Sunday evening. Everyone covering the tournament for the local newspaper gets asked to submit a name as well. All these picks can be seen in the Thursday edition of The Augusta Chronicle.
Every year, most people pick the favorites to win. How boring. I like to choose someone not everyone is talking about. That's one reason I've never picked Tiger Woods.
I successfully picked Adam Scott to win in 2013. Unsure if I've been correct before or after that. So with that, here's my grand selection for this year: Paul Casey.
I've been high on the the 39-year-old Englishman for awhile. He's had a ton of success in Augusta, and he's playing well this year on the PGA Tour.
Casey is making his 11th Masters appearance. The past two years he's finished tied for sixth (2015) and tied for fourth (2016). Five times, he's finished tied for 11th or better.
He's playing well and he has plenty of Masters experience. And I think he has something else in his favor - the weather. Conditions are expected to be cold and windy the first two rounds. The Masters will resemble the British Open a bit at the start, and that's going to eliminate a lot of guys. Some just don't play well in cold weather. Others struggle in the wind. Amen Corner should be interesting the first two rounds.
Aside from Casey, here are some thoughts on other players:
WHO I LIKE: Justin Rose. He's another Englishman who's been close in Augusta. He's led after the first round. He's led after 36 holes. And he has four top-10 showings in the Masters since 2007. The last two years, Rose has finished tied for second (2015) and tied for 10th (2016).
Again, weather conditions should favor him. Don't be surprised if he wins his first green jacket.
WHO I DON'T LIKE: Bubba Watson. While the fan favorite won the Masters in 2012 and 2014, he followed up with a tie for 38th and a tie for 37th. He has just one top-20 showing this spring, along with three missed cuts.
And the other thing that bothers me is how skinny Watson is now. He's 6-foot-3 and weighs 170 pounds. He doesn't look right, too thin.
Now I'm about 6-foot, 212 pounds. I know I need to drop some pounds. At the Augusta Futurity earlier this year, I made a comment about my weight. An older woman told me I wear it well. Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson?
With all this wind predicted for the first two rounds, I'm afraid that Watson will blow away. Here's hoping he has a few pimento cheese sandwiches before then.
(Side note: I interviewed Bubba before, down at Doral and enjoyed talking with him. I have nothing against him. I just don't like his chances this year. Gain some weight, Bubba!)
THE FAVORITE: Dustin Johnson. It's hard not to like his chances. The South Carolina native is the odds-on favorite, and the Palmetto State has had a ton of sporting success recently.
Johnson has six top-10 finishes in his past eight majors, including a tie for sixth (2015) and a tie for fourth (2016). If he can survive the first two rounds, Johnson might be the one wearing green Sunday night.
THE OTHER FAVORITE: Jordan Spieth. In three years, he has had a win and two runner-up showings. Spieth should have won last year. Has he fully recovered from last year's meltdown at No. 12 in the final round?
GRAND SLAM: Rory McIlroy. The 27-year-old of Northern Ireland will look to complete the Grand Slam with a win this week. He has three top-10 finishes the past three years in Augusta.
GRAND FINALE?: Ernie Els. He is playing on the final year of his five-year exemption for winning the British Open. Els, 47, has missed the cut two of the past three years in Augusta. It'll be a surprise if he makes it back to the Masters.
Then again, maybe he'll win this week. It'll be a heck of a story if he does. A lot of folks, including myself, would love to see Els finally bring home a green jacket.
NOT COMING BACK: Darren Clarke. The 48-year-old golfer from Northern Ireland played in the 2016 Masters on the final year of his five-year exemption for winning the 2011 British Open. He likely will never play again in Augusta.
I'm not missing him being here. In 2012, I was sent to Florida to interview Clarke, who I had always liked. He seemed like a great guy, a jovial guy. I first tried to interview him after he missed the cut at Honda Classic. He blew me off. No problem. I understood.
The next week, I tried to interview him on multiple occasions at Doral. On Monday, he and I were two of about 10 people on the course. I wanted to ask him two softball questions about the Masters. He blew me off again. The trend continued. I lost a ton of respect for him.
On the flip side, I interviewed Adam Scott late Monday night at Doral. I expected him to blow me off. Instead, we chatted for about six minutes. Wonderful guy. I was happy to see him win the Masters the next year.
Now, I always pull for Scott. As for Clarke? I don't worry about him. He's become irrelevant.