With the Masters set to start on Thursday, I found it necessary to rank the top 15 players with the best chance to put on a green jacket Sunday evening. I’m sure most are interested to see where Tiger Woods is ranked but there are 95 other players in this field, and I’m going to take a look at the 15 whom I think have the best chance to don the jacket Sunday night and make a prediction at the bottom.

1. Padraig Harrington: Many golf experts also have this pick. He’s a 3-time major champion and has played excellent golf recently. He’s played well at Augusta in the last few years, finishing in the top 7 two of the last three years.

2. Phil Mickelson: Lefty sounds confident, but other than his collapse at Winged Foot, when doesn’t he? He’s a 2-time champion and usually always find himself near the leader board Sunday afternoon. With his wife and mother both battling breast cancer, this could be a great chance for him to win it for them.

3. Retief Goosen: A 2-time US Open champion has finished 2nd at Augusta twice, in 2002 and 2007. He’s now 41, but has played well so far this year with four Top-5 finishes already this season. He’s one of the best putters there are, so expect him to be in contention.

4. Steve Stricker: He’s ranked 2nd in the world, and I’ll bet you didn’t know that. The man can play and he has nerves of steel. Stricker’s best finish came last year with a tie for 6th. Look for him to build off of that and his self motivation.

5. Lucas Glover: He’s the defending US Open Champion. I saw this guy at Bethpage Black last year when he won. He didn’t miss a putt and fed off the rowdy New York gallery on his way to victory. Look for him to feed off this environment as well. He’ll be somewhere in the Top 10.

6. Lee Westwood: Westwood has the talent to win a major. He’s had putts to force playoffs on the final hole twice in the last two years and wasn’t able to come through. If he can overcome his own mental block, one day he may be a major winner.

7. Mike Weir: He’s a past champion and always plays well at the Major Championships. He knows how to win this event and is always capable of putting together 4 great rounds.

8. Tiger Woods: Tiger hasn’t won this event since 2005. He hasn’t played in an event since November, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he were rusty and struggled, especially with the flat stick. However, it is Tiger Woods after all, and I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if he wins on Sunday. I’ll be rooting for him too.

9. Ernie Els: Els has never won at Augusta. It’s haunted him his entire career with his best finish coming in 2000 and 2004, when he was the runner up. He’s won twice already this year, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s right in the mix when it’s all said and done.

10. Jim Furyk: Never a champion here at Augusta, and never entirely a contender either, but he also has only one missed cut in 14 appearances. His best finish coming in 1998 and 2003 when he finished 4th.

11. Fred Couples: While he’s over 50, and hasn’t won here since his 1992 championship, Freddy Couples is playing outstanding golf right now. He’s won several times on the Champions Tour this year and is certainly a contender this week at Augusta.

12. Camilo Villegas: Villegas makes a lot of birdies, but also can make a big number, or two. If he can avoid the blow up holes, he’ll make enough birdies to give himself a chance to win.

13. Angel Cabrera: He won last year so he has the confidence that he can win here. There hasn’t been a back to back winner since Tiger Woods (2001, 2002). Can “The Duck” do it?

14. Stewart Cink: The defending Open Champion finally won his first major last year in Britain. He’s come close at Augusta before, finishing tied for 3rd in 2008. Can he Cink parlay his British Open championship with another major?

15. Geoff Ogilvy: He’s a major champion, but has never finished higher than 15th at the Masters. When he’s good he’s good, but he could very well miss the cut too. As a major champion though, you can’t count him out.

As for my prediction this week, I’m going to take Steve Stricker. He’s gutsy and has a strong desire to win. The #2  ranked player gets his first Major championship, and a pretty sweet green jacket along with it.

photo credit: golfblogger.co.uk