By Andrew Both
REUTERS - Five players to watch in this week's U.S. Masters at Augusta, Georgia:
Top-six finishes the past two years, but in a different place mentally as he returns with the confidence that comes from finally winning a major, the U.S. Open last June, and taking over world number one ranking.
His wedge play now matches his renowned long game, which should give him the confidence to lay up if he gets into trouble off the tees.
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Has finished no worse than second in three appearances, including victory in 2015, but will have to deal with the mental baggage of his meltdown last year, when he blew a five-stroke lead over the final nine holes.
Arguably the best mid-range putter in the world, has the imagination and ability to execute with the flatstick on some of the game's fastest greens.
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Would become, at 46, the oldest Masters champion, seven months older than Jack Nicklaus when he won the 1986 Masters. Invariably raises his game at Augusta, no matter how he has been playing in the lead-up.
Apart from his three victories, Mickelson has six other top-three finishes. The Augusta layout, with most fairways moving right-to-left, ideally suits a left-hander such as Mickelson, who can play power fade off the tee.
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Seeking to become the first Japanese man to win a major, showed his affinity for Augusta with a fifth place in 2015, and enhanced his major credentials with a tie for fourth at the PGA Championship last August.
Was the hottest player in the world from October through early January, with four wins and two seconds in six starts. Has gone off the boil a little recently. Putting is not the best part of his game.
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A realistic chance of becoming the first player to win the Masters in his debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
The sport’s most exciting young player he won the Ben Hogan Award for the most outstanding collegiate golfer in the United States in 2015 and 2016. The native of northern Spain has quickly lived up to his billing since turning pro, winning at Torrey Pines for his maiden PGA Tour victory two months ago. Has finished no worse than 16th in six starts this year.
(Editing by Gene Cherry)