Almost all talk heading into the Masters was centered around Tiger Woods. How would he respond to a full onslaught of reporters? Can he win after this long of a hiatus from the game? What color hat will he be wearing on Thursday?
It is easy to forget, however, that we have a tremendously strong field getting ready for the season's first major championship, and all these guys are hungry to wear green come Sunday night. So what are the top 10 storylines non-Tiger related? Here goes, in no particular order.
Ernie Els changing caddies the week of Augusta: He won twice with Ricci Roberts on the bag, the first time Els had sniffed the winner circle since 2008, but that didn't stop him from shaking things up. Els decided to let former NHL player Dan Quinn carry the bag this week, making a strange move considering the momentum Roberts and Els seemed to be producing as a unit. Will it matter?
Jack Nicklaus joining the ranks of ceremonial starter: It was just over 10 years ago that Nicklaus came to Augusta National and nearly won the darn thing. It was a credit to his knowledge of the golf course and superior talent and now, at age 70, will be joining Arnold Palmer to hit the first shots of the Masters. The two biggest legends of the game together on the first tee. It only happens at Augusta.
Could Fred Couples win at 50?: It seems like just last week when a young Fred Couples was watching anxiously as his ball started to roll down the bank on 12 back in 1992. Somehow it stopped (it never stops!), he made par and went on to win his first and only major championship. Now, at 50, Couples has moved on to dominating something else, the Champions Tour, and three wins in a row heading into the Masters means he's in rare form. Does dominating the Champions Tour matter when playing the young guns? We will see as Couples tries to do something that has never happened - win at Augusta in your 50s.
Can Anthony Kim build off momentum from Houston and last year?: Last year at Augusta, Kim went molten, breaking the Masters record with 11 birdies in his second round. Along with those good memories comes a win at the Shell Houston last week. Could he buck the non-major title this week at Augusta?
How will Kenny Perry respond from the devastating finish in 2009?: In 2009, Perry was having an incredible season. A win at the FBR Open followed by two top-10s at the CA Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational heading into Augusta was great for most players, but Perry wanted one more accomplishment to his career; a major championship. Perry was two holes away from claiming it, but bogeys on 17 and 18 followed by a playoff loss to Angel Cabrera might have stifled that goal for good. This season he isn't playing nearly as well as '09, but could Perry find a little magic around the azaleas?
Putting matters: Want a few guys to bet on this year at the Masters? Check Mike Weir, Jim Furyk and Brian Gay. All three are in the top four in putts per round this season, something that you must (must! must! must!) do well at Augusta to have a chance. Weir has won before, so if the putter heats up, don't be surprised to see him near the top of the leaderboard around the weekend.
Could a European buck the winless streak?: Not since 1999 has a European won the Masters, and not since 1996 has an Englishman taken home green. Both those could go disappear with the stacked group England is bringing to Georgia.
Can Phil Mickelson contend?: Before the season started, this seemed like a no-brainer. Of course he can contend, right? He's Phil Mickelson! Only one top-10 so far this season and a serious struggle the last two days of the Shell Houston means Phil is limping in (and that could be taken literal after you saw Phil hit himself in the leg with a shot last week when he tried to go righty out of a hazard). You never know what you're going to get from Mickelson, but it just seems that the early favorite to claim a third green jacket is on down the list on guys that could take this thing home.
Will a young player ever breakout in the majors?: It seems almost impossible at this point for young players to keep it together for 72 holes in a major. Guys like Kim and Hunter Mahan seemed to be the likely favorite to do it early in their careers, but are still majorless. Ryo Ishikawa will be in the field this week, as will Rory McIlroy, but neither are having a dominate year. Could a young gun finally breakthrough and do what Tiger was able to do in 1997?
No clear-cut favorites at the Masters: No matter the year, youknowwho was at the top of our list as the potential champion. Without him, Phil would be up top. After Phil, we had Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh and the likes, but 2010 might be the first time in as long as we can remember that there isn't a favorite heading into the Masters. Martin Kaymer? Sure, but you wouldn't bet your house on him. Jim Furyk? He has played well of late but again, what has he done in majors since 2003? If you are making a bet on this tournament, you better go with the field.