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Stage Set for the Greatest Show on Grass

10/04/2013 10:23 BST | Updated 08/06/2013 10:12 BST

For many, the trip down Magnolia Lane to Augusta National marks the real start of the golfing season. It's time for the first major of the year; it's time for the greatest show on grass.

Everything is set up perfectly for the 77th Masters. Tiger Woods, a four-time champion, is at the top of the world rankings thanks to three victories this year. Despite all of his success over the last 13 months, Woods is still looking for his first major championship since 2008.

Rory McIlroy lost his number one ranking with a slow start to the year and still has a score to settle at Augusta National, but he comes into the Masters in some great form. He added the Valero Texas Open to his schedule at the eleventh hour to fine tune his game and it proved a great decision. A final round 66 in San Antonio for McIlroy and a second place finish, which, but for an absolutely inspired performance from Scotland's Martin Laird, would have been a been win heading into Augusta.

Martin Laird incidentally has done nothing but impress me since he joined the PGA Tour. The win in Texas on Sunday came courtesy of a Sunday 63, which included three birdies to finish. It was all the more impressive because he's done absolutely nothing this year, but whenever he's had a sniff at victory; he's a player who doesn't disappoint. It was all the more special because the win booked his ticket to Augusta. He finished T20 there in 2011, the same year he won at Bay Hill, and now he's trying to follow in the footsteps of fellow countryman Sandy Lyle, by tasting victory the week before winning at Augusta. A long shot maybe, but in the form he showed last week, he's one to watch.

But what about Woods? In 2011, Tiger was in the mix along with several others as the lead changed hands multiple times before Charl Schwartzel put his foot on the gas and closed with four consecutive birdies to grab the title. When Woods tied for 40th last year, that marked the first time in eight years he finished outside the top six, and it was by far his worst finish at the Masters as a professional.

Having won at Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill, Woods has reclaimed the top spot in the world rankings. He has won six of his last 20 PGA Tour starts. This is the best Woods has played since before the troubles in his personal life. Yes, his game is in great shape right now, but Tiger is very happy off the course, and that is a critical factor.

Woods hasn't won a major since beating Rocco Mediate in their epic 91-hole U.S. Open thriller. Woods did that with a broken leg. With his current form, many think this is the most important major in Woods' career. If Woods wins this week, he'll move within three of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championship titles.

So we know Tiger is playing well, but Rory's performance in Texas was huge, it means the world number one and two are both heading into Augusta feeling confident. Wouldn't it be fantastic to see a Woods/McIlroy duel down the stretch on Sunday?

There will be plenty of focus on those two players, but let's not forget the two main protagonists last year -- Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen. Watson's incredible shot from the trees helped him beat Oosthuizen on the second playoff hole. Winning this title last year was Watson's first major. However, he is looking for his first win since then.

Oosthuizen hasn't been as consistent as Watson since last year's Masters, but the South African has two worldwide wins and two second-place finishes in that span. Louis, like his good friend and fellow South African Charl Schwartzel, is one of my favourite players to watch. I think Louis's rhythm is magical, while Charl's swing is just so technically clean. I really like Shwartzel's chances this year, obviously he knows how to win around Augusta and his form of late has been sensational.

In terms of other picks, a few weeks ago Brandt Snedeker was my winner! He's had injury problems this year but he's a fantastic putter, which is absolutely essential for the slick, undulating greens at Augusta National and it's only a matter of time before he lands his first major. If he returns to his early season form, look for Snedeker to make it four top-20 finishes in his last five starts at Augusta.

Mickelson, of course, can't be overlooked around Augusta. He's had a roller coaster-type season, but that's Phil! If he continues his season-long trend, Mickelson will be right there in the final round.

In terms of home hopes, look out for Justin Rose. He is a quality player and again, like Snedeker, I feel it won't be long before he picks up his first major title.

So Schwartzel, Snedeker and Rose for me, I might also have a little punt on Matt Kuchar and, as a long each way shot, Freddie Jacobsen. Deep down though, I think I think it might be time for Tiger to get back to major form.

Sky Sports coverage details:

Wednesday 10 April

Par 3 Contest/Preview Show

7.00pm, Sky Sports 1HD

Thursday 11 April

Day One Live (Selected Holes) - 3.45pm, Sky Sports 1HD*

Day One Live - 7.00pm, Sky Sports 1HD, 9.30pm, Sky 3D

Friday 12 April

Masters Breakfast - 9.00am, Sky Sports 1HD

Day Two Live (Selected Holes) - 4.00pm, Sky Sports 1HD*

Day Two Live - 7.00pm, Sky Sports 1HD, 9.30pm, Sky 3D

Saturday 13 April

Masters Breakfast - 9.00am, Sky Sports 1HD

Day Three Live (Selected Holes) - 4.00pm, Sky Sports 1HD*

Day Three Live - 7.00pm, Sky Sports 1HD, 9.30pm, Sky 3D

Sunday 14 April

Masters Breakfast - 9.00am, Sky Sports 1HD

Day Four Live (Selected Holes) - 5.00pm, Sky Sports 1HD*

Day Four Live - 6.00pm, Sky Sports 1 HD, 9.00pm, Sky 3D

*Live coverage available via the Red Button