Ignore young Americans at your peril
Surely this will be Europe's year. How can the continent's 12-year Augusta drought stretch any further with the abundance of talent it has brought to this year's Masters?
This is the popular theory, anyway. After all there's the German world number one, who won the most recent major, the Englishman just behind him in the rankings, the US Open champion from Northern Ireland and a whole host of talent champing at the major bit.
It is a well-founded theory that a Martin Kaymer, a Lee Westwood, a Graeme McDowell or for that matter any of the dozen or so Europeans who currently reside in the world's top 25 can be the one to don the 2011 Green Jacket in the Butler Cabin.
But it may not happen. This time next week, it may be the case that Jose Maria Olazabal is still the last European to win a Masters.
Never mind the European threat, the always dangerous South Africans, the Aussies capable of breaking their own Masters duck (the one that lasts forever) and the Asian challengers - because there's every chance that the title could stay in the USA.
Rickie Fowler is one of America's hottest young golfing talents. Photo: AP
And not just because defending champion Phil Mickelson has hit form and a perky Tiger Woods is talking up his chances. The American threat runs deeper because Uncle Sam boasts its own generation of young players ready to make the major breakthrough.
Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney, Hunter Mahan, Anthony Kim and Bubba Watson are all dangerous contenders this week.
Watney is probably the standout candidate to be a homegrown first-time winner. The 29-year-old has three top 20 finishes from his three previous visits to Augusta and last year finished seventh.
Victory at the WGC Championship at Doral last month provided this form horse with his biggest title to date, adding to four top ten finishes on the PGA Tour in 2011.
"Nick Watney is just coming into his own in terms of winning events," 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples commented. "He'll do very well at Augusta."
Couples believes it is easier for younger players to prosper at the modern Augusta because many of the nuances of the course have been taken away by the lengthening process of recent years. "It's very long, and in my opinion it takes away an advantage from the guys who have played there forever," he said.
"It's not the same course I played for 20 straight years. You'd play for lots of nooks and crannies and the ball rolls closer to the hole. But nowadays instead of hitting a nine or an eight iron, you are hitting a four or a five and that becomes much harder to do.
"So younger players, they all have a shot," America's Presidents' Cup captain added. "I have a lot of faith in the US players, the Rickie Fowlers and Dustin Johnsons," he said.
It is surely asking too much for the 22-year-old Fowler to win his first tour event on his Masters debut. But at the age of 26 Johnson already has four PGA Tour titles to his name. His long game, which is very long, will be a big advantage here at Augusta.
His ability from 100 yards and closer will need to markedly improve to make Johnson a contender, but Watson - another of this generation of big hitters - possesses the imagination to improve on a so far uninspiring Masters record.
Augusta is tailor-made for the big hitting Bubba Watson. Photo: AP
Certainly defending champion Phil Mickelson can see his fellow left-hander finish better his current best mark of tied 20th. "The one thing he does extremely well, better than most players, is he has very creative shot-making," Mickelson observed.
"If he pulls off some of the shots he sees, he's going to be able to capitalise and make a lot of birdies on the par fours as well as the par fives. I think he is going to be a factor, he's been playing such good golf that his creativity and golf skills should get him in contention."
Watson has already won once this year and relishes the prospect of going "Bubba-long" as he likes to put it, and could go deep into this week as a challenger for the title.
Kim was third last year and has putted well on both his previous appearances but has only one top 10 finish to his name in 2011.
Mahan, by contrast shared eighth and 10th places in the last two Masters and was impressive in Houston last week. Can his chipping stand up to the Augusta test though?
Another American to consider is Ryan Moore, who finished 13th as an amateur in 2005 and topped the putting stats here last year. On the negative side his recent form is less encouraging.
Regardless of nationality, it is possible to mount arguments in favour of more contenders for this Masters than ever before. It is that wide open.
Weight of numbers suggests European success but, in judging potential winners and each-way payouts, you ignore the home nation at your peril.