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Masters Golf Tournament 2011: Odds, Storylines, Predictions

After a few days of practice rounds and a Par 3 contest, The Masters golf tournament officially begins Thursday morning. The four-day tournament at Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta, GA. will begin when six-time champion Jack Nicklaus and four-time champion Arnold Palmer hit their ceremonial first shots at 7:40 a.m. 

The Round 1 start time will be at 7:45 a.m. when the first group, which features Jonathan Byrd (USA), Ross Fisher (England) and Sean O'Hair (USA), will tee off. Tiger Woods' Round 1 tee time is at 10:41 a.m. and his playing partners will be 2010 U.S. Open Champion, Graeme McDowell (N. Ireland), and Robert Allenby (Australia). Phil Mickelson's tee time is at 1:48 p.m., and his group features '06 U.S. Open Champion, Geoff Ogilvy (Australia) and amateur Peter Uihlein (USA). will begin its live stream of Amen Corner at 10:45 a.m., but if you don't have high-speed Internet access you'll just need to wait until ESPN's TV coverage, which begins at 3 p.m. and concludes at 7:30 p.m.

(For complete Masters golf tournament 2011 round 1 tee times and pairings click the link.)

Now, if you're just one of those golf fans that just gets geared up for the majors and doesn't follow the sport week-by-week, we here at SB Nation New York have been writing stuff for you all week. On Tuesday, we posted the complete Masters golf tournament TV schedule; on Wednesday we provided a small summary of themes that probably will be talked about during the week; today we're briefing you on the major story lines and giving you our predictions of who we think is going to be fitted with a nice, new green jacket on Sunday.

So, without further delay here's your 2011 Masters odds, storylines and predictions.

Masters golf tournament odds 2011: Mickelson is 6-to-1 favorite.

Fresh off a victory at the Shell Houston Open, the defending Masters champion is's odds-on favorite to win his fourth green jacket. Tiger Woods has odds of 8/1 to collect his fourth tournament title. Rounding out the top five are England's Lee Westwood (14/1), USA's Nick Watney (16/1), Germany's Martin Kaymer, the world No. 1-ranked golfer, and England's Luke Donald are each listed at 20/1.

(Click here for complete odds listings.)

The biggest story (that doesn't revolve around Woods or Mickelson): World's top golfers are not all American.

Quickly, can you name the rankings of the top five golfers in the world? (Full-time golf followers put your hand down!) No? A few more seconds...

Currently, Germany's Martin Kaymer (ok, I gave you that one already) is the No. 1 player, while England's Lee Westwood is No. 2. The next three are USA's Mickelson, England's Donald and McDowell, respectively .

A week ago, just before Mickelson's victory at the Shell Houston Open, the top four featured: Kaymer, Westwood, Donald and McDowell. Woods was ranked fifth and Mickelson sat in sixth

So, don't be surprised that come this weekend there are a small amount of American flags near the top of the leader board.

Surprising rooting interest: Japan's Ryo Ishikawa.

By now, all Americans know about the terrible March tsunami that killed thousands of Japanese. Well, there are four Japnese born players playing in this years Masters, but one (Ishikawa) has decided to donate all of his earnings for the 2011 season to tsunami relief.

If Ishikawa is near the top of the leader board come Sunday, and your favorite golfers may not be in contention. It won't be hard to get behind this 19-year old, who's already appearing in his third Masters.

Good bet at a first-time major championship (who doesn't carry the last name Westwood): Ricky Barnes.

New York sports fans may know the third-year pro from his breakout second-place finish at the 2009 U.S. Open at the Black Course at Bethpage State Park in Long Island, N.Y. Since then, Barnes has been a consistent presence in major championships collecting a top-10 finish in last year's Masters, a tie for 27th at the '10 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and a tie for 44th in '10 British Open at St. Andrews. At the '03 Masters, Barnes was the lowest amateur finishing 21st.

If you're looking for a sneaky prediction pick to impress your buddies, Barnes could be a nice bet considering he has Sunday major championship experience and a lot of talent.

Barnes, 30, will tee off at 12:42 p.m. on Thursday and 9:13 a.m. on Friday. His playing partners will be the legendary two-time Masters champion Tom Watson, 61-years-old, and Jason Bohn.

Dark horse: Bill Haas.

Yes, you've heard the last name before. Bill's father Jay Haas had a very successful PGA Tour career and it's been rumored for many years that Bill has more talent than dad. Despite a slow start to an unfairly over-hyped young career, Haas now seems to be finding his stroke.

So far in '10, Haas almost won the Bob Hope Classic, Jhonattan Vegas edged Haas in a playoff, and has collected another three top-15 finishes. That sort of quality play makes the Charlotte, N.C. native a popular dark-horse pick.

Haas, 28, will tee off at 9:57 on Thursday and 1:04 p.m. on Saturday. His playing group will feature three-time major champion Padraig Harrington (Ireland) and Ryo Ishikawa (Japan).

SB Nation New York's predicted winner: Mickelson is coming in as the betting favorite at 6-to-1 and, as always, Woods is a popular pick, too, but I need to think that a player like Lee Westwood, Dustin Johnson or Bubba Watson can finally break through. Out of those three, I think Westwood, who finished runner-up to Mickelson last year, has the best game and is due for a breakout Sunday performance.

For more information on the Masters Golf Tournament 2011 check out SB Nation's golf blog Waggle Room; or SB Nation Atlanta's Masters Storystream; and SB Nation's pro golf hub.