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Eliminate all but Brooks Koepka at the Masters

As I drove to work Sunday morning in snowy Bristol, Connecticut, it was hard to believe that spring was on the horizon.

But on that same day's editions of SportsCenter, there were interviews from Augusta National, and that made me a believer.

Nothing rings the arrival of spring quite like the Masters. And though we're many tournaments into the PGA Tour season, this starts an exciting season in which the calendar is condensed to make way for the return of golf to the Olympics.

But of all the honors to be handed out this year, none might mean more than slipping on the green jacket Sunday afternoon.

On Thursday, 89 golfers will approach the No. 1 tee hoping to make history, coming from around the world to play 72 holes (or maybe just 36 if they don't make the cut) at Augusta. But only one is going to come away the victor.

This week, you'll hear many in the media prognosticating and trying to select who they think will win. Some pore over statistics trying to find an edge. Others will go with their gut and select who looks good to them. And others will just select somebody they've heard of, even if his name is Tiger Woods (who is not playing this year).

I'll throw my pick into the mix, but I do mine a little differently. Instead of picking a winner based on who I think will win, I'm going to pick who I think won't lose. I'll explain...

Using historical notes and trends, I'll tell you why everybody in the field, save a lone golfer, simply cannot win the Masters. By process of elimination, the one who is left has to be the winner.

First, let's take experience into play. Last year, Jordan Spieth won the Masters in his second career start in the event. But rookie winners simply aren't the norm. Since 1936, all but Fuzzy Zoeller (in 1979) had made a previous Masters start.

That takes out 20 golfers off the start, leaving 69 still in the running.

Okay, not only is it important to have played a Masters before, you have to have had recent success in the event. Each of the past 18 Masters winners both played in and made the cut in the previous year's event. That's going to trim another 28 golfers off the list, sorry if you were backing Branden Grace or Brandt Snedeker.

Not to pick on the older guys, but the Masters has been a young man's game recently. You have to go back to Mark O'Meara in 1998 to find the last time a 40-year-old won this event. So, I'm going to take out the 11 remaining golfers who are 40 or older, including Henrik Stenson (who turns 40 two days before the Masters starts), Phil Mickelson and reigning British Open champion Zach Johnson.

The trend at all recent majors has been the cream of the crop coming out victorious. Each of the past 13 major winners has been ranked 28th or better in the World Golf Rankings at the time of their victories. That's going to take out another 11 who aren't quite up to par.

I want players who come in hot. Each of the past four years, the Masters has been won by a player who has a top-three finish on the PGA Tour that season, and a top-five finish within his past two starts. From the 19 who were left, we take 13 off of that list. That includes Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson.

The remaining six contain some huge names, but I'm going to take the biggest of them out with these final nuggets. In four of the past five years, the Masters winner had never previously won a major. And the one who had (Bubba Watson), was part of this run of having never won one before his 2012 victory.

That will take out former major winners Rory McIlroy, Watson, Jason Day, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, leaving just one in the mix.

On Sunday, I'm looking for Brooks Koepka to pick up his first career major victory. Remember, the numbers don't lie.

Masters Eliminator: Step-by-Step

1. Each of the past 36 (and 76 of the past 77) Masters winners had all made a previous Masters start: 20 eliminated, 69 remaining

Golfers eliminated
Kiradech Aphibarnrat
Derek Bard
Daniel Berger
Rafael Cabrera Bello
Paul Chaplet
Jin Cheng
Bryson DeChambeau
Fabian Gomez
Emiliano Grillo
Jim Herman
Smylie Kaufman
Kevin Kisner
Russell Knox
Romain Langasque
David Lingmerth
Troy Merritt
Sammy Schmitz
Cameron Smith
Andy Sullivan
Justin Thomas

2. The past 17 Masters winners all made the cut in the previous year's Masters: 28 eliminated, 41 remaining

Golfers eliminated
Byeong-Hun An
Steven Bowditch
Victor Dubuisson
Harris English
Matthew Fitzpatrick
Branden Grace
Charley Hoffman
J.B. Holmes
Billy Horschel
Trevor Immelman
Martin Kaymer
Soren Kjeldsen
Bernhard Langer
Danny Lee
Marc Leishman
Davis Love III
Shane Lowry
Sandy Lyle
Larry Mize
Scott Piercy
Brandt Snedeker
Robert Streb
Vaughn Taylor
Tom Watson
Mike Weir
Chris Wood
Ian Woosnam

3. No golfer 40 or older has won the Masters since 1998: 12 eliminated, 30 remaining

Golfers eliminated
Angel Cabrera
Darren Clarke
Jamie Donaldson
Ernie Els
Thongchai Jaidee
Zach Johnson
Phil Mickelson
Mark O'Meara
Ian Poulter
Vijay Singh
Henrik Stenson
Lee Westwood

4. Each of the past 13 major winners have been ranked 28th or better in the world rankings: 11 eliminated, 19 remaining

Golfers eliminated
Keegan Bradley
Jason Dufner
Bill Haas
Chris Kirk
Anirban Lahiri
Hunter Mahan
Graeme McDowell
Ryan Moore
Webb Simpson
Kevin Streelman
Bernd Wiesberger

5. The past four Masters winners had both a top-three finish on PGA Tour that season and a top-five finish in at least one of his past two starts: 13 eliminated, six remaining

Golfers eliminated
Paul Casey
Rickie Fowler
Sergio Garcia
Dustin Johnson
Matt Kuchar
Hideki Matsuyama
Kevin Na
Patrick Reed
Justin Rose
Adam Scott
Jordan Spieth
Jimmy Walker
Danny Willett

6. Four of the past five Masters winners have never previously won a major: Five eliminated, one remaining

Golfers Eliminated
Jason Day
Rory McIlroy
Louis Oosthuizen
Charl Schwartzel
Bubba Watson

Your champion: Brooks Koepka