By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Apr 10, 2014 at 1:02 PM

Hello, friends.

It's "Masters week," a week in the golf season we here in the Midwest tend to associate with the start of spring, and the official beginning of the golf season.

That's not technically true anymore, though, as it's week 27 of the 2013-14 PGA Tour season. They're not just well underway, they're rounding second and headed home.

The biggest news leading into the tournament is the fact that the world's top-ranked player, Tiger Woods, will miss the first Masters he's been invited to in his career.

The hallowed golfing grounds of Augusta National will feel a little emptier. Woods has competed since 1995, has won four times and has contended (a top four finish) seven other times.

Not only that, but Woods' pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record 18 major championships always has to begin in April at Augusta. Aside from a tie for 40th in 2012, he's been right in the mix – only to fall short – every year since his last green jacket in 2005.

There's inherent drama with Woods, especially as he reached his mid-30s, the back end of his prime. Can his body hold up? Are his nerves fried?

Unfortunately, the thing many of us didn't count on happening, has happened – everyone else has caught up to Woods. Literally anyone can win on the PGA Tour now. Anyone can win a major now, too.

Heading into this week, there have been 39 first time winners on the PGA Tour over the last three and a half seasons. There have been an additional nine first time major champions.

For some, that adds drama to a major championship, to a tournament. Not for the casual viewer.

No offense to Jimmy Walker, but no one is going to tune in Sunday to watch him try to finish off his first major. People watch to see if Woods will succeed or fail. And if it's the latter, the other guy didn't win – Woods lost.

So, who do I think will win The Masters?

The pick: Patrick Reed

He'll be another first time major winner, but at least he's won already on the PGA Tour. Actually, he's won three times since August of last year.

Why would I pick a Masters rookie? Yeah, I know a rook hasn't earned a green jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller won his debut in 1979, but Reed is no stranger to Augusta National.

He played his college golf at Augusta State University (now Georgia Regents) and has teed it up there three times. Is that a lot? No. Was it set up in tournament conditions? Probably not, but you better believe it was close to it. The thing is the kid can play, and he's not a complete stranger to a golf course where you need to know its nuances.

Wisconsin flavor in Augusta
There will be two players with Wisconsin roots competing this year in Edgerton: native Steve Stricker and Mequon native Jordan Niebrugge.

While Stricker is enjoying semi-retirement and has not won since January of 2012, he received his invitation to The Masters field by virtue of two qualifiers: by playing his way into the 2013 PGA Tour Championship and being one of the top 50-ranked players in the world at the end of 2013.

Niebrugge, a sophomore at Oklahoma State University, was invited by virtue of his U.S. Amateur Public Links Victory last summer. He's already won once in 2014 at the Amer Ari Invitational, a college tournament in February held in Hawaii.

It's a great start for Niebrugge, who had an incredible 2013 in winning not only the "Pub Linx" but also the Western Amateur, Wisconsin Match Play Championship and Wisconsin State Amateur.

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.