Growth stocks are the beauties of the stock world, plain and simple. They're exciting, they have good stories, and they can make you a lot of money. Mosaic (NYSE:MOS) may be off from its highs, but the growth it's seen over the past few years has helped it post a gain of nearly 200%, while the rest of the market tanked.

But for all their beauty, growth stocks are also the prima donnas of the market. They can be erratic, they don't always live up to their billing, and they tend to attract a shareholder base that's ready and willing to run at the first signs of slowdown. For those reasons, caution is certainly in order when you enter the world of growth investing.

Fortunately, The Motley Fool's CAPS service brings us the collective intelligence of a community of more than 115,000 investors, making it a great resource for separating the market's Jessica Albas from its Jabba the Hutts. Each of the stocks competing for this week's top spot has a market cap of at least $100 million, and each grew its net profit per share by an average of 20% or more per year over the past three years. (You can run the screen for yourself, if you like.) Let's go ahead and meet our contestants!

DryShips
Though some investors have been scared of this stock for a while, DryShips (NASDAQ:DRYS) has shown some impressive growth over the past few years, adding ships to its fleet and riding the dry bulk tide that lifted the entire industry. Shippers have more recently faced rougher seas, though, and DryShips' heavy debt load has done the company no favors.

Google
What do I really need to say about search giant Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)? The company burst onto the scene and basically buried Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO), not to mention Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). Google has grown simply by being the reigning champ in an industry that -- until lately -- was growing like a weed. The economy has dumped more than a pinch too much salt into Google's growth stew lately, but some investors still see the company, and the stock, ready to move forward.

Petroleo Brasileiro
It doesn't take any big leap to say that Petrobras (NYSE:PBR) owes much of its growth over the past few years to oil prices' manic rise. Some of that growth will inevitably reverse as oil prices sink from their dizzying heights. However, it seems silly to expect that oil will fall out of favor as an energy source in the long run. While the market temporarily hibernates, Petrobras aims to increase its reserves and production to help meet growing global demand.

Intuitive Surgical
Though Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG) and its da Vinci Surgical System are fairly well-established at this point, the idea of robotic surgery systems still seems very sci-fi to me. But that's exactly how Intuitive Surgical has grown so well -- by offering cutting-edge (pun intended) products that improve surgical efficiency and patient outcomes. Like many other growers on this list, the economy will put a crimp on its returns in the near term, but Intuitive Surgical seems to enjoy a lot of open road ahead.

Sony
Although Sony's profit has averaged significant growth over the past few years, it's taken a very different path than most of the other companies above. Revenue growth for Sony has been somewhat middling, but the company has capitalized on the value at some of its subsidiaries by selling of pieces of them. In the company's 2008 fiscal year (which ended last March), $1.2 billion of the company's total pre-tax profit (roughly 20%) came from asset sales.

The envelope please...
Right off the bat, CAPS members give DryShips and Sony the boot, thanks to their lowly two-star ratings. While there are a good number of DryShips bulls on CAPS, among the highest-rated players, the stock gets considerably less love; quite a few CAPS members actually consider it a bankruptcy candidate. And while Google may be the reigning king of search, its three-star rating also keeps it out of the upper echelons of CAPS stocks.

The contest gets a bit more interesting when we get to Intuitive Surgical. Though the stock's valuation may put it at the expensive end of the market, CAPS members have liked it enough to stick it with a four-star rating. This is good, but not quite good enough to capture the top spot.

Instead, Petrobras wears this week's crown. It may be a Brazilian company, but it's a beauty of a stock on the U.S. markets, according to CAPS members.

Among the 3,500-plus Petrobras bulls on CAPS, All-Star Ayax2006 chimed in earlier this month: "This Brazilian oil company with large reserves and important recent discoveries will easily outperform the market in the coming years, as the oil price and Brazil recover."

More recently, BalanceGHopper added a thumbs-up and suggested that oil prices may not stay down forever: "Oil is cheap, but as we recover..."

Now go vote!
Do you believe that Petrobras has what it takes to be America's next top growth stock? Head over to CAPS and let the rest of the community know what you think.

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Petroleo Brasileiro is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Google and Intuitive Surgical are Motley Fool Rule Breakers selections. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool's disclosure policy would surely win America's Next Top Disclosure Policy, but for some reason, there's no such contest.