By Joey Bachich
Setting the scene
89 players will enter the legendary Augusta National Golf Course, all with hopes of winning the coveted green jacket that so many greats of the game before them have worn. This event has been dominated by legends, with Jack Nicklaus having won this event six times, Tiger Woods five times and Arnold Palmer four times respectively. This is the PGA’s (Professional Golfers’ Association) first major tournament of the year, meaning it is one of the most competitive and the most captivating tournaments. Only the best of the best can even qualify for a major, so this means all eyes are on Augusta this week. Scottie Scheffler is looking to defend his title after winning The Masters in 2022. The field this year is absolutely loaded with talent, so defending his title will not be a walk in the park.
Elephant in the room
Before golf can even be talked about, there is a brewing rivalry in the golf world between the longstanding PGA Tour and the new Saudi Arabian backed tour called LIV Golf. Last year, 48 players left the PGA tour to play for LIV and got a huge payday along with a ton of backlash. This is the first season that LIV is going head to head with the PGA in their first full year of their own tours. Players who left the PGA were suspended from PGA events, but not major tournaments like The Masters. The biggest talking point of the week is how will the two tours stack up? LIV players are about 20% of the field, so we will get to see which tour earns bragging rights going into the summer. A lot of things have been said over the past year between players such as Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson talking about LIV and the PGA a year ago.
"We play against a lot of the best players in the world on LIV, and there are a lot of the best players in the world on the PGA Tour. And ... until both sides sit down and have a conversation and work something out, both sides are going to continue to change and evolve, and I see LIV Golf trending upwards, I see the PGA Tour trending downwards and I love the side that I'm on."
"I guess for them to be talking the way they are, it's bold. I think there's a ton of propaganda being used and all sorts of stuff. I certainly don't see the PGA Tour trending downward at all. All the talent, 95% of the talent is here."
Recently, both sides have simmered in the number of fiery quotes and jabs in the media, but behind the scenes and on the course, things could get awkward in a hurry.
Four best suited to win The Masters
Talk about a guy coming in red hot. Scottie Scheffler has been one of the best players in the world for about a year now and there has been no answer to his success, making him one of the favorites for a reason. With a win here last year, Scheffler looks to be the first player since Tiger Woods to win The Masters in back to back years. He is good in every facet of the game, and the scariest part about him is his mentality; even when he has a bad shot, he will not let it affect the rest of his round. Mentally, this guy is on another level, so watch out on Sunday because Mr. Scheffler will be around the top five.
Jason Day is one of the best putters the PGA has ever seen. Day has had a resurgence over the past few years as the former world number one looks to add a green jacket to his long resume. Day has slowly but surely been making his way up the golf ranks over the past few months with four top 10’s in his last five events. Day is looking to end his winless drought after a five year hiatus.
One of the most interesting dynamics of this week is the LIV vs. PGA storyline. Recently, Dustin Johnson has not been playing great on the LIV tour, but he has a great history at The Masters. Johnson was the world’s No. 1 player when he left the PGA Tour and won The Masters in 2020, so obviously he has immense talent. Now can he put it all together with all of the eyes on him? We have seen him do it before, so do not be surprised if he is around the top of the leaderboard by Sunday.
Three weeks ago, McIlroy was looking like a major fade ahead of The Masters. While one of the betting favorites, he had not looked himself this season with his new driver and new putter. However, he changed to a different putter and put on a shorter driver shaft at his last event, and it paid off. McIlroy looked like his old self, finishing third in the Dell Matchplay Event in mid-March and those changes have been working. His putting looked far more comfortable and creative, with him changing from the Taylormade Spider X to the Scotty Cameron Newport GSS, which have two totally different looks and feels. While an equipment change might not be in the headlines, McIlroy could be unstoppable if he has found his new driver and putter combination.
Possible top 10 finishers I like
Talk about consistency, Tyrrell Hatton has been on an absolute tear this season, and it should keep rolling at Augusta. Hatton has two top five finishes in his last two events and a sixth place at the Phoenix Open in February. Last time at Augusta, he finished tied for 18th and this year he has a real shot to be in the top 10.
Min Woo Lee
The 24 year old Australian Min Woo Lee is one of the biggest hitters in the sport and earlier this year out drove every golfer at The Players Championship. This could be a breakout performance after a great outing last year finishing in 14th, and he has the ability to crack the top 10 this time around.
Back again, Tiger Woods is an odd player to put in a spot with such a crazy history of injuries, defining age and winning. Does Woods have a good shot at winning The Masters? No. But, have we seen this story before? Yes. In 2019 Tiger Woods thought he would never play professional golf again with major injury after major injury plaguing his ability to walk and play the sport. With all that controversy and 10 other players being in the lead on Sunday, Woods pulled out the win to obtain yet another green jacket. So, he goes into my top 10 list not because there is a good chance, but because he is the great Tiger Woods.
A lot of the LIV guys could go here since there are not high hopes for anyone outside of the last major winner Cam Smith along with Dustin Johnson. Koepka was one of the bright stars of the PGA before he hopped onto the LIV Golf tour. He has won recently at the Orlando event by a slim one shot margin over Sebastian Munoz. Besides the win, Koepka has been rather average on the LIV tour the past two years. He always had the talent, but oftentimes Koepka can get in his own head and become his own undoing when the lights get bright and all eyes are on him. While not super high on the odds charts, he still has a big name and with that comes big disappointment where Koepka has a chance to be cut after day two.
Anytime you put the number 1 player in the world as a disappointment, there tends to be a good reason for it. While Rahm can finish in the top 10 here, he has not been very consistent the past two or three events leading up to The Masters. He withdrew from The Players Championship due to an illness and looked very pedestrian at the Dell Matchplay Event. Rahm is one of the betting favorites to win this week, but the timing does not seem right for one of the best players on the planet.
One of the most creative players on tour, Thomas is in a total funk with his wedges. He is short, he is long, he is left and he is right — at everything but at the pin. Thomas is a player that once he wins one event, he will rattle off a few more great outings, but he has been so inconsistent recently it is hard to picture him in the mix for the win. However, a top 20 finish is possible for Thomas. Like Rahm, he is pretty high on the favorites chart, but he may fall short of such high expectations.
All eyes turn to the Masters on April 6 and the final round rolls into Easter weekend. Big names all are playing from the PGA and LIV including Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Speith and fiery young talent, such as Victor Hovland, Sam Burns and former major winner Collin Morikawa. The stage is set for one of the nicest golf courses on the calendar, along with a talented field ready to win a green jacket.