The hallowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Club will be the focus of the golfing world when the 86th edition of the Masters Tournament is staged from 7–10 April.
Since the inaugural tournament in 1934, Augusta National has born witness to some of the most memorable moments in the game’s history. The azalea-lined fairways and manicured greens form a beautiful setting for the year’s first men’s major, but the pristine course in Georgia, USA, is also an uncompromising test of all aspects of a player’s repertoire.
NZ Golf Magazine’s Neville Idour takes a look at the golfers that are in form and who is most likely to don the coveted Green Jacket at the end of Sunday.
Day one… 25-year-old Scottie Scheffler had not won on the PGA Tour, yet had come close several times. Runner up at last year’s WGC Matchplay, third at the Memorial, second at the Houston Open and several other strong performances seemed to say a win was inevitable.
Today however he would win the TPC Scottsdale, beating Patrick Cantlay in a playoff for his first PGA Tour win. Then next up a second win at Bay Hill in Arnie’s Classic. Not to be finished he played the full 120 holes to beat one of the best match players, Kevin Kisner, in the final just 42 days after his first win. What made his three wins so amazing was his elevation to world ranked number one just 42 days after his first win. By far the all-time fastest. Tiger woods is the second fastest after 252 days. Enough said.
With a new caddie, Ted Scott, on his bag, the twosome are already a smoothly oiled combination and more.
“He’s a good buddy and we are having fun together,” Scheffler said. Scott had been on Bubba Watson’s bag for 15 years until September last year and intended on retiring. Somehow Scheffler convinced him to carry his bag.
Scheffler’s success should not surprise anyone as he has a great pedigree. No.1 World Junior, college success and a Korn Ferry star. So he will go into the Masters in the best possible shape and a pundit’s favourite along with Jon Rahm.
With only around 100 players, The Masters is by far the smallest field of the majors, if not the strongest. There is no qualifying way into the field. It is top 50 world-ranked or by one of the various invite categories.
Recent winners Hideki Matsuyama 2021, Dustin Johnson 2020, Patrick Reed 2018, Sergio Garcia 2017, Jordan Speith 2015, Bubba Watson 2014 and 2012, and Adam Scott 2013 will all be there.
Matsuyama has had a recent back problem but says he is 80% mended and ready to go.
“I am looking forward to returning to defend my title and playing the best I can,” Matsuyama said.
Of the others, Johnson and possibly Scott look more likely.
Johnson has struggled to dominate since his Masters win in November 2020. It is surprising that was his last top-five finish until the just completed WGC event where he finished fourth after showing the missing consistency may be close. He had some excellent wins and especially satisfying was his comeback from two down to beat the super confident Brooks Koepka.
Scott also showed his game is on the rise with some solid wins, but probably not quite sharp enough to win at Augusta. Bryson de Chambeau will have lots of support but admits a broken bone in his wrist which saw him take six weeks off is not helping although he remains positive.
Four-time Major winner Brooks Koepka who has competed at six Masters with two top 10s, a missed cut in 2021 and a best finish of tied second in 2019 is obviously a contender and would love to add a Masters to his resume.
In fact, asked by Golf Channel if The Masters suits his game he said, “ Every Major suits me. I like the pressure.” Late last year he said he saw no reason why he couldn’t match Tiger Woods’ 15 Majors or maybe even Jack Nicklaus’ 18 Majors. “There is plenty of time. No point playing if I don’t believe that.”
Jon Rahm the former No.1 is favoured by many experts to win the Green Jacket. He will need to be at his best as lately he seems to be just short of it. We should not forget the 2021 FedEx Cup winner Patrick Cantlay, although he too has been just off the pace of late. Justin Thomas is always lurking and is more than capable on his day. Canadian Corey Connors who had some very impressive wins at the WGC Matchplay culminating in a fine win over Dustin Johnson for third place, could also surprise.
Finally, 28-year-old Aussie Cameron Smith, with Kiwi Sam Pinfold on the bag, looks more than capable of winning his first major at Augusta after some hot form this year. His two wins have come in two completely different styles of course, one in Hawaii and the other in The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, beating the strongest field in golf. His previous five appearances at Augusta augur well…..three top 10s including runner-up to Johnson in 2020. He is no stranger to winning with five PGA Tour wins to his name so does not lack experience.
A fascinating Masters is more than likely to be the result.