Kicking off today at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, a number of storylines loom over the 87th edition of the Masters, where golfers will be competing for a slice of the tournament’s $15 million purse, with $2.7 million going to the winner along with the coveted Green Jacket.
The biggest drama will undoubtedly come from the fact this is the first Masters (and major tournament in general) to feature golfers from not only the PGA and European tours but LIV Golf, the controversial Saudi-backed breakaway tour that has been accused not only of disrupting the traditional professional golf landscape, but sportswashing — using the tour to distract from the country’s egregious record of human rights violations.
Since announcing in December that LIV players would still be allowed to compete at Augusta, the Masters has caught some of that same flack, with certain critics arguing that the presence of 18 LIV golfers (including six previous Masters winners) at the tournament lends legitimacy to the new league.
Almost all the players have been asked about this elephant in the room, and their responses have ranged from diplomatic to ambivalent, depending on which tour they’re a part of. But most of the golfers have spent as little time as possible answering LIV-related questions, preferring to steer conversation toward their various methods of preparing for the Masters, which remains golf’s biggest tournament. Only one LIV golfer, Cameron Smith, sat down with the media before the tournament.
As for the favourites to take home the Green Jacket, Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy are the two players to beat this weekend. Scheffler, the defending champion (and Rolex Testimonee), will be looking to become the first player to win back-to-back Masters since Tiger Woods, who achieved the feat with wins in both 2001 and 2002. Scheffler will tee off at 1:36 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, with Max Homa and U.S. Amateur champion Sam Bennett.
McIlroy, on the other hand, has never won the Masters — and in fact hasn’t won a major tournament since 2014, during which he won both the PGA Championship and the Open Championship — but he finished second last year, three shots behind Scheffler after a stellar final round in which he shot a 64. If McIlroy manages to finally win at Augusta, he’ll complete a career Grand Slam, winning all four of golf’s modern major tournaments. In doing so, he would become just the fifth player in history to do so.
And of course, there’s still Tiger Woods. Last year, the return of Tiger after the injuries suffered from a 2021 car crash was arguably the biggest storyline. He hasn’t recorded a top-20 finish at a major since winning the Masters in 2019, which is the longest drought of his career — but as that victory proved, Woods should never be counted out. This will be the 25th Masters in which he’s participated, and in the lead up to the tournament has expressed his gratitude for even being in the condition to play.
Others in contention include Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, who are both in fine form, as well as three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who last year missed the Masters for the first time in 28 years after incendiary comments he made about the PGA Tour and the Saudi Arabian monarchy’s history of human rights abuses were published. Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley said last year that Mickelson wasn’t uninvited to the tournament but rather chose not to play. Mickelson is currently serving a two-year suspension from the PGA for his involvement with LIV Golf, which included recruiting players to the tour. Earlier this week, Mickelson declined to speak with media at the tournament’s annual press conference.
Another player to watch out for is Justin Thomas. Appearing in his eighth Masters, the American has top-25 finishes in each of the past six years at Augusta, earning his second top-10 Masters finish last April. Last year, the 29-year-old also came back from a seven-stroke deficit in the final round at Southern Hills to defeat Will Zalatoris in a playoff to win his second PGA Championship title. This season, he has top-25 finishes in six of his seven worldwide starts in 2023, including a fourth-place finish in Phoenix in February and T-10 at the Valspar Championship in Tampa Bay just last month. Thomas will be looking to improve on his best Masters finish of fourth place in 2020.
One possible dark horse this year is Xander Schauffele. He has four top-15 finishes worldwide so far in 2023, even if he hasn’t been able to so far replicate his previous successes, which included winning the gold medal at the 2021 Olympics. The 29-year-old has a pair of top-three Masters finishes in the past four years to his credit, finishing in second place by one shot to Tiger Woods in 2019 and tied for third in 2021, although he missed the cut by three strokes at last year’s Masters after rounds of 74 and 77. Even so, Schauffele remains the seventh best player in the world according to the Official World Golf Ranking, and this could be his breakthrough at a major.
Weather wise, this past week in Augusta has been both wet and cold, and the conditions will certainly impact the quality of play this weekend. Augusta traditionally plays long, and with more rain expected in the coming days, it could feel even longer than the course’s 7,545 yards. How this precipitation will affect the par-72 course’s greens, also notorious for their speed, will be something to watch.
Delays due to the weather should also be expected, as thunderstorms have been forecast, which will add another wrinkle for the players to contend with: wind. Gusts of 30 mph have been predicted, which could increase the difficulty of some of Augusta’s trickier areas, such as Amen Corner (holes 11 through 13), considered the hardest section of the course.
With all the storylines in play, this year’s Masters will not lack for excitement. Canadians can tune in today through Sunday on both CTV and TSN to watch comprehensive coverage of the 2023 Masters Tournament.