2023 Masters Preview

The first Golf major of the season begins on Thursday, with a famous Green Jacket, and a place in history awaiting the Masters’ champion.

David Anderson, Head of Trading

David Anderson, Head of Trading

1 year ago

“If there’s a golf course in heaven, I hope it’s like Augusta National. I just don’t want an early tee time.” — Gary Player

This will be the 87th renewal of the world’s most famous Golf tournament, the brainchild of Golf great, Bobby Jones. The Masters at Augusta is unique. Its individuality is partly down to its permanence. The Masters has been played at the famous Augusta National course since its inception, in 1934 and, barring World War II — and COVID necessitating a scheduling move in 2020 — it always takes place in April. Golf’s other majors rotate around a variety of courses, and the USPGA saw its slot moved from August to May, in order to maintain its relevance. Bobby Jones’ famous creation is going nowhere.

The first players teeing off at Augusta bring a nine-month drought without major Golf to an end, each year, and it’s a course worth waiting for. Augusta is visually spectacular with each hole named after one of the myriads of flora that surround it. Augusta National is one of the great risk-reward Golf courses, with four reachable Par 5s but also water on five holes. The course serves as a natural amphitheatre with its compact layout meaning that the roars of the patrons echo around the famous Georgia landmark. Roars that have greeted some of the greats of the game, including Golf’s two finest exponents, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, who have won 11 Masters titles between them. The course’s patrons throng to see their heroes. After a huge roar greeted Nicklaus holding a birdie putt on the Par 3 16th, in 1986, it seemed the whole crowd walked to the 17th tee alongside The Golden Bear, causing commentator, Bruce Critchley to comment: “the human herbaceous border moves away.”

In an age where the LIV Tour — in fact all tours — promise the winner obscene riches, competitors at the Masters are vying for a Green Jacket — a quaint prize strangely in keeping with the old-world nature of its venue. Of course, there is also a not-inconsiderable prize fund that goes with success but for the world’s millionaire players, it’s the chance to join the pantheon of Golfing greats that have received their prize in the famous Butler Cabin that they really want. Phil Mickelson, himself a three-time winner of The Masters noted: “The winner of this tournament doesn’t just win a major, he becomes part of the history of the game, and that’s what excites me. This tournament creates something that is very special, and year in, year out, history is made here.”

April isn’t shark season

That history has been proceeded by so many amazing moments. As far back as 1935, Gene Sarazen produced “the shot heard round the world”, providing the sight of that rarest of Golfing birds — an albatross — on the 15th. In 1987, Larry Mize chipped in from off the green (some 140 feet away) to dramatically deny Greg Norman the title. Augusta wasn’t a happy hunting ground for The Great White Shark, with Norman collapsing in 1996 as he surrendered a six-shot lead going into the final round when overhauled by Nick Faldo.

Jack Nicklaus became the oldest winner with an emotional victory in 1986, and a 21-year-old Tiger Woods recorded a historic 12-shot runaway win, becoming the Masters’ youngest-ever champion, in 1997. 22 years later, the usually stoical Woods greeted his return to the winners’ circle in a major, with an outpouring of emotion. In 2005, Woods chipped in on the 16th but, with a fitting sense of drama, his golf ball ran down towards the hole and paused for what seemed like an eternity, before consenting to drop. “Oh wow, in your life have you seen anything like that?” exclaimed US commentator Verne Lundquist. Rarely, and probably only at Augusta.

Few sporting events embrace tradition like The Masters. From The Champions’ Dinner on the Tuesday of the tournament — at which the previous year’s winner selects the menu — to The Par 3 Contest which takes place the day before the serious action starts. When play begins, honorary starters are invited back to hit the first tee shots — with Tom Watson joining Grand Slam Champions Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in that role again this year. The defending champion’s final duty of the week is to present the coveted Green Jacket to the player who succeeds him as champion. Seamless processes that run like clockwork, just like the teams of mowers that manicure the course to keep it in pristine condition.

The most exclusive Golf club in the world

Among the major talking points will be Rory McIlroy’s bid to complete the career Grand Slam. The Ulsterman will be hoping to end his nine-year wait for a major win by joining the most exclusive club in Golf — the players to have won The Masters, the USPGA, the US Open, and The Open Championship. This club has only five members: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Tiger Woods.

During the 2011 Masters it would have seemed unthinkable that a Green Jacket would be the missing piece in McIlroy’s major collection. Having begun the final round with a four-shot lead, even standing on the 10th tee on that Sunday, McIlroy looked all set to land the spoils. But a poor tee shot on Camellia — a strike that was so far off line it gave viewers sight of part of the course they’d never seen — was the beginning of a Triple Bogey, Bogey, Double Bogey stretch that would derail his hopes and culminate in a round of 80 — one of the worst Round 4 scores in the history of The Masters. This will be McIlroy’s 15th attempt to win The Masters title. For all the premium placed on Augusta experience, if someone is going to win a Green Jacket they don’t usually have to go through as many attempts as he has. Only Sergio Garcia — who won at the 19th time of asking — and Mark O’Meara — who won on his 15th Augusta visit — had this many failures before finally winning.

Three into one won’t go

McIlroy has been one of three players who’ve passed the baton of the world’s number one player back and forth between them in 2023. The Ulsterman has been in a battle with Spain’s Jon Rahm, who also held that honour four times between 2020 and 2022, and reigning Masters’ champion, Scottie Scheffler. While the chance to win at Augusta is the prize in its own right, it will likely bring with it a place atop the world rankings.

The Masters is an invitation-only tournament, so members of the breakaway Saudi-backed LIV Tour aren’t ruled out. No active member of LIV has won a major while playing on the LIV Tour, and it will be interesting to see the reaction if a member of the breakaway tour wins at Augusta.

“The course is perfection, and it asks perfection.” — Nick Faldo

Although a modest hitter like Zach Johnson landed the first of his two majors here in 2007, course changes instituted over the following years have made winning here (literally) beyond the reach of shorter drivers. Although major venues of 7,500 yards, or above, are commonplace these days, the fact that the fairways on Augusta’s 7,545-yard Par 72 layout are mown back towards the tee boxes reduces the amount of run-on that players get with their drives.

For all the television coverage of the event, one element of Augusta National that the cameras fail to do justice to is the course’s undulations. There are many parts of the property where it’s almost impossible to find a flat lie, and players will need to be well-versed in playing with their golf ball above or below their feet.

For many years, Augusta was thought to favour natural drawers of the ball — those with a right to left ball flight. So much so, that two-time major winner Martin Kaymer attempted to alter his traditional fade to give himself a better chance of Masters’ glory. Colin Montgomerie — a fader of the ball — once commented to Nick Price; “this place is not for us.” But despite a preference for a stock left-to-right shot, Price shares Augusta’s course record, and changes have reduced the pro-draw bias further. Four of the holes demand a left-to-right shot and the same number asks the players to move the ball in the other direction, with the remaining 10 open to interpretation.

More useful is a high-ball flight, to soar over the treelined fairways and give a player the best chance of stopping the ball on Augusta’s glass-like greens. Windy conditions at The Open Championship often reward golfers with a low-ball flight which keeps it out of the worst ravages of the wind. But at Augusta, those with a high-ball flight — like 2021 champion, Hideki Matsuyama — tend to prosper.

What you won’t find at Augusta is knee-high rough. In fact, there is no rough at all, errant drives will result in players playing their next shot from the “first cut”, or potentially from the pine straw. Despite the lack of rough, the penalty for missing the fairway is that it’s harder to check the ball on the greens when playing from off the fairway. Augusta’s greens are surrounded by run-off areas, where errant approaches tend to gather, leaving a difficult chip.
Augusta’s Bentgrass greens are lightning fast and can reach 14 on the Stimpmeter under conducive conditions, while Rae’s Creek, which winds its way around the property, influences the borrow required for putts on several greens.

In 2020, Bryson DeChambeau memorably said of Augusta: “I’m looking at it as a Par 67 for me.” After such a display of hubris, the big-hitting American failed to shoot 67, or better, all week, and finished 34th that year. In 2021 he would finish the event on 5-over par — presumably 25-over by his own course definition. The combination of the pressure of the event, and the course’s trademark lightning-fast greens adds to its unique challenge. In 2016, four-time major winner Ernie Els famously recorded a 9 (originally thought to have been a 10) on his scorecard on the 1st hole, which included six putts from within 24 inches of the cup.

Augusta National features arguably the best-known stretch of holes in Golf, Amen Corner — comprising holes 11 through 13. That being said, players would do well to get the prayer mat out at the 10th, which historically ranks as the course’s toughest hole. Unsurprisingly the course’s four Par 5s have offered up the best chances of improving their score, with the quartet ranked as the four least-difficult holes on the course. Greg Norman and Nick Price share the course record having navigated the Par 72 layout in matching 63s. While Augusta National remains a fierce test, it has yielded 33 Hole-In-Ones in its storied history, with Stewart Cink recording an ace twelve months ago. The traditional Round 4 pin position on Sunday at the 16th usually offers the best hole-in-one opportunity.

The 2023 renewal won’t see many changes to Augusta National’s layout. The only amendment of any significance sees 35 yards added to the Par 5 13th.

More than most courses, Bobby Jones’ creation takes a lot of knowing. Fuzzy Zoeller was the last debutant to win The Masters, back in 1979. Jim Furyk, who never got to slip on a famous Green Jacket once said: “I can’t think of another course in the world that the more you play, the more you learn.”

Augusta form repeats itself and all the Masters’ winners this century had posted a previous top-40 finish at Augusta, a trend that Scottie Scheffler extended last year when improving on his previous tied-19th and tied-18th efforts to land his first major. Fred Couples turned his liking for the place into making the cut in each of the 23 Masters he played between 1983 and 2007. While there are numerous players with more than one Green Jacket in The Champions’ Locker Room, it’s a tough place to be a defending champion. Over the past 20 years, only two winners have backed that up with a top-5 finish when returning a year later.

Let the big dog eat

Given that the course favours the big hitters, a quick perusal of the PGA Tour’s Driving Distance stats suggests that bombers like McIlroy (1st), talented young American, Cameron Young (3rd), Rahm (5th), and Sam Burns and Scheffler (tied 20th) should be well-placed to take advantage. For all his suitability to the course, Collin Morikawa (141st) knows he will be regularly playing his second shots first this week.

Positive current form helps in The Masters but the effort of winning in the week immediately prior to the season’s first major often leaves its mark, with none of the past 15 players to do so able to earn a Green Jacket and only two finished in the top 10.

Follow you, follow me

As Dave Tindall has pointed out, the Genesis Invitational, hosted by the Riviera Country Club, has proved to be a strong guide to The Masters. Both host courses share shot-making demands, and a lack of rough. Though the west coast track is a Par 71 — one shot less than Augusta — Riviera demands precision and smart play in equal measure, and the strong field the Genesis attracts, allied to the fact it takes place only seven weeks earlier, have helped make it a reliable form guide. This century, Dustin Johnson has won at Riviera and Augusta, while 2003 Masters’ Champion Mike Weir is on the role of honour at Riviera twice. Bubba Watson has three Riviera wins to go with his two Green Jackets, and Phil Mickelson has won two Genesis Invitationals and three Masters titles. A dual Riviera winner, Adam Scott, won his only major at Augusta, in 2013. Jon Rahm will be hoping that his victory in this year’s renewal is a portent of Masters’ success, while Patrick Cantlay, Will Zalatoris, Collin Morikawa, and Jason Day recorded top-10 finishes. Max Homa, runner-up to Rahm in this year’s Genesis, also won it in 2021 and will be hoping to translate Riviera form into a strong week in Georgia. Of the past 11 Masters winners to use the Genesis Invitational as part of their warm-up, nine produced a top-15 finish.

Worlds apart but close in thought

One curiosity has been that one of the best form guides to The Masters in recent years has been the DP World Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic, which takes place 12,000 kilometres away and three months in advance. Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia both won at the Emirates Golf Club before prevailing at Augusta three months later. Rory McIlroy will be hoping to continue that trend after victory at the Majlis Course in January.

“Augusta is the closest thing to heaven for a golfer – and it’s just about as hard to get into.” — Joe Geshwiller

An invitational event, only the game’s current elite, the tournament’s champions of yesteryear, and prospective champions of tomorrow can expect to receive an invitation in the mail.

The last matador

Heading that list of invitees, Jon Rahm will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Spain’s previous Masters’ champions: Seve Ballesteros, who claimed two coveted Green Jackets, José-Maria Olazabal who matched his mentor with two wins, and Sergio Garcia, whose only major was secured here in 2017. Maybe we should just put a line through last year for the Spaniard, as before his tied-27th outing at Augusta — which was symptomatic of his disappointing 2022 in general — Rahmbo’s last four appearances at The Masters have seen a ninth-place finish or better, and he has started this year well. His form figures in Stroke Play events in January and February read: 1, 1, tied 7th, 3, 1. Since landing his third win of the calendar year in The Genesis Invitational, things have cooled somewhat, with a tie for 39th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, followed by his withdrawal from The Players Championship, citing a stomach illness. He was last seen exiting the WGC Match Play at the Group Stage, with a record of one win and two losses.

For Scottie Scheffler, the first half of 2023 has come close to matching the first half of 2022. Last year, he narrowly failed to become the first man since 1980 to win five PGA Tour events in a year, before June. That run included landing his first major as Masters’ champion 12 months ago. Since November, the New Jersey native’s worst finish in a Stroke Play event was a tie for 12th place in the Genesis and that run has included two wins. After lifting the trophy in Phoenix, Scheffler landed the sport’s so-called “fifth major” — The Players Championship — at Sawgrass. Despite not having major status that event always provides one of the year’s strongest fields and the course’s demanding finish always crowns a fine champion. Last time out, while Scheffler couldn’t quite justify favouritism in the WGC Match Play, he put up a solid showing, finishing fourth.

McIlroy has struggled to get out of the gate on his past four Augusta visits. Last year, an opening pair of 73s, left him needing snookers, but he finished with a wet sail, carding an eight-under-par 64 in Round 4, the best score among the contenders. A year earlier, a 76-74 start meant that for the first time since 2010, he wasn’t even around for the weekend at The Masters. In 2020, a 66-67-69 finish was undone by a first-round 75, and a year earlier his Round 1 73 was his worst effort of the week.

The Ulsterman’s only foray onto the DP World Tour so far in 2023 saw him take home the €1.4m first prize in the Hero Dubai Desert Classic. Perhaps it’s significant that McIlroy’s best Stroke Play effort has been away from the PGA Tour as, given the spectre of the LIV Tour, McIlroy has found himself as a de facto shop steward for the established PGA Tour, and perhaps all that convening and attending meetings to ensure that they retain their members has proved to be a distraction from the business on the course. McIlroy followed up a tied-second place in the Arnold Palmer, with a missed cut at the Players Championship. Cameron Young ended McIlroy’s run in the Match Play on the 19th hole of their Semi-final.

Just as Rahm, Scheffler, and McIlroy have been vying for the top spot in the world rankings, they have been alternating the position of favourite for the season’s first major in recent months. At the time of writing, Scheffler is the 6/1 favourite for The Masters, closely followed by McIlroy at 13/2, and Rahm next in line, at 17/2.

A LIV rebel, Australian Cameron Smith will get the chance to extend his love affair with Augusta. Last year, he went out in the final pairing in Round 4 before finishing tied with Shane Lowry for third. A year earlier, he finished in a tie for 10th, and in the rearranged November Masters, he became the first of more than 6,500 golfers to sign for four rounds in the 60s at The Masters, yet somehow found himself five shots behind Dustin Johnson. He also recorded an excellent tied-5th result in 2018. A major winner in the meantime, Smith looks to leave the huge contingent of Aussie nearly men at The Masters behind and join Adam Scott as the only Aussie to have reached the winner’s circle in The Masters. With the LIV Tour’s truncated schedule, Smith hasn’t played much competitive Golf this year, and he has had recent injury concerns.

Another player seemingly struggling with injury a few weeks ago was the 2015 Masters champion, Jordan Spieth. While he didn’t quite manage to get his head in front when finishing tied third at the Valspar, Spieth at least confirmed his well-being, in producing his best finish of the year, so far. The Match Play saw the Texan win one and lose two of his group matches. Spieth came close to rare back-to-back victories in The Masters when filling the runners-up berth in 2016. Since then, however, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag for the Texas native. After a third place in 2018, he finished outside the top 20 a year later, and only narrowly made the cut in 2020. Having finished in a share of third place in 2021, he carded rounds of 74 and 76 to miss the cut 12 months ago.

There’s no doubting Thomas

Spieth’s friend since childhood, Justin Thomas, moved to within one of his majors tally when adding a second USPGA title last year. Long touted as a man with the game for Augusta, despite having made seven cuts in seven appearances, it’s been a case of what might have been for JT. Nevertheless, form figures of tied 17th, tied 12th, 4th, tied 21st, and tied 8th confirm that this phenomenal iron player has the game to contend on the second Sunday in April. Thomas himself said after a near-miss four years ago that he believed he’d played well enough to have been slipping on a Green Jacket. Last year’s effort was derailed by an opening round 76. Thomas’ dislike of the Austin Country Club course meant he was the only star absentee from the WGC Match Play event. He’s made every cut since the end of October but a fourth-place finish in the WM Phoenix Open — where he carded a final round 65 — is his best effort to date this season.

The depth of US Golf is illustrated by the fact that they fill 10 of the top 13 spots in the betting. Among the next wave of American hopefuls are Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay, Dustin Johnson, Will Zalatoris, Xander Schauffele, Max Homa, and Tony Finau.

Morikawa’s exceptional iron play has had him earmarked as a potential Augusta champion for a few years, and last year’s fifth-place finish confirmed that notion. Given his proficiency with his irons, it’s noteworthy that the 26-year-old said recently that he feels he’s swinging the club better than ever. Already halfway to a Career Grand Slam, the California native will be licking his lips at the prospect of Los Angeles hosting the US Open in June, but if he’s to add a Green Jacket he is going to need to heat up his putter. Much was made of Morikawa surrendering a six-shot lead after three rounds of the Sentry Tournament Of Champions, the season’s traditional curtain raiser. He made three glaring errors in the concluding holes, such that even a closing birdie wasn’t enough. His more recent Stroke Play tournaments have been inconsistent. After finishing third in the Farmers Insurance Open, he missed the cut in Phoenix. A tie for sixth in the Genesis was followed by a missed cut in the Arnold Palmer, then he placed tied 13th in The Players, before exiting the Match Play at the Group Stage.

Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green has become an increasingly fashionable metric for Golf winner-finding in recent years, and Morikawa is joined in the PGA Tour’s top 10 in that category by Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau, and Max Homa. Cantlay and Finau are close to the top of the list of major winners-in-waiting, but they’ve had contrasting fortunes in the season’s first major. Whereas Cantlay’s best placing was tied 9th in 2019, Finau recorded three top 10 finishes in four years, prior to a tied-35th effort 12 months ago. Reportedly courted by the LIV Tour, Cantlay, like his close friend Schauffele, turned down their overtures. After failing to make the weekend in Phoenix, the Long Beach native has reeled off three top-20 finishes in Stroke Play events, including two top-five efforts. He won all three of his group matches at the Match Play, before a narrow 2&1 loss to eventual champion, Sam Burns.

A player who struggled to get over the line for much of his career, Finau’s only win until recent years was in the under-strength Puerto Rico Open. You wait ages for a PGA Tour win, and then two come along at once, as Finau won events in consecutive weeks last July, and he now has six wins as a professional. Finau has been a model of consistency in 2023, making the cut in all seven Stroke Play events he’s entered, but he is yet to crack the top five. He saw his colours lowered by Kurt Kitayama in the Group Stage of the Match Play. Finau has a top-five finish in each of the four majors to his name. Perhaps the most enduring image of Big Tone came when he was playing in the pre-tournament Par 3 Competition the day before the 2018 Masters. Running to celebrate a hole-in-one in the tournament’s traditional curtain raiser, Finau dislocated his ankle. To the amazement of onlookers, Finau popped the offending joint back into place and finished a highly creditable tenth on his first Masters appearance. Backers of the Utah native will be hoping for a less disjointed build-up this year.

Last year, Homa made the cut at The Masters at the third attempt. He does already have a 2023 victory, courtesy of success in the Farmers Insurance Open, and he came close to adding the Genesis Invitational title when finishing second three weeks later. He negotiated a tough WGC Match Play group which included Hideki Matsuyama and Kevin Kisner — who has reached three of the last five Match Play Finals — before succumbing to Mackenzie Hughes in the Round of 16.

While all professionals target the four majors each year, Will Zalatoris and Xander Schauffele have been making a habit of producing their best efforts when the big annual prizes are on offer. As if to prove the point, Zalatoris has only posted one top-10 finish this year — finishing fourth in the Genesis. He left the Match Play with a record of played three, lost three, despite Group 7 not having looked like one of the stronger sections. The knowledge of how difficult it is for debutants to win here makes Zalatoris’ second place at Augusta on his 2021 debut even more meritorious, and he followed that with a tied-6th placing last year. A player who has already registered a top-2 finish in all the majors played across the pond, his most excruciating loss came when losing out to Justin Thomas in a playoff at the Southern Hills’ PGA last year. One of the world’s foremost players from tee to green, if Zalatoris has a good week with the flat stick, he has the potential to go close once more.

Call him what you want, as long as you call him in front

When it comes to recording top-10 finishes in majors, Zalatoris would have to give best to Schauffele. The most mispronounced of golfers — it’s pronounced “zan-der shaw-flea” — the native of San Diego, racked up nine top-10 finishes in majors between 2017 and 2021. By his metronomic standards, a missed cut at Augusta last year was an outlier, but there was consistency in his tied 13th, tied 14th, and tied 15th efforts in the other three of Golf’s signature events. Although he’s made the cut in six straight Stroke Play tournaments, a tie for third in January’s AmEx has been his best return. At the Match Play, Schauffele’s group wasn’t the most exacting of tests, nor was his meeting with 61st seed, JJ Spaun in the last 16. Nevertheless, it took a 12-foot putt from McIlroy to eliminate him, at the Quarter-final stage, and the standard of the pair’s play is shown by their Better Ball score of 59.

LIV and let die

Whatever the Golfing authorities and the ongoing court cases decide about the future of the LIV Tour rebels, Dustin Johnson’s win in the 2020 Masters guarantees him an annual invite back to Augusta for as long as he plays the game. Two major wins seem a meagre return for someone of DJ’s prodigious talent. Johnson had been installed as the pre-tournament favourite for the 2017 renewal of The Masters but had to withdraw after injuring his back when — so the story goes — falling down the stairs 48 hours before the tournament began. No doubt Tony Finau would have popped the offending vertebrae back into place and teed it up regardless. That, along, with shooting a last-round 82 when he seemed to have the 2010 US Open in the bag and failing to convert a one-shot lead on the 72nd hole of that year’s USPGA — including a two-stroke penalty incurred for grounding his club in a bunker — have kept DJ from fulfilling his potential. But, with his trademark nonchalant style, Johnson has shrugged these disappointments off in a game he makes look as easy as falling off a log (or down a flight of stairs.) As an aside, it’s a pivotal year for the LIV Tour, which hasn’t received an infusion of new talent during the off-season. If reinforcements don’t arrive, will the fledgling competition wither and die?

In Dallas, Sam Burns won the sixth professional title of his young career, when landing the WGC Match Play title, taking the scalps of Scheffler and Cantlay en route to a win in the Final over Cameron Young. The 26-year-old made the cut in three of the four majors last year, with The Masters being the only blot on his copybook. A big hitter — ranked tied 20th in Driving Distance on the PGA Tour — Burns is certain to have learned a lot from his first visit to Augusta, a course that should suit him.

In Ryder Cup year, it makes sense to run the rule over the European contingent. Back in the halcyon days of the late eighties and nineties, Euro stars won eight of the last 12 Masters tournaments at the end of the last century. Since 2000, just two winners — Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia — have been European. Though predictably, 14 of those 21st Century-titles have gone the way of American players, it’s the rest of the world stars that have tended to take advantage when the home challenge has faltered. Shane Lowry certainly feels he has the game to enable him to add a Green Jacket to the Claret Jug he won in 2019, a year in which he said of Augusta: “I know if I put myself in the position, I’m good enough to win it.” The Irishman came close to fulfilling that prediction 12 months ago when he finished tied third behind Scheffler.

English players have flattered to deceive at Augusta in recent years. Since 2018, no Englishman has recorded a top-five finish, but between them, Messrs Casey, Fitzpatrick, Fleetwood, Hatton, Poulter, Rose, Westwood and Willett have made the top 20 11 times.

If asked to write down a list of prospective Masters’ champions, it might be a while before most people jotted down the name Corey Conners, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. The Canadian first played Augusta as an amateur in 2015, and he’s put the lessons he learned then to good use with eye-catching and improving form figures of tied 10th, tied 8th, and tied 6th in the past three renewals, as he bids to become Canada’s first Green Jacket holder since Mike Weir, in 2003. The Canadian’s run of five made cuts in a row in 2023 came to an end at the Players Championship. He won two of his three Match Play group games but lost out on a place in the knockout phase to Cameron Young, who franked the form by reaching the Final. While most of the Masters’ frontrunners elected not to participate in the preceding Valero Texas Open, Conners opted to tee it up.

No Masters preview would be complete without mentioning Tiger Woods. The 15-time major winner, with five Masters titles to his name, still hopes to tee it up on Thursday. This time last year, Woods was labouring with an injury, which had restricted his Augusta build-up to playing a few holes in a father and son event. He did play the weekend at the Masters but finished 47th. This year he managed four rounds and tied 45th place at the Genesis. Improved health will see the game’s most recognisable face play Golf’s most recognisable course.

Georgia on my mind

The late Arnold Palmer once said: “Like the golf course itself, change at Augusta National takes the shape of a steady and quiet evolution, but the overall effect is one of gracious permanence that always makes coming here feel a little like coming home.” There’s certainly no place like it.