The first major of the year has arrived, and there is no greater anticipation for this year’s Masters.
Between Tiger Woods Phil MickelsonIt was great to be back, the first meeting of LIV Golf and PGA Tour players at Augusta National Country Club. Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm Rory McIlroyThe No. 1 ranking continues to be hot potato. The No. 1 ranking in the world, there are many compelling storylines as the world of golf descends on the sport’s most famous venue.
Here’s what you should be watching this week
What can we expect from Tiger this Week?
Mark Schlabach: Tiger hadn’t played competitively for 508 consecutive days last year and showed up at The Masters to make his 23rd consecutive cut. Although he played well for the first 36 holes, the cold weather hampered his surgically repaired right leg, which made it one of the most difficult walks of all golf. He shot a 6-over-78 in each of his last two rounds, which was his worst score at The Masters. He looked much better at the Genesis. His right leg is stronger now than it was last year, but he still feels pain in his right foot. Because he knows the course better then anyone, I believe he will make the cut again. Tiger is still possible to finish in the top 25 but it would be hard to believe he could do better than that.
Paolo Uggetti: We saw Tiger at Riviera looking a little more relaxed walking, and his game showed some promising flashes. I think he will be able to make the cut, based on what we saw. In an ideal world the five-time champion would have been able to make at least one more appearance before the Masters. However, his health is more important that his game. Augusta is the only place Tiger can succeed with one competitive tournament under his belt. Although the walk is more difficult than other courses, the warm weather should help Tiger. I would venture to guess that he will get an early start Thursday and then a long break before his second round on Friday. Although I can’t say he will compete, it is another promising step in his career.
What can we expect this week from Phil?
Schlabach: I was impressed with Mickelson’s performance in the majors last season and his performance in LIV Golf’s first three tournaments this year, finishing 27th and 32nd respectively in Mexico, Tucson, Arizona, as well as 41st in Orlando. Florida. He isn’t performing well and hasn’t for a while. It will be a circus around Mickelson in Augusta. Mickelson will not address the media at a formal news conference before Thursday’s Masters. There will be a microscope on Mickelson during practice and the first rounds. He skipped the 2022 Masters, which he won three times. There will be cheers from some supporters.
Uggetti: I don’t know. Mickelson has been a shell of his self since he fled for LIV. His performance at the U.S. Open last year (the last major) was particularly poor. Mickelson has been thumb-pupping his way out from that tournament and has consistently finished near the bottom in LIV’s events. In eight of his ten appearances, he finished 27th or worse. Mickelson is a past winner, so it would be a dark twist to the whole PGA Tour LIV Golf saga if he could turn back the clock and compete this week.
How much feud will there be between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour?
Schlabach:It’s not going to be as interesting as you might think. Everyone will be on their best behaviour at Augusta National. LIV Golf players will likely be wearing their team logos on shirts, hats, and other apparel so the elephant in this room isn’t completely hidden. I don’t know how many LIV Golf participants will be legitimate contenders. Australia’s Cameron SmithThis year, he has performed well, having finished second in 2020 and third last season. He hasn’t played much this season, and his form hasn’t been great lately. He finished 26th in Tucson, and 29th in Orlando. Past champions Dustin Johnson Patrick ReedI haven’t played much, either. Brooks KoepkaThe Orlando event was won by the Range Goats and he is suddenly playing better. Range Goats, with the LIV golf league putting so much emphasis on team competition — well done! Can they just flip the switch and play as individuals again? And finish 72 holes. There is a good chance that one or two of them will be on Sunday’s leaderboard.
Uggetti: It all depends. However, I believe it will fluctuate depending on the tournament’s outcome and the comments made by players on the podium. It will be highlighted by pairings and the Champions Dinner. But, I believe that once the tournament begins, LIV players will only make it a part the weekend’s story. Augusta, the patrons, as well as the players, will be watching to see how they react to the possibility that a LIV player wins the sport’s largest tournament.
Who is your dark horse pick of the week?
Schlabach: It’s not unreasonable to suggest that a man who finished runner up in his first Masters appearance, and tied for eighth in his second, would be considered a dark horse. But I don’t think there are enough people picking. Sungjae ImThis week, he won a green jacket. The South Korean player became the first Asian to finish as runner-up in 2020. He also held the lead for the first round two years later. Im has won two times on the tour and loves Augusta National. Im doesn’t hit the ball very far off of the tee, but keeps it in fairway and has a solid game all around.
Uggetti: It feels like every major tournament theses days is going to end in the hands of Scheffler or McIlroy. It’s hard to imagine a winner other than McIlroy and Rahm. I’ll take Jason Day. He has been trending in a positive direction with five top-10 finishes in the last six tournaments, and 11 top-20 finishes in this season. It seems that the swing changes he made have paid off. Day was not able to make the cut in the Masters the last two times he played, but he was ranked top-5 in 2019. A win at Augusta would be fitting to end a long and difficult journey back to the top.
Who are we certain you won’t pick this week, anyway?
Schlabach: Patrick CantlayHe is one of the most skilled players in the world, especially when he has a driver in his hands. However, his performance in major championships is a bit baffling. He has one top-five finish in a major, a tie third at 2019 PGA Championship, and one top-10 at Masters, a tie ninth in 2019. Cantlay is going to be a contender for a major championship. I don’t believe it will be this week.
Uggetti: Will Zalatoris. This decision could appear a poor one in retrospect. Zalatoris has shown to be a far superior player in majors. But, injury or not, Zalatoris is struggling this season. Zalatoris was tied for 11th at Sentry Tournament of Champions. He missed the cut at Riviera, finishing tied for 36th. Zalatoris finished tied for 53rd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, tied for 73rd and tied to 59th in the last three tournaments. Zalatoris is now ranked 137th for strokes gained putting after finishing 103rd last season.