Although the golf season has been in full swing for months, for many fans, the Masters is the official start of the golf season. After all, it is the first major championship in the calendar year and a “tradition like no other.” One cannot think of the Masters without fondly recalling 1986 when Jack Nicklaus stormed from behind on the back nine on the final day to win his 6th Masters at the age of 46. Similarly, people vividly remember Tiger Woods’ first triumph in 1997 and his unexpected win in 2019.
Last year, Justin Rose jumped to the early lead in the Masters with an opening round of 65. However, he failed to break par in any of the next three rounds and finished 7th. A third round of 65 by Hideki Matsuyama put him in great position and despite a final round of 73, walked away with his first major and first Japanese-born player to win the Masters. Will Zalatoris finished a shot back at nine-under par.
Taking a look at this year’s field and there are numerous big names are set to tee it up, including the likes of past champions Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott. There is even a remote chance that Woods himself tees it up.
Oddly enough, Matsuyama is a longshot to defend at 28-to-1 odds and Zalatoris is at 35-to-1, so expect a different top end of the leaderboard this time around.
One of the hottest players on the PGA Tour and one to watch is Cameron Smith, who has two wins this season and is ranked sixth in the world. Despite being arguably the hottest player currently on the PGA Tour, Smith’s odds of winning at 16-1 are behind Jon Rahm (9-1), Jordan Spieth, Collin Morikawa, and Justin Thomas (12-1), and Rory McIlroy at 14-1. For McIlroy, a win would complete the much-coveted grand slam. However, the Masters has been a very difficult challenge for the 32-year-old, who has finished outside the top 20 in two of his last three starts at Augusta, including a missed cut last year.
Don’t be surprised if 24-year-old Viktor Hovland makes a run at the championship. He has a win and four top-ten finishes on the PGA Tour this season. Ranked 4th in the Official World Golf Ranking, Hovland has been in the top ten in three of his last five starts.
Other players who could seriously contend for the Masters title this year include Brooks Koepka, Scottie Sheffler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, and Bryson DeChambeau.
The Augusta National course the players will face is different from past years. Changes to the first hole of “amen corner” at number 11 and the 15th will add 35 yards to the course, increasing the distance to a record 7510 yards. The dogleg on the 11th hole is slightly diminished and some trees were removed from the right side of the fairway.
In addition, there are new greens on the 3rd, 13th, and 17th holes. The 11th hole has a wider fairway giving players a nice chance of reaching the green even on balls missed to the right. Despite that fact, the trouble around the green is increased, so an already difficult hole could play even tougher this year. The dogleg left on the 13th hole that gives the big bombers a chance to cut the corner, we expected to change but has remained intact. However, a change to the length of this hole is likely to occur for future Masters tournaments.
In the end, the only real changes this year’s players must be concerned about are those to the three greens mentioned and to the 11th and 15th holes. Augusta National is difficult enough without any major changes.
It’s time to sit back and enjoy perhaps first major championship of the PGA season!