Dan Box
By Dan Box

The first major championship of the year is here, as the 87th edition of The Masters Tournament will get underway on Thursday morning.

Almost nine months since Cam Smith shattered Rory McIlroy's dream of victory at The Old Course for The 150th Open, we've arrived at one of the most memorable weeks of the year and plenty has changed since that Sunday in St Andrews.

Smith decided to take his talents to LIV Golf, McIlroy recovered to become the first man to win three FedEx Cup titles (whilst also adding the Race to Dubai crown), Jon Rahm won five times in nine starts during the winter, and Netflix's Full Swing gave us a fascinating look at what life is like as one of the world's best golfers.

Here's everything you need to know as we head down Magnolia Lane to Augusta National once again.

Last Year

Scottie Scheffler was the clear winner last year, marking what was the fourth victory in six starts during the spring of 2022 and helping to confirm his place among the game's very best players.

Australian Cam Smith was pushing Scheffler throughout the front nine on Sunday, at one point moving to within one of the lead, but saw his chances derailed after a triple-bogey on the 12th. Rory McIlroy ended up finishing as runner-up despite starting the day at +1, firing a stunning closing round of 64 highlighted by a holed bunker shot on the 18th.

Irishman Shane Lowry shared a tie for third with Smith, with Collin Morikawa rounding out the top five.

The Course

Hot on the heels of the USGA and R&A announcing details of a potential golf ball rollback, Augusta National will use this week as the first chance to unveil their lengthened par 5 13th hole.

Arguably the most famous par 5 in all of golf, the powers that be at the golf club have been increasingly concerned in recent years that the hole has become too easy as average driving distances continue to grow.

The new tee sits around eight feet higher and 35 yards further back than in previous years, meaning that it now reads 545 yards on the scorecard and should take it back closer to being the 'risk reward' challenge that Alister Mackenzie intended it to be almost a century ago.

The chances are that 99% of you will be very familiar with Augusta National, having seen it on your TV screen in all of it's glory every April, but if you need a refresher or you're new to golf, here's Tiger Woods talking you through arguably the most famous stretch of holes in golf.

On Wednesday we will also get a glimpse at the all-new Par 3 course which has been renovated over the past 12 months, and the Par 3 Tournament serves as a nice warm-up for friends, family and viewers before the real action gets underway.

The Field

Scottie Scheffler will aim to become the first player to win back-to-back Green Jackets at Augusta since Tiger Woods back in 2001/2002, and he enters this week as the bookies favourite, with two victories including The Players Championship in his last five starts.

He's joined at the top of the betting stakes by Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy, the other two members of golf's new 'Big Three'. Rahm had a stunning start to the year, winning three of his first five events in 2023, whilst McIlroy has made a number of equipment tweaks in search of the career Grand Slam.

Five-time champion Tiger Woods is in the field this week, making his first appearance since the Genesis Invitational where there were encouraging signs on the state of his game despite the same question marks over his body's capability to complete four days. They will undoubtedly be in focus again this week given the questionable weather forecast.

This event also marks the first opportunity for the LIV golfers to play alongside the PGA Tour players since The Open, so it will be interesting to see what comes of the pre-event press conferences and tee times throughout the week. The prospect of Rory McIlroy going up against the likes of Cam Smith, Patrick Reed or Dustin Johnson down the stretch over the weekend would be box-office viewing.

The LIV Golf league completed their second event of the year in Orlando on Sunday, which was won by Brooks Koepka, allowing their players the chance for a tune-up before Augusta so that they can shake off any rust.

Golfalot Tips

Jordan Spieth @ 16/1

Has a fantastic record at The Masters with a win, two runner up and two third place finishes since he made his debut here in 2014. The American has also been in decent form so far this year and had good chances to win at both Bay Hill and the Valspar.

Cameron Smith @ 25/1

The Champion Golfer of the Year in 2022 still remains in the top 10 of the World Rankings despite having moved to the LIV Golf League, and has four top 10s in his last five outings at Augusta.

Jason Day @ 28/1

Having battled with injury problems for a number of years, the Australian finally appears to be healthy again and that perhaps explains his rise back up the world rankings this year. His odds are relatively low for someone who has not won an event for a few years but he does have a decent record at Augusta when fit.

Shane Lowry @ 66/1

Finished third here last year, albeit a pretty long way back from Scottie Scheffler. A great ball-striker with a short game that is as good as anyone in the world, you feel that he could be a really good fit for this course. If the weather does get tricky, which it looks like it might, it could play right into his hands.

Justin Rose @ 66/1

Got back to winning ways earlier this year at Pebble Beach after a couple of tough seasons, and at 42 you still feel like there is enough in the tank for a couple more big chances. He's played 64 tournament rounds at Augusta so has plenty of experience and has been a runner up twice, most notably losing to Sergio Garcia in that epic 2017 final round.


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