Dan Box
By Dan Box

The sights and sounds of Augusta National in April usually mark the unofficial start of the season for many of us golfers, although given the fact that the UK weather has been so bad at the start of 2024, it may be a couple more weeks until our courses are fit to host a monthly medal for the first time.

Weather woes aside, the first major of the year is finally upon us, and offers the first chance to see the best golfers in the world playing in the same event since Brian Harman's victory at a rain-soaked Hoylake - it genuinely feels like it hasn't stopped raining since...

Luckily, the idyllic setting of Augusta National will be just the tonic for us golfers who are longing for warmer weather and drier golf courses, and there are plenty of talking points heading into this week too.

LIV Golf, PGA Tour and DP World Tour players will compete against each other again, Scottie Scheffler arrives as a huge favourite, and Tiger Woods makes yet another 'return'.

Can anyone stop Scottie Scheffler?

Scottie Scheffler has been in a league of his own in 2024 so far, with statistics showing that he is performing at a level that only Tiger Woods has reached in the last couple of decades.

He's the world number one by quite some way, won at both Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass this year after switching putters, and won The Masters in 2022. He's the clear favourite this week, and it'll take a seriously good (or in Scottie's case - bad) performance to stop him.

Perhaps the most likely to beat Scheffler this week is defending champion Jon Rahm, who after months of speculation made the switch to LIV Golf at the beginning of the year. Whilst the Spaniard is yet to win since switching allegiances, his performances have been very consistent and there's no doubt that the World Number Three is one of the big names to watch this week.

Rory McIlroy again looks to complete the career grand slam almost a decade on from his last major victory. Rory picked up a victory at the start of the year in Dubai, whilst his performances on the PGA Tour have been solid if not spectacular so far in 2024 a busy start to the year should mean the Northern Irishman is arriving at Augusta in good form.

Two players making their first Masters appearances this year are US Open champion Wyndham Clark and Ludvig Aberg, both of whom have proven their world-class credentials over the last 12 months and could contend despite this being their first visit to Augusta.

LIV Golf's Cameron Smith has a great track record at Augusta and will be looking for a second major title having seen an improvement in his form over the last couple of weeks, while Joaquin Niemann's has been the best player in the LIV Golf League so far this season with two victories as well as a win in Australia just before Christmas.

Augusta make more tweaks

One of the many charms of The Masters is the fact that it is played at the same course every year, allowing both the participants and the viewers that sense of similarity every April when they see the holes and pin locations that they recognise, recalling famous moments from years gone by.

This also means that we notice when changes are made to the golf course; in recent years two of the biggest modifications have been the extension of both the 5 and 13th holes.

For 2024 Augusta have extended the par 5 2nd hole, stretching it back to 585 yards and giving golfers less chance of being able to carry their tee shot around the corner and past the fairway bunker. This stretches the overall yardage of the course to a whopping 7,555 yards.

Other changes, which eagle-eyed viewers may have spotted during the final round of the Augusta National Women's Amateur last weekend, include tweaks to the topography of the second, fourth and sixth greens.

Golfalot Tips

Brooks Koepka @ 18/1

Nobody has won more majors in the last decade than Brooks Koepka, and the American brushed off the disappointment of letting the 54 hole lead slip here last year by cruising to victory at the PGA Championship a month later.

He's still the man to be feared when it comes to the biggest events, even when his form in regular tournaments is indifferent, and he's had enough near misses at Augusta to know that he can perform here.

If he's healthy, he's going to be a tough man to beat every time he tees it up in a major.

Hideki Matsuyama @ 20/1

One of the best ball-strikers in the game, the 2021 champion is one of the better value options around the 20/1 mark having already proven that he can win this event, and due to the fact that he is in good form. The Japanese produced that stunning victory at Riviera earlier this year, and played well in Texas last week en route to a Top 10 finish.

With Scheffler at a pretty ridiculous 4/1 and McIlroy and Rahm both hovering at around 12/1, you may find Matsuyama offers better value as an each way bet as well as an outright winner.

Will Zalatoris @ 33/1

The young American has already been forced to rebuild his swing after back surgery last year, but he's rebounded well in 2024 with a string of good results including a T2 at the Genesis and T4 at Bay Hill.

Putting has always been Zalatoris' weak point but since switching to a broomstick style wand things to seem to have improved a little, and his record at Augusta is fantastic. Could this be his breakthrough week?

Brian Harman @ 70/1

This seems like an excellent price for someone who has gone from strength to strength in the last 12 months. The win at The Open was a surprise, but Harman had been playing well for much of the summer and has also since proven that he is more than good enough to win more of these big events, finishing in a tie for second place at The Players last month.

A Georgia native, he was born just a couple of hours away from Augusta and should feel right at home here, while his precise approach play and elite putting should suit the setup too despite a mixed set of results in the past.

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