AUGUSTA, Ga. – It’s Masters week.
There should be, as always, lots of drama at this 2023 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.
Here are some of the top storylines heading into the 87th Masters:
There will be a reunion, of sorts, with a field of golfers from both the PGA Tour and LIV Golf. There will be 18 golfers who play on LIV Golf who have qualified for the Masters, including former champions Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Charl Schwartzel and Bubba Watson.
The split between the tours has been acrimonious, with lawsuits pending. This will be the first time since the British Open there will be a combined field.
In December, the club announced that players eligible for the 2023 Masters under Augusta National Golf Club’s criteria, including those currently playing on the LIV Golf tour, would be invited to compete in the major tournament.
The Masters has a close relationship with the PGA Tour, which has suspended all golfers competing with LIV Golf. With LIV Golf participants no longer earning World Ranking points and being banned from PGA Tour events, those exempt for the 2024 Masters should be fewer.
In a statement from the club in announcing the field, Chairman Fred Ridley said: “Regrettably, recent actions have divided men’s professional golf by diminishing the virtues of the game and the meaningful legacies of those who built it. Although we are disappointed in these developments, our focus is to honor the tradition of bringing together a preeminent field of golfers this coming April.”
It will certainly make for a tense Champions Dinner on Tuesday. Fred Couples has called Mickelson at “nutbag” and Garcia a “clown.”
Length added to No. 13
There had been speculation for years, ever since Augusta National reportedly purchased land behind No. 13 tee in 2017, that changes were coming. Then, in June, aerial photos appeared of work being done on the iconic par-5 known as Azalea. And then, in December, Tony Finau confirmed after playing a practice round that 35 yards had been added to the hole, lengthening it to 545 yards. Finally, in February with the release of the tournament’s official media guide, the change to the hole became official. No. 13, the last hole of Amen Corner, will play longer this year.
The hole still isn’t a particularly long. However, with a big dogleg left and Rae’s Creek guarding the green, the decision to reach it in two may be more difficult.
Augusta National, which lengthened No. 15 in 2021, will play at a tournament-record 7,545 yards.
Historically, the 13th hole plays as the easiest for the Masters. Last year, it was the third-easiest hole during the tournament. It played to a 4.852 stroke average, yielding six eagles and 91 birdies. Only the par-5 2nd and 8th played easier. In 2021, the 13th was the second-easiest hole. It played to a 4.622 stroke average, yielding eight eagles and 132 birdies.
Scottie Scheffler, ranked No. 1 in the world, will be looking to become the fourth player to win back-to-back Masters. He would join Jack Nicklaus (1965-66), Nick Faldo (1989-90) and Tiger Woods (2001-02).
Scheffler (8-1) has the second-best odds to win, behind only Jon Rahm (15-2).
The remainder of the top-10 favorites are: Rory McIlroy (17-2), Cameron Smith (12-1), Jordan Spieth (15-1), Justin Thomas (16-1), Xander Schauffele (18-1), Finau (20-1), Will Zalatoris (20-1) and Collin Morikawa (22-1).
McIlroy has tried eight times - and failed - to complete the career Grand Slam by winning the Masters. One of those failures was particularly difficult and well-documented.
The world’s No. 3 golfer is back for another chance of adding the Masters to his horde of U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship trophies.
McIlory has been trying to add the final piece since the 2015 Masters following his win at the 2014 British Open, the third of the big four he won. His last major victory came later that year by winning the PGA Championship. He has four majors with the U.S. Open (2011), PGA Championship (2012, 2014) and British Open (2014).
He came close last year, finishing second at 7-under par, three strokes behind Scheffler with a closing 64. It was the closest he has come since a fourth-place finish in that first attempt in 2015. He has also finished T10, T7, T5, T21, T5 and T67.
McIlroy would be the sixth golfer to accomplish the milestone joining Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazan, Gary Player, Nicklaus and Woods.
Mickelson still needs the U.S. Open to complete the career Grand Slam with a resume that includes three Masters (2004, 2006, 2010), two PGA Championships (2005, 2021), and one Open Championship (2013).
Tiger is back.
Last year, Woods managed to make the cut, his 22nd in a row. He shot a pair of 6-over par 78s on the weekend. He finished 47th. His score of 13-over was, by far, the worst finish of his Masters career. It was eight shots worse than his previous high score of 5-over in 2012. He still managed to better 44 other golfers.
But that was all actually good news.
The 2022 Masters was Woods’ first official event since the 2020 Masters as he missed extended time with a serious leg injury following a car accident in February 2021.
Woods has said he intends to play all four majors and a couple of other events. He has played in just one event this year, the Genesis Invitational in February in Los Angeles.
“Like I told you guys last year, I’m not going to play any more than probably the majors and maybe a couple more,” Woods told reporters after finishing tied for 45th at Rivera Country Club. “That’s it, that’s all my body will allow me to do. My back the way it is, all the surgeries I had on my back, my leg the way it is, I just can’t. That’s just going to be my future.”
You certainly can’t keep a five-time Masters winner away.
Current odds have Woods at 55-to-1 to win his sixth Green Jacket and tie Jack Nicklaus.
Kirk is back
Chris Kirk is also back.
The Etowah High and University of Georgia product will return to the Masters for the first time since 2016. Kirk earned his Masters invitation by winning the Honda Classic in March, his first tournament victory in almost eight years.
Kirk has battled alcoholism and depression. He committed to sobriety four years ago.
“I owe everything that I have in my entire life to my sobriety,” Kirk told reporters after his win at the Honda Classic. “I wouldn’t be doing this for a living anymore. I probably wouldn’t have the family that I have currently anymore. I came really close to losing everything that I cared about.
“For that to have happened and worked out for me, obviously there was some decisions that I made, but mostly the grace of God and a lot of other people that really helped me along the way.”
Kirk, who was once ranked as high as 16th in the world, took a leave of absence in May of 2019. When he returned to the PGA Tour in November, he was ranked 303rd. He would fall as far as 330th.
Now, Kirk enters the Masters ranked No. 34 in the world. Clearly, he is on his way back up.