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Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy

Will this be the most open Masters ever?

We haven't headed down Magnolia Lane with this level of excitedness for quite some time – for a number of reasons. Alex Perry looks ahead to what promises to be a headline-packed week in Augusta
 

There’s an argument to be had that this year’s Masters is going to be the most highly anticipated in many a year. 

At one end of the scale, it’s the first since the formation of what we now know as the LIV Golf League.

The major championships have decided not to get involved in the so-called civil war that’s seen the Saudi-backed circuit poach a number of players from the PGA and DP World Tours.

Which means no fewer than 18 of Augusta National’s small field will be made up of LIV signings. Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Charl Schwartzel and Bubba Watson will all be there as past winners – oh to be a fly on the wall during the Champions Dinner – while Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Cameron Smith are among those exempt as recent major champions. 

But that’s just a sideshow.

From the purist’s point of view, it might be the most open Masters of all time… 

Masters preview: The contenders

rory mcIlroy

It will be Rory McIlroy’s 15th attempt to slip into the Green Jacket he craves so dearly, and his ninth attempt at completing the Grand Slam. His major-winning purple patch aside, the Northern Irishman is in the form of his life, so would you bet against him? 

LIV Golf’s most outspoken critic, it would certainly add an extra layer of deliciousness to his victory – not only for himself, but for the millions opposed to Greg Norman’s attempt to divide the golfing world.

But the hot favourite will undoubtedly be Jon Rahm.

The Spaniard warmed up for his latest run at a major by winning five times on the DP World and PGA Tours between October and February, a run that saw him briefly return to World No 1.

Most worryingly for his rivals, though, is that he seems to have learned how to control the fiery temper that cost him at a number of tournaments earlier in his career. That, and the fact he has four top 10s from his six trips down Magnolia Lane.

jon rahm

And while we all focus on McIlroy and Rahm’s recent winning rampage across the globe, Scottie Scheffler has quietly been going about his business.

Last year’s Masters champion already has one title defence under his belt this year, at the Phoenix Open, and a month later he added a Players Championship to his already ludicrously impressively CV.

We can’t rule him out of becoming the first player to go back to back at the Masters since you-know-who some 21 years ago. 

scottie scheffler

Speaking of Tiger Woods – could he do it? We didn’t think he could do it in 2019, then he did it. So why not? He looked relatively pain free as he grinded to a tie for 45th in his first competitive start since last year’s Open at Riviera. And this is Augusta. No one knows how to plot their way round this sacred corner of Georgia better than him.

Then you have the next crop.

Justin Thomas is surely a Masters champion in waiting, while his good friend Jordan Spieth quite rightly fancies his chances every time he tees up here. Collin Morikawa, already a two-time major champion, is trending in the right direction at Augusta, and is in fine form as he looks to put himself one win from his own Grand Slam, while Xander Schauffele has a T2 and a T3 on his record already – and really should have a Masters title but for a triple-bogey that derailed his chances in ’21.

2023 masters

Behind them, you’ve got Will Zalatoris, who could – and perhaps should – be a major champion already, while the man who got the better of him at the US Open, Matt Fitzpatrick, has the game to contend here. And everyone’s second favourite golfer Max Homa is in the form of his life after rocketing into the top 10. He would be a popular champion, for sure.

Of course, we’re all expecting one of the LIV players to spoil our fun. Smith is playing some very good golf and since he lifted the Claret Jug has added two more titles to his CV. The Australian will head to Augusta with four top-10 finishes in his last five attempts. 

Koepka’s record is solid, though spoiled by two missed cuts in the last two years as he battled injury, while Johnson is a Masters top-10 machine – at least on years when he’s being more careful on the stairs. 

Anyway, this is all speculation. Why don’t we put some maths to it?

Since the OWGR was created in 1986, the average world ranking of the winner at the start of the week was 14.

On that basis, allow me to introduce to you, for the first time, your 2023 Masters champion: Cameron Young.

masters preview

Who do you think will win the 2023 Masters? Tweet me and let me know!

Masters champions world rankings

There’s a lot for stats fans to get stuck into, here.

As the average suggests, 28 of the 36 Masters Tournament winners in the Official World Golf Ranking era were inside the top 20, while just two – Zach Johnson and Angel Cabrera – were outside the top 50.

Meanwhile, five players – Ian Woosnam, Fred Couples, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Scottie Scheffler – went to Augusta National Golf Club as World No 1 and left with the Green Jacket.

1987: Larry Mize 36
1988: Sandy Lyle 3
1989: Nick Faldo 5
1990: Nick Faldo 2
1991: Ian Woosnam 1
1992: Fred Couples 1
1993: Bernhard Langer 5
1994: Jose Maria Olazabal 10
1995: Ben Crenshaw 33
1996: Nick Faldo 9
1997: Tiger Woods 13
1998: Mark O’Meara 14
1999: Jose Maria Olazabal 33
2000: Vijay Singh 8
2001: Tiger Woods 1
2002: Tiger Woods 1
2003: Mike Weir 10
2004: Phil Mickelson 8
2005: Tiger Woods 2
2006: Phil Mickelson 4
2007: Zach Johnson 56
2008: Trevor Immelman 29
2009: Angel Cabrera 69
2010: Phil Mickelson 3
2011: Charl Schwartzel 29
2012: Bubba Watson 16
2013: Adam Scott 7
2014: Bubba Watson 12
2015: Jordan Spieth 4
2016: Danny Willett 12
2017: Sergio Garcia 11
2018: Patrick Reed 24
2019: Tiger Woods 12
2020: Dustin Johnson 1
2021: Hideki Matsuyama 25
2022: Scottie Scheffler 1

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