We say it literally every year. "This is one of the most highly-anticipated Masters ever." That's usually followed by a "I know we say that every year, but we really mean it this year."
But seriously, the 2023 Masters is one of the most highly-anticipated Masters ever. We really mean it this time.
We say that because there are an endless amount of fascinating storylines that are getting set to play out at Augusta National in the coming days. If you're a casual fan reading this who might only kinda, sorta know what's been going on, well you've come to the right place. We're here to answer all your burning questions in preparation for golf's first men's major championship of the year.
Let's get started.
Is Tiger Woods playing?
Nice, starting with a (relatively) easy one. Yes, Woods is expected to be in the field at Augusta National. We last saw him at the Genesis Invitational in February at Riviera, where he tied for 45th.
Is he healthy? Can he contend?
Unfortunately, Woods' February 2021 single car crash was so damaging to his body, specifically his right leg, that he'll never be 100 percent again. When we've seen him play in past tournaments, he's walked with a noticeable limp, which will make hoofing around hilly Augusta National even harder than it normally is for the 47-year-old. A year ago, Tiger made the Masters his first official tournament since the accident, impressively made the cut but faded on the weekend and finished T-47.
As for whether or not he can contend, the 15-time major champion showed enough at Riviera and when playing last December in the PNC Championship with his son Charlie to make you believe he's capable of conjuring up some late-career magic. He knows all the ins and outs of Augusta National, having won here five times, which helps, too. It will simply come down to whether or not his body can hold up for four straight days, and if the putter can cooperate. He still drives it as long as many of the young players on tour, still has all the short-game shots and remains one of the best ball-strikers in the world when he's on.
Is Phil Mickelson playing?
Why yes, yes he is.
Wait, isn't he a LIV golfer?
Phil Mickelson returns to Augusta after skipping last year's Masters.
Luke Walker/WME IMG
Aren't LIV golfers banned from PGA Tour events?
Yes, they are, but the Masters, while an official PGA Tour event, is not run by the PGA Tour. It's run by the members of the Augusta National Golf Club itself, and club chairman Fred Ridley announced in December that any player who had qualified based on the tournament's previous criteria would be invited to play in this year's tournament.
So which LIV golfers earned invites?
In addition to Mickelson, who earned a lifetime inviation to play in the Masters by virtue of winning the event in 2004, 2006 and 2010, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Charl Schwartzel, Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed also were invited as past champions. Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Cameron Smith are in as major winners in the last five years, while Abraham Ancer, Talor Gooch, Jason Kokrak, Thomas Pieters, Kevin Na, Joaquin Niemann, Louis Oosthuizen and Harold Varner III are all in because they were among the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking at the end of 2022. Mito Pereira fit that criteria, too, as well as being among the top four finishers in last year's PGA Championship.
Did any big LIV Golf names not get in?
Maybe not big to the casual fan, but pretty big in the golf world. A pair of Englishmen, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter, will not be in Augusta, both having fell outside of the top 100 players in the world. The same goes for Australia's Marc Leishman, who owns a pair of top-five finishes at the Masters in his career. Others of note who will miss: Matthew Wolff, Lee Westwood and former major winners Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell.
Will Sergio, Bubba, Phil, DJ, Schwartzel and Reed be at the Tuesday night Champions Dinner?
Unless one of them comes down with an illness and has to miss, yes, of course they will be there. There's been talk of some possible "tension" between the LIV players and the non-LIV guys—Fred Couples has been particualrly critical of LIV golfers, recently calling Garcia "a clown" and Mickelson 'a nutbag'—but it will likely end up being a normal evening. At least as long as they sit Couples away from Garcia and Mickelson.
One big happy group of past winners from the 2019 Champions Dinner.
Barry Koenig/Augusta National
Enough about LIV. What about our boy Rickie Fowler? He's in, right?
Unfortunately, Fowler is currently not in the Masters field, though he can get in via the Hail Mary of all Hail Marys—by winning this week's Valero Texas Open. It's not out of the realm of possibilty, as Fowler has been playing some stellar golf of late and is actually one of the tournament favorites. But it's still a tall task (Fowler hasn't won on the PGA Tour in more than four years). And should he finish second or worse, a very likely possibility, Fowler will miss his third consecutive Masters after playing in 10 straight from 2011 to 2020. On a more positive note, he's on track to get back into the field for 2024.
What about the golf course? Didn't the club make some changes?
It sure did. Augusta National does a little tinkering almost every year, but it did some major tinkering of one of its most iconic holes this off-season to combat the insane distance of today's top tour pros. The par-5 13th, also known as Azalea, will play significantly longer this year, 35 yards longer to be exact. For the biggest hitters, the hole had become a driver (sometimes even a 3 wood) and a 7-, 8- or 9-iron, removing the true risk-reward factor of going for a crucial par 5 in two. It may not sound all that much longer, but it is. Rory McIlroy played a few practice rounds at Augusta recently and while he said the drive is easier, the second shot is not. He was hitting 8 iron in in recent years, and during his practice rounds he was hitting 5-iron.
The club lenghtened another par 5 last year, too, right?
Yes it did, the par-5 15th, AKA "Firethorn," which was extended by 20 yards prior to the 2022 tournament and led to a lot more layups. The par-4 11th, "White Dogwood," was also lengthened by 15 yards last year.
Wow, imagine how much tougher these holes will be if the USGA and R&A's recent golf ball rollback announcement actually comes to fruition.
Wow … and you call yourself a casual fan?!? We’re impressed you’re aware that the two governing bodies have proposed a change for “elite competition” only that would reduce how far the ball goes off the tee by potentially 20 or more yards.
Now, if the rollback happens, for starters it wouldn’t go into effect until 2026 and Augusta National would then have to decide whether or not it would put the rule in place for the Masters.
Fred Ridley's annual Chairman's press conference at Augusta National on Wednesday is likely to draw lots of attention.
Well, would they do it?
It’s unclear, although at past Masters, club chairman Fred Ridley has lamented about distance issues in the game and the potential for the club to make changes to maintain the integrity of the course design at Augusta National. Ridley holds his annual press conference on Wednesday of tournament week, and he will certainly be asked a question or two about the rollback proposal. How he answers those questions could have a significant impact on the fate of the proposal, as tournament organizers could take their cues from Ridley.
So this Ridley guy has a lot going on this week?
If keeping the peace at the Champions Dinner, navigating the thorny equipment conversation and making sure the world’s most popular golf tournament is run without any issues is “a lot”, then yes.
Any other changes at Augusta we should know about?
Oh yes. Augusta National's par 3 course underwent a complete renovation this off-season, and the changes appear to be quite dramatic. We'll get an up-close look on Wednesday during the Par-3 contest, but for now these Eureka Earth photos show an aerial view of the makeover:
So, who is going to win?
Ha, not touching that one. Instead, we'll direct you to an odds board, which has Rory McIlroy as the clear-cut favorite to finally win a green jacket. McIlroy has won the other three men’s majors and needs an Augusta victory to become just the sixth golfer to claim the career grand slam. In his last nine trips to Augusta, the Northern Irishman has finished in the top-10 seven times, including a solo second last year. The thing is the guy who beat him by three shots last year, Scottie Scheffler, is playing awfully well again—he’s the reigning World No. 1. And the man Scheffler has been trading that top spot with, Jon Rahm, is also right near the top of the odds board as well. With all three of these premier players on top of their games, no wonder this is one of the most highly anticipated Masters ever.
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