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Friday, April 19, 2024

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, LIV — Who’s in at Augusta

The sporting calendar features big events on a daily basis, but there are some dates that stand out on the calendar. The Super Bowl is the biggest day of the sporting year, and the first two days of the NCAA basketball tournament are nearly as big. But days after the NCAA Championship is decided with the men’s championship game, the sport of golf takes over the stage when the Masters tournament tees off.

The Masters marks the first of golf’s four major tournaments. Arguments have been made in the past for the U.S. Open and the The Open Championship (British Open) being the sport’s most important tournaments, but the Masters has eclipsed both over the years.

The 2024 Masters may be even more significant than usual when the event begins April 11. That’s because the LIV tour has been able to attract some of the biggest names in the sport and steal them away from the PGA Tour. There is almost no crossover between the two rival tours, but the Masters is so big that it has its own qualification details.

Since past champions and high finishers receive invitations to the Masters regardless of their tour affiliation, LIV members like Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed and others will have a chance to compete in the Masters.

Many members of the LIV tour would like to see the other big events on the PGA Tour open to them, but they have not been successful at wrangling invitations to those tournaments and to other competitions like the Ryder Cup to this point.

In addition to the sport’s current stars, the Masters got the news Wednesday that Tiger Woods will be in the field. Woods is a five-time champion and still commands more headlines than any other player. However, he has only participated in one event to this point in the year, and that turned out to be very short-lived.

Woods teed off in the Genesis Invitational in mid-February bit  withdrew early in the second round due to illness.

Tiger has been quite limited in his appearances on the tour since a 2021 automobile accident left him with a severely damaged ankle, but he began the current year with quite a bit of optimism. Woods was hoping to participate in PGA Tour events on close to a monthly basis with the idea of competing in at least three of the four majors.

He reportedly no longer has pain walking 18 holes after surgery had repaired the damaged ankle last year, so there is hope that he will be able to complete 72 holes.

Big names who will compete in the Masters

The Masters website lists the players who have accepted invitations to play in this year’s tournament. Here’s a few of the profiles of the more notable names who will be in the tournament this year.

Scottie Scheffler – The No. 1 player in the world and it’s not even close at this point. Scheffler has won two tournaments this season and has already picked up nearly $11 million in earnings. He also is in first place in the FedEx Cup rankings. Scheffler excels in all areas of the game, but his putting is simply exceptional and may be the biggest reason he has risen to the top of the rankings.

Jon Rahm — Few could believe it when Rahm announced he was leaving the PGA Tour for LIV, but the guaranteed money was too much for the Spaniard to turn down. Rahm returns to Augusta after winning the 2023 Masters, and it would not be a shock to see him find his game and compete for four rounds and find a way to retain his green jacket. Rahm has not finished higher than third in any of the LIV tour event he has played to this point.

Rory McIlroy — The superstar from Northern Ireland appears to have taken up the cause of the PGA Tour more than any other player. McIlroy is extremely popular in the United State and Europe, and his confident stride up any fairway makes him easily identifiable. McIlroy is one of the most powerful ball strikers in the world, and his distance off the tee is awesome. However, the rest of his game has lacked consistency. It’s difficult to see McIlroy stringing four consecutive rounds together and winning the Masters at this point.

Brooks Koepka — When it comes to being a competitor who can rise to the occasion, Koepka has few peers. He has a football player’s personality and he seems to enjoy intimidating opponents with his strength and shot making. Koepka has won the U.S. Open twice and the PGA Championship three times. He finished tied for second at the Masters in 2019 and 2023. He has not won any events on the LIV Tour to this point.

Jordan Spieth — Spieth is similar to McIlroy because the fans tend to follow him and root for a return to dominance. However, it is very rare for Spieth to put four great rounds in a given tournament. Spieth’s greatest skill is with the short irons. He can play masterful golf on any shot of 150 yards or less. He does not generate the distance that some of the top stars can with his driver.

Viktor Hovland — Hovland has all the skills necessary to win a major championship and he came close in last year’s PGA Championship. He finished tied for second and it seems as its just a matter of time before the 26-year-old Norwegian has his moment in the sun. He earned more than $14 million during a brilliant 2023 season.

Xander Schauffele — Schauffele has 13 runner-up finishes in his career and it’s clear that he has grown frustrated with his tendency to finish second in big events. That was apparent when he finished tied for second in the recently completed Players Championship as he saw Scheffler come from behind in the final round to take the title. He is good enough and consistent enough to win the Masters.

Ludvig Aberg — Every year a new star emerges on the PGA Tour, and 2024 appears to be Aberg’s year. He already had three top-10 finishes and he emerged as a potential star when he finished second at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He is averaging 69.2 stroke per round this season.

Justin Thomas — JT looked like the game’s next dominant superstar for a few seasons, but he has failed to fulfill the promise that he had during his run at the top of the PGA Tour. Nevertheless he has remarkable skill, and when he’s at his best, he can drive the ball like McIlroy, excel with the short irons like Spieth and putt like Scheffler. He is simply too talented for his slump to go on much longer.

Hideki Matsuyama – The Japanese superstar is capable of taking over any tournament with a run of birdies that allows him to go from middle of the pack to powerful contender in the blink of an eye. Matsuyama is an extremely popular player with fans and competitors, and his victory in the 2021 Masters is one of the most memorable over the last decade.

Tiger Woods – Perhaps the greatest player in the sport’s history. Even if he is not, he ranks with Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan, and he is better than Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead. He has 15 major championships to his credit and that includes five Masters titles. He also has 82 tour victories to his credit and he will almost certainly be the most popular player at Augusta.

Phil Mickelson — At one time he was Tiger’s biggest rival on the tour, but now he is known for being the player that started the LIV Tour defection. Mickelson was a brilliant shot maker at his peak, and he is known for his risk-taking on the course. Mickelson has won the Masters three time in his career.

Steve Silverman_headshot

About the Author

Steve Silverman has been covering the NFL for more than 35 years, and his writing has appeared in ESPN Magazine, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Pro Football Weekly, and Forbes.com. He has written 10 books, including “Who’s Better, Who’s Best in the NFL.” He has won multiple awards from the Pro Football Writers of America.

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