Storylines to follow at The Masters: Can Tiger really contend?
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By Ali Stafford at Augusta National
Last Updated: 07/04/22 5:59am
How will Tiger Woods perform this week at The Masters? Can Rory McIlroy complete the career Grand Slam? We pick out five storylines to follow at Augusta National…
Is Tiger a genuine Masters contender?
It was barely six weeks ago that Tiger Woods’ involvement at The Masters looked set to be little other than attending Tuesday’s Champions Dinner, but the sporting world is now watching with interest to see how the former world No 1 fares in his long-awaited comeback.
Woods was still unsure on a competitive return date as recently as February’s Genesis Invitational, with the 46-year-old only really fuelling speculation about a major return when he went for a practice round at Augusta National last week.
The 15-time major champion said on Sunday he would make a “game-time decision” about whether he would play and then delighted golf fans when he confirmed on Tuesday he would likely tee it up, his first competitive start since November 2020.
Woods told reporters he believes he can still win the opening men’s major of the year, less than 14 months after a career-threatening car crash, with his return dominating the narrative in the build-up to The Masters.
Intrigue remains about whether Woods’ leg will be handle 72 holes on an undulating golf course, with all logic suggesting that a winning return would be too much to ask, although past experience proves you can never write off the five-time Masters champion.
Will McIlroy complete the career Grand Slam?
When Rory McIlroy won The Open in 2014 – the first of two major victories that year and his third different major title – it seemed inconceivable to think that McIlroy would still be searching for the career Grand Slam some eight years later.
McIlroy has registered six career top-10 finishes at Augusta National, including three in the last five years, although the Northern Irishman is still searching for an elusive victory that would see him become just the sixth player in history to complete the Grand Slam.
The former world No 1 missed the cut in last year’s event and has made a far from impressive start to his 2022 campaign, with McIlroy arriving at the opening men’s major of the year off the back of a disappointing week at The Players and a missed cut at the Valero Texas Open.
McIlroy has more under par rounds at Augusta National over the past decade than any other player although will be hoping for a faster start to his major bid than recent editions, with the 32-year-old carding an over-par opening round each of the previous three years.
Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods all completed the Grand Slam at the first attempt, while Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus secured their place in golfing history at the third time of asking, with McIlroy’s latest chance is his eighth attempt to join illustrious major company.
Can DeChambeau conquer his Augusta demons?
The former US Open champion as struggled for form and fitness during an injury-plagued start to the year, missing his Arnold Palmer Invitational title defence and also sitting out of The Players due to wrist and hip issues.
DeChambeau failed to progress from the group stage at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and missed the cut at the Valero Texas Open last week, raising doubts on how prepared he is for another assault at Augusta National.
A tied-46th finish in last year’s contest was a disappointing return for DeChambeau, who has failed to register at top-20 in five attempts at The Masters and also failed to place any higher than tied-26th in last year’s four majors.
DeChambeau has always felt his added power and distance off the tee could be used around Augusta National, previously labelling the course as a par-67 layout, although currently averages 72.35 from his 20 rounds around the Georgia venue.
He admitted he returned from injury quicker than he was advised in order to get ready for The Masters and is only at ’80 per cent’ this week, although told the media in his pre-tournament press conference that he was “really close” to having his A-game for chipping and putting.
Who will win the race for world No 1?
Scottie Scheffler makes his first start as world No 1 this week, where he chases a fourth victory in his last six starts, although the American is one of six players who could end the week top of the world rankings.
The 25-year-old’s closest challenge comes from Jon Rahm, who had held top spot since July until Scheffler’s victory at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, while Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland and Patrick Cantlay can also guarantee the world No 1 spot with a victory.
The Masters – Live
April 7, 2022, 2:00pm
Hovland can also leapfrog Scheffler by finishing second, depending on other results, while Morikawa or Rahm may also be able to move to the top ranking without victory if other scenarios go their way.
World No 6 Cameron Smith can also mathematically go to world No 1 with a win, a month on from claiming his second victory of the season at The Players, with the Australian looking to become the first player since Tiger Woods to win at TPC Sawgrass and Augusta National in the same year.
Will Matsuyama be fit to defend his title?
Only three players have successfully won back-to-back editions of The Masters, with Hideki Matsuyama looking to follow suit after making history in last year’s contest.
Matsuyama became the first Asian recipient of the Green Jacket and the first Japanese male to win a major with his one-shot victory in 2021, with the world No 12 now looking to follow Jack Nicklaus, Sir Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods in winning The Masters in successive years.
The Masters – Live
April 7, 2022, 7:30pm
The 30-year-old pulled out of the Players Championship shortly before the start of the first round with a back injury and then withdrew ahead of his second round at the Valero Texas Open last week with a neck problem, raising doubts about whether he would be able to tee it up at Augusta National this week.
Matsuyama admitted the injury had “been a struggle” when speaking through an interpreter in Tuesday’s press conference, although said he was optimistic of being 100 per cent fit when his defence begins this week.
Watch The Masters this week exclusively live on Sky Sports. Live coverage begins on Thursday from 2pm on Sky Sports Golf, with additional feeds and bonus action during all four rounds available via the red button.