The Masters: Rahm's time, good Will hunting for green, or another Tiger miracle – The experts' picks

By Sports Desk April 05, 2022

After two years of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, things are back to normal at Augusta National for this year's much-anticipated Masters – though choosing a winner is as tough as ever.

Dustin Johnson won the delayed 2020 event with a record score after it was pushed back by seven months from its usual slot, while Hideki Matsuyama made history of his own last year by becoming the first Japanese male to win a major.

Matsuyama's triumph was a memorable one, albeit with only a limited number of patrons present in Georgia due to social distancing measures being in place, though the build-up to his title defence has been far from ideal as he continues to battle a back injury.

Golf's elite can look forward to the return of spectators for the 86th edition of the most prestigious tournament of them all – and if excitement was not already at fever pitch, Augusta could also see the return of Tiger Woods, who has not played on the PGA Tour since November 2020 after being involved in a car accident.

But exactly who is best placed to claim the green jacket in the first major of the year? The expert team at Stats Perform have a go at answering that question ahead of the tee off on Thursday.

RAHM TO ADD TO US OPEN SUCCESS – Daniel Lewis

Despite being usurped by Scottie Scheffler at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking after an admittedly slow start to the year, Jon Rahm remains the man to beat heading into the Masters. The 27-year-old has posted top-four finishes in each major, while also finishing inside the top 10 in each of his last five participations. Following his success at the US Open at Torrey Pines 10 months ago, this is Rahm's time to shine at Augusta. 

SMITH TO GO ONE BETTER THAN 2020 – Patric Ridge

Less than a month on from his triumph at the Players' Championship, world number six Cameron Smith seems well placed to go on and seal a maiden major triumph. The Australian finished T2 at Augusta in 2020, albeit five strokes back from Johnson. But he comes into this tournament ranked higher than ever before in his career, and the 28-year-old has won two of the five events he has featured in this year. A T10 placing in last year's Masters will have been a disappointment, but Smith has the tools, and the form, to challenge this time around.

GOOD WILL HUNTING FOR GREEN JACKET – Peter Hanson

A year ago, you could be forgiven for not knowing a lot about Will Zalatoris. But the then 24-year-old finished just one stroke shy of eventual winner Matsuyama, and his clean ball striking will be a big advantage on a typically unforgiving Augusta course. Voted PGA Tour Rookie of the Year for 2021, Zalatoris has three top-10 finishes in 2022, including losing a play-off to Luke List at the Farmers Insurance Open. And how about this if you want more persuading: eight of the past 10 Masters champions were at 1.7 or better strokes gained tee to green in the three months leading into the Masters. Zalatoris is one of eight players who meet that criteria heading into the 2022 instalment.

DON'T BE A-DOUBTING THOMAS, BACK JUSTIN – John Skilbeck

Until his challenged fizzled out over the weekend last year, when he went from only three shots back to finish tied for 21st place, Justin Thomas was following a trajectory that seemed sure to lead to Masters glory. His record showed year-on-year progress, going from a tie for 39th in 2016, to a tie for 22nd a year later, then tied 17th in 2017, tied 12th in 2019, and fourth outright in 2020. Amid this, he won the 2017 US PGA Championship, and Thomas is too good a player to sit too long on just one major. He has the second-lowest scoring average this season on the PGA Tour, has three top-10 finishes in the past two months, and Augusta practice rounds with his great friend Tiger Woods can hardly have hindered his cause.

TIGER... JUST IMAGINE! – Russell Greaves

Lazarus was a one-trick pony, but if Woods were to win the Masters again it would constitute the second bona fide sporting miracle of his remarkable career. Woods' triumph in 2019 – his fifth at Augusta National – was his 15th major success, coming 11 years after his previous one. He became only the third golfer over 40 to win a major on US soil, joining Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson. Now 46 and absent from competitive action since 2020 following his car accident, a win here would surpass anything Woods has ever achieved. He needs one more to equal Jack Nicklaus' six Masters titles, but would be putting a proud record on the line if he does choose to compete, as Woods has made the cut in each of his 21 appearances at this event.

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  • PGA Championship: Woods determined to 'keep fighting' after missing cut at Valhalla PGA Championship: Woods determined to 'keep fighting' after missing cut at Valhalla

    Tiger Woods vowed he would "keep fighting" after missing the cut at this year's PGA Championship.

    The four-time champion will be absent from the weekend at the second major of the season, having carded rounds of 72 and 77 in Valhalla.

    Woods concluded his opening round with a bogey-bogey finish, while he hit two triple-bogeys in the first four holes of his second round - doing so multiple times in a single round at a major for the first time.

    The 48-year-old, who finished seven over par and 19 strokes behind halfway leader Xander Schauffele, was making his first appearance on the PGA Tour since last month's Masters, and knows he needs to improve ahead of the US Open at Pinehurst in four weeks' time.

    When asked about his next steps, the 15-time major champion responded: "Just keep fighting. Keep the pedal on, keep fighting, keep grinding, keep working hard at posting the best score that I can possibly post. That's all I can do.

    "I got off to a bad start [in the second round] and the rough grabbed me at [the second hole]. I compounded the problem there at [the fourth].

    "[I] just kept making mistakes and things you can't do, not just in tournaments but in majors especially. I hung around for most of the day, but unfortunately, the damage was done early.

    "I need to play more. Unfortunately, I just haven't played a whole lot of tournaments. Hopefully, everything will somehow come together in my practice sessions at home and be ready for Pinehurst."

     

  • PGA Championship: Scheffler left 'shocked and shaking' after arrest PGA Championship: Scheffler left 'shocked and shaking' after arrest

    Scottie Scheffler was left "shocked and shaking" after his arrest in Kentucky, though the world number one delivered a superb second round at the PGA Championship.

    Scheffler was arrested ahead of play starting at Valhalla Golf Club on Friday.

    According to reports from ESPN, Scheffler faces charges of second-degree assault of a police officer, third-degree criminal mischief, reckless driving, and disregarding traffic signals from an officer directing traffic.

    The start of Friday's second round in Kentucky was delayed due to a traffic incident outside the course, with it subsequently confirmed that one person had died in the incident, which did not involve Scheffler.

    Speaking to reporters after his second round, Scheffler said: "My main focus after getting arrested was wondering if I could be able to come back out here and play, and fortunately I was able to do that," he said.

    "I was never angry, just in shock and I was shaking the whole time. It was definitely a new feeling for me.

    "The officer that took me to the jail was very kind. He was great. We had a nice chat in the car, that kind of helped calm me down.

    "It was a chaotic situation and a big misunderstanding," he said. "It’ll get resolved fairly quickly I think. I was driving in this morning, trying to get to my warm-up time and I don’t really have an understanding what transpired.

    "I did numerous apologies but it was dark, it was raining and they had just had an accident. I didn’t know what had happened at the time but my heart goes out to the family.

    "At no point did I try to name-drop myself to defuse the situation. I just tried to remain as calm as possible and just follow instructions."

    Scheffler posted a five-under-par 66, moving to nine under for the tournament, and closing within three strokes of leader Xander Schauffele.

    Having carded a historic 62 on Thursday, Schauffele could only manage a 68 in his second round, allowing his rivals to close the gap.

    Collin Morikawa, who followed up his first-round 66 with an excellent 65, is one stroke back on 11 under. Sahith Theegala is third, on 10 under.

    Scheffler is then part of a group that also includes Bryson DeChambeau, Thomas Detry and Mark Hubbard.

    Reigning champion Brooks Koepka is two back from Scheffler on seven under.

    Rory McIlroy, however, endured a disappointing second round, with the Northern Irishman carding 71 to slide seven shots off the lead.

    Tiger Woods, meanwhile, missed the cut after a dismal round of 77.

  • World number one Scheffler arrested ahead of second round at PGA Championship World number one Scheffler arrested ahead of second round at PGA Championship

    World number one Scottie Scheffler was arrested ahead of the second round at the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club.

    According to reports from ESPN, Scheffler faces charges of second-degree assault of a police officer, third-degree criminal mischief, reckless driving, and disregarding traffic signals from an officer directing traffic.

    The start of Friday's second round in Kentucky was delayed due to a traffic incident outside the course.

    Louisville Metro Police Department said a bus had struck and killed a pedestrian in the incident, which Scheffler was reportedly attempting to navigate to enter the course.

    Pre-tournament favourite Scheffler carded a four-under-par 67 in the first round on Thursday, putting him five strokes behind early pacesetter Xander Schauffele. 

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