Mexico's Carlos Ortiz is the outright leader after the first round at LIV Golf Portland, finishing five under after his first trip around Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.

He was on track for a bigger lead than the one stroke buffer he holds, with three birdies from his first four holes after beginning his shotgun start on the ninth tee, before back-to-back bogeys brought him back to the field.

Ortiz finished his round with three birdies on his final five holes, re-taking the lead in the final stages of play.

Dustin Johnson is just one stroke back in outright second place at four under, bogeying his first hole of the day as he started on the 18th, but it would be his only blemish, collecting five birdies and 12 pars the rest of the way.

Rounding out the top-five is Pat Perez, Hideto Tanihara, Wade Ormsby and Branden Grace in a tie for third at three under.

Playing in his first LIV Golf event, Brooks Koepka put in a good showing as one of 13 players to finish under par, tied for seventh along with Hennie du Plessis after their two-under 70s.

Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Scott Vincent and Yuki Inamori are tied for ninth at one under, while big names Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau headline the group at even par.

Koepka's brother Chase Koepka is at one over along with Mexico's Abraham Ancer, winner of LIV Golf's debut event Charl Schwartzel is at two over with Ian Poulter, and Phil Mickelson finished at three over with Sergio Garcia and Kevin Na.

There will be some high-profile debutants when the first LIV Golf Invitational Series event to be staged in the United States starts on Thursday.

Three weeks after the inaugural LIV competition at the Centurion Club, near London, took place, 48 players have headed to Portland to tee off at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.

A trio of major champions will appear in the controversial Saudi-backed breakaway league for the first time in Oregon.

Stats Perform takes a look at the standout new faces who have turned their back on the PGA Tour to make their bows in a three-day LIV Golf Invitational Portland tournament that consists of 12 teams.

 

BROOKS KOEPKA

Brooks Koepka is the biggest name to have signed up since his fellow Americans Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson played in the opening event in England.

The four-time major winner will captain a SMASH GC side that includes his brother, Chase, this week.

Koepka had tried to fend off questions about whether he would jump ship from the PGA Tour to commit to LIV Golf ahead of the recent U.S. Open.

"I haven't given it that much thought," he said when asked if he could sign up for a lucrative deal to play on the new tour. "I don't understand. I'm trying to focus on the U.S. Open, man. I legitimately don't get it. You can’t drive a car looking in the rearview mirror, can you?"

Just a fortnight on, the former world number one said in a tense press conference two days before his LIV bow: "My opinion changed. That was it.

"You guys will never believe me, but we didn't have the conversation 'til everything was done at the U.S. Open and figured it out. Here I am."

He added: "Look, what I've had to go through the last two years on my knees, the pain, the rehab, all this stuff, you realise, you know, I need a little bit more time off. I'll be the first one to say it, it's not been an easy last couple of years, and I think having a little more breaks, a little more time at home to make sure I'm 100 per cent before I go play in an event and don't feel like I'm forced to play right away - that was a big thing for me."

 

BRYSON DECHAMBEAU

Bryson DeChambeau is another major champion who has defected from the PGA Tour.

DeChambeau starts a new chapter of his career on the back of finishing tied for 56th in the U.S. Open, two years after winning it. 

The 28-year-old will also have captaincy duties, leading the CRUSHERS GC team.

DeChambeau has not registered a victory since his Arnold Palmer Invitational win last year and will be hoping a change of tour will enable him to experience that winning feeling again.

He said of his decision to join LIV Golf: "I understand people's decisions on their comments and whatnot. As it relates to me, I've personally made that as my own decision and I won't say anymore on that, there's no need. We're golfers at the end of the day.

"I think that I respect everyone's opinion. That's the most important thing people can hopefully understand out of me, that I do respect it. But golf is a force for good, and I think as time goes on, hopefully people will see the good that they're [LIV Golf] doing and what they're trying to accomplish, rather than look at the bad that's happened before. 

"I think moving on from that is important, and going, continuing to move forward in a positive light is something that can be a force for good for the future of the game."

PATRICK REED

The 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed will also get his first experience of the LIV Golf Invitational Series this week.

Another United States Ryder Cup player, Reed will be on a 4 ACES GC team captained by Johnson.

Reed's last victory came at the Farmers Insurance Open in 2021 and he was down in a share of 49th in the U.S Open.

The 31-year-old took aim at the PGA Tour this week, saying he is looking forward to having a reduced workload.

"Listen to the players for once," he said. "We actually have an off-season where not only can we get healthy, work on our bodies, but we're basically allowing ourselves throughout the year to, you know, try to peak at the right times is when you're playing rather than feeling like you have to play every single week.

"And on top of it, just the quality of life for us as players now, having less events, being able to spend more time at home with the family, if you have kids, being able to spend time with your children, and not sitting there and having to play three, four weeks in a row, then have a week off, and during that week off you're preparing trying to get ready for the next week."

Adam Hadwin ended Thursday as the outright leader following the opening round of the U.S. Open in Brookline, Massachusetts.

The Canadian shot a four-under-par round of 66, one ahead of five players tied for second, including Rory McIlroy, who had been four under himself before bogeying his final hole on the ninth.

Callum Tarren, David Lingmerth, Joel Dahmen and M.J. Daffue sit alongside McIlroy, with seven more players on two under, including Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson.

It was otherwise not a great day for some of the LIV Golf International Series participants, with Phil Mickelson carding an opening round of 78 (seven over), while Louis Oosthuizen managed just one shot better and Sergio Garcia finished on four over.

LIV Golf's new additions Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau ended even par and one over respectively. 

World number one Scottie Scheffler recovered from a wobbly start to finish on even par, while PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas ended the day one under, as did the man he beat in a playoff for that trophy, Will Zalatoris.

Defending champion Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Adam Scott also shot one-under rounds of 69, while world number four Patrick Cantlay came away from Thursday two over.

Shot of the day

After ending up just off the green in the longer grass on the 12th, a precision chip from Matt Fitzpatrick still had a significant distance to travel, but slowly rolled its way straight into the hole to the delight of the Englishman and the Brookline crowd, sending him back to two-under straight after bogeying the 11th.

Player of the day - Adam Hadwin

Hadwin sat on one over after three holes, before birdieing five of the next six to catapult himself into the leading pack. The 34-year-old has never finished higher than T39th in this tournament, and also responded to a bogey at 12 with another immediate birdie at 13, and then ended with five tidy pars to head into day two as the outright leader.

Chipping in

Rory McIlroy: "I'm going into tomorrow with the mindset of 'let's keep it going', rather than 'where is the cut line' or whatever. If you don't get off to a great start, those thoughts start to creep in, 'okay, what do I need to just be here for the weekend?'"

Jon Rahm (asked about two children stealing his ball on the 18th hole): "Yes… I'm pretty sure I know who it was. I recognised the two kids that were running the opposite way with a smile on their face. (Laughing) I am 100 per cent sure I saw the two kids that stole it."

A little birdie told me...

- McIlroy's 67 was the 13th of his career at the U.S. Open, now level with Seve Ballesteros and Sergio Garcia for most by a European player at the tournament.

- Lingmerth, ranked 592nd in the world, has never finished worse than tied for 21st in three previous U.S. Open appearances, and the Swede started with a promising 67 here.

- The first round scoring average of the last 10 winners at the U.S. Open is 69.1, with 25 players hitting under that on Thursday.

Justin Thomas called it "sad" that LIV Golf continues to dominate the headlines in the lead-up to the U.S. Open.

LIV Golf's first event took place this past weekend, with South Africa's Charl Schwartzel pocketing $4.75million as the inaugural winner.

Made possible through Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, the upstart tour has thrown exorbitant sums of money at PGA Tour players to poach them away, including Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson.

Speaking to the media after opting to not play in Monday's U.S. Open practice round, Thomas said the ubiquitous LIV Golf discussion during one of the great weeks on the golfing calendar was "sad".

"I grew up my entire life wanting to play the PGA Tour," he said. "Wanting to break records, make history, play Presidents Cups, play Ryder Cups.

"The fact that things like that could potentially get hurt because of some of the people that are leaving, and if more go, it's just sad. 

"It's really no other way to say it. It just makes me sad, because like I said, I've grown up my entire life wanting to do that, and I don't want to do anything else.

"The people that have gone, like I said, they have the decision that they're entitled to make. Not necessarily that I agree with it one way or the other, but everything has got a price, I guess."

He later added: "You can't go anywhere without somebody bringing it up.

"It's sad. This is the U.S. Open, and this is an unbelievable venue, a place with so much history, an unbelievable field, so many storylines, and yet that seems to be what all the questions are about.

"That's unfortunate. That's not right to the USGA. That's not right for the U.S. Open. That's not right for us players. But that's, unfortunately, where we're at right now."

Thomas was not done there, going on to discuss why he does not think the money is worth it, but also why it is not fair to make character assessments on the players who decided to make the move.

"There's no amount of money that you could get that [can make you happy doing something] you don't love or enjoy," he said. 

"You're still going to be miserable. You're still not going to enjoy it. Although you might be miserable in a bigger house or a nicer car, that doesn't necessarily mean that your life is going to be any better.

He added: "I'm the first to admit that there's times where people do something, and I bash them – obviously not externally – maybe internally with friends or whatever it is. It's not necessary.

"You can disagree with the decision. You can maybe wish that they did something differently… being in the media as a writer, you have to write about it. I understand that. 

"But for people at home to necessarily say that Dustin Johnson is now a bad person, that's not fair. That's just not right.

"Now, again, I said it last week, I'll say it again, do I wish he wouldn't have done it, and am I a little sad about it? Yeah – but it is what it is."

Bryson DeChambeau called his decision to join the LIV Golf series "very difficult", but the promise of a massive payday made the difference in the end.  

The first LIV Golf event took place this past weekend in London, with South Africa's Charl Schwartzel pocketing $4.75million as the inaugural winner.

Criticism has followed the Saudi-backed tour every step of the way, with its motivations being questioned due to the fact that it appears unlikely to turn a profit.

Speaking to the media for the first time since making the jump away from the PGA Tour, DeChambeau admitted his priorities were financial.

"It was a business decision, first and foremost," he said. "That’s all there was to it.

"It’s given me a lot more opportunities outside of the game of golf and given me more time with my family and my future family. So for me, that was the decision."

The 2020 U.S. Open champion said less than two weeks ago that joining LIV Golf would be a "risk" for him, but DeChambeau was reportedly offered a total of $100 million to participate in the series’ seven remaining events.  

"There was a lot of financials to it, and a lot of time," he said. "I get to have a life outside of the game of golf as well." 

While some players – notably Dustin Johnson and Kevin Na – have resigned entirely from the PGA Tour, DeChambeau has not surrendered his tour card. The PGA suspended 17 players for participating in the rival circuit, which resumes on June 30 at Pumpkin Ridge in Portland, Oregon.  

PGA commissioner Jay Monahan said any future LIV players will receive the same punishment. 

DeChambeau largely avoided addressing the controversial nature of LIV Golf, which is funded through Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, but he did make his first comments about concerns many fans have about the series’ connection to the Saudi government’s human rights violations.  

"What’s gone on has not been great," he said, “But they’re moving in the right decision from what I can see and what we’ve had conversations about." 

DeChambeau told the Golf Channel that he wants to play some PGA Tour events in the future.  

"I want to play where people can see great entertainment. I want to deliver that anywhere I'm at." 

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan described the LIV Golf Invitational as a "series of exhibition matches" while defending his decision to suspend players who defected to the breakaway series.

Charl Schwartzel, who won the inaugural LIV event near London this weekend, has been suspended from the PGA Tour along with the likes of Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia for their involvement in the series.

The LIV series is set to hold eight 54-hole, no-cut tournaments with 48-man fields this year, with players not only earning significantly higher prize money, but taking substantial sign-on fees. Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed have been the latest to defect.

Asked why golfers cannot compete on both tours, Monahan took an assertive stance.

"Why do they need us so badly? Those players have chosen to sign multi-year, lucrative contracts to play in a series of exhibition matches against the same players over and over again," he said on CBS' broadcast of the Canadian Open.

"You look at that versus what we see here today, and that's why they need us so badly.

"You've got true, pure competition, the best players in the world here at the RBC Canadian Open, with millions of fans watching. And in this game, it's true and pure competition that creates the profiles and presences of the world's greatest players."

Monahan was particularly critical of LIV's source of investment, with the Public Investment Fund in Saudi Arabia which has been accused of sports washing and using the tour to take attention away from a history of human rights abuses.

He also said players who defected would "have to be living under a rock" to not consider that context, but chose instead to relate the significant outlay to sign players and hold events to the potential return on investment.

"It’s not an issue for me, because I don’t work for the Saudi Arabian government," Monahan said. "But it probably is an issue for players who chose to go and take that money. I think you have to ask yourself the question, why?

"Why is this group spending so much money — billions of dollars — recruiting players and chasing a concept with no possibility of a return? At the same time, there’s been a lot of questions, a lot of comments, about the growth of the game. And I ask, how is this good for the game?

"I would ask any player that has left, or any player that would consider leaving, have you ever had to apologise for being a member of the PGA Tour?"

Bryson DeChambeau has become the latest high-profile player to shun the PGA Tour and join the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series.

The 2020 US Open winner, who has eight PGA Tour titles to his name in total, joins the likes of Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson in switching to the rival circuit.

DeChambeau's involvement was made official on Friday by LIV Golf, which launched with its first event on the outskirts of London on Thursday.

His first appearance will be in the second of the eight-series event in Portland later this month.

LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman said in a statement: "Bryson DeChambeau is an exciting addition to LIV Golf's supercharged style of play. 

"He is passionate about the sport, innovative in his approach and committed to pushing the boundaries in pursuit of excellence.

"He's not afraid to think outside the box and supports our mission of doing things differently to grow our game.

"The power and energy he brings to the course will deliver added electricity to our competition in Portland and beyond."

DeChambeau is currently 28th in the world rankings after slipping out of the top 10, where he had spent most of the past two years, due to a niggling injury issue.

The American missed the cut at last week's Memorial Tournament and will now be blocked from competing in any further PGA Tour events, likely including next week's U.S. Open.

That comes after the Tour confirmed on Thursday that all players competing in the opening event this week, and any who play in future events, are indefinitely suspended.

DeChambeau is the eighth major champion to defect to LIV Golf, along with Sergio Garcia, Johnson, Mickelson, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.

Bryson DeChambeau will be the next superstar to sign up to the LIV Golf Invitational Series, his agent has confirmed.

Brett Falkoff confirmed DeChambeau's involvement on a rollercoaster first day for LIV Golf, which launched with the first round of its first event in London on Thursday.

Reports had revealed DeChambeau and Patrick Reed would be joining the controversial breakaway league.

There was still no announcement from LIV Golf, but Falkoff said in a statement reported by GolfChannel.com: "Bryson has always been an innovator.

"Having the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something unique has always been intriguing to him. Professional golf as we know it is changing and it's happening quickly."

DeChambeau does not intend to resign from the PGA Tour, the same website reported, although he may have no choice in the matter.

The Tour suspended all players involved in the LIV Golf Invitational London, including the returning Phil Mickelson.

During Thursday's first round, LIV Golf responded in a statement, saying: "Today's announcement by the PGA Tour is vindictive and it deeps the divide between the Tour and its members.

"It's troubling that the Tour, an organisation dedicated to creating opportunities for golfers to play the game, is the entity blocking golfers from playing.

"This certainly is not the last word on this topic.

"The era of free agency is beginning as we are proud to have a full field of players joining us in London, and beyond."

Bryson DeChambeau has withdrawn from this week's Charles Schwab Challenge in Texas with a lingering wrist injury.

The 28-year-old has slipped down to number 22 in the world rankings after an injury-plagued first half to the year.

He has not played since missing the cut at the Masters in mid-April and undergoing surgery on his wrist a few days later.

A return to action at last week's US PGA Championship looked likely, only for him to pull out of the second major of 2022 after taking part in a practice round on the eve of the tournament.

DeChambeau's comeback has now been delayed further as he still does not feel ready to compete to the best of his abilities.

"I'm definitely close but don't have the endurance for four full days yet. Getting there. Taking a bit of time to make sure it's fully healed," he wrote in a text to Golfweek.

DeChambeau previously missed around two months earlier in the season through hip and wrist injuries and has missed the cut in three of his past four starts this year.

Bryson DeChambeau has withdrawn from the US PGA Championship following his practice round at Southern Hills.

DeChambeau appeared set to make his return to competitive action, having undergone wrist surgery after the Masters last month.

The world number 22 showed no signs of pain as he tested out his wrist during a practice round on Wednesday

However, the 2020 US Open champion confirmed on Twitter that he will sit out of the season's second major.

He tweeted: "After careful consideration, I have decided to WD from the PGA Championship. I want to make a full return when I am 100 per cent ready to compete at golf's highest level."

The 28-year-old has endured a frustrating campaign thus far, missing the cut in three of his last four starts.

Among them was a disappointing showing at Augusta, where he missed the cut at 12 over.

Bryson DeChambeau has withdrawn from the US PGA Championship following his practice round at Southern Hills.

DeChambeau appeared set to make his return to competitive action, having undergone wrist surgery after the Masters last month.

The world number 22 showed no signs of pain as he tested out his wrist during a practice round on Wednesday

However, the 2020 US Open champion confirmed on Twitter that he will sit out of the season's second major.

He tweeted: "After careful consideration, I have decided to WD from the PGA Championship. I want to make a full return when I am 100 per cent ready to compete at golf's highest level."

The 28-year-old has endured a frustrating campaign thus far, missing the cut in three of his last four starts.

Among them was a disappointing showing at Augusta, where he missed the cut at 12 over.

Bryson DeChambeau will likely miss the PGA Championship after requiring wrist surgery that prevented him from competing at "the highest level" in golf.

American DeChambeau has endured an injury-hit 2022, missing six weeks of action before struggling at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play on his return and failing to make the cut at the Texas Open.

The 28-year-old then missed the cut by eight shots at the first major of the year, the Masters, with a four-over 76 on the first day and second-round 80 doing the damage for the 2020 US Open champion.

DeChambeau has since undergone surgery on his left wrist, which he fractured and injured his hip when he slipped on a marble floor while playing table tennis in February.

The successful operation meant DeChambeau will miss the next major of the year, the PGA Championship, along with a few PGA Tour events as well.

"Today [Thursday], I underwent successful left wrist surgery on my fractured hook of the hamate," the world number 19 posted on Instagram. 

"The surgery was performed by world renowned hand surgeon Dr. Thomas Graham. I want to thank Dr. Graham and the incredible staff and The Kettering Medical Center in Ohio.

"Over the past few months my team, Dr. Graham, and myself have been monitoring the fracture to the hamate bone in my left wrist. I made attempts to play through this injury at three recent events, including the Masters, but this is typically an injury that requires surgical treatment.

"Through continued discomfort from the fracture, it has caused me to alter my grip and swing, resulting in my inability to compete at golf's highest level. This has not been easy physically and mentally for me.

"For now, I will be taking the appropriate time needed to rest and recover from this procedure and look forward to competing at the highest level within the next two months.

"Thank you to my family, team, partners, and supporters during this tough stretch but I am excited to work hard to get back competing soon."

DeChambeau will be hoping to return to action for the third major, the US Open, which starts on June 16 at The Country Club in Brookline.

Tiger Woods looked in good health in his return to The Masters, but it is Im Sung-jae who stands alone atop the leaderboard after the first round at Augusta National.

In Woods' first competitive round since The Masters in 2020, the legend finished with three birdies – on the sixth, 13th and 16th – as well as two bogeys, on the eighth and 14th holes.

South Korea's Im produced the round of the day, birdieing the first three holes on his way to five birdies, two bogeys and an eagle on 13 to finish at five under.

Smith, who recently won The Players Championship, finished one shot off the lead and outright second at four under, despite bookending his round with double-bogeys on both the first and the 18th, with eight birdies in between.

World number one Scottie Scheffler nearly went bogey-free, but a slip-up on 18 saw him finish two shots off the pace at three under. 

It was a similar story for Dustin Johnson, who birdied four of his first 10 holes before dropping a shot on the 17th to finish tied with Scheffler, as well as Chile's Joaquin Niemann and England's Danny Willett in a tie for third.

Patrick Cantlay and Canadian Corey Conners highlight the small group tied for seventh at two under, while Tony Finau, Webb Simpson and former runner-up Will Zalatoris are one further back, tied with Woods for 10th.

A decorated group finished at even par, including Hideki Matsuyama and Sergio Garcia, as well as Victor Hovland, who had five birdies, three bogeys and a double-bogey.

A pair of big names shot 73 for a one over finish in Collin Morikawa and Rory McIlroy, while plenty of notable stars were a further shot back.

Bookmakers' favourite Jon Rahm was uncharacteristically off his game, with four bogeys and two birdies to finish at two over along with Max Homa, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott.

Brooks Koepka was two under through nine holes, but three consecutive bogeys on 11, 12 and 13 drained his confidence, eventually finishing three over.

Bryson DeChambeau, Louis Oosthuizen and Justin Thomas had a day to forget at four over.

Tiger Woods looked in good health in his return to The Masters, but it is Sungjae Im who stands alone atop the leaderboard after the first round at Augusta National.

In Woods' first competitive round since The Masters in 2020, the legend finished with three birdies – on the sixth, 13th and 16th – as well as two bogeys, on the eighth and 14th holes.

South Korea's Im produced the round of the day, birdieing the first three holes on his way to five birdies, two bogeys and an eagle on 13 to finish at five under.

Smith, who recently won The Players Championship, finished one shot off the lead and outright second at four under, despite bookending his round with double-bogeys on both the first and the 18th, with eight birdies in between.

World number one Scottie Scheffler nearly went bogey-free, but a slip-up on 18 saw him finish two shots off the pace at three under. 

It was a similar story for Dustin Johnson, who birdied four of his first 10 holes before dropping a shot on the 17th to finish tied with Scheffler, as well as Chile's Joaquin Niemann and England's Danny Willett in a tie for third.

Patrick Cantlay and Canadian Corey Conners highlight the small group tied for seventh at two under, while Tony Finau, Webb Simpson and former runner-up Will Zalatoris are one further back, tied with Woods for 10th.

A decorated group finished at even par, including Hideki Matsuyama and Sergio Garcia, as well as Victor Hovland, who had five birdies, three bogeys and a double-bogey.

A pair of big names shot 73 for a one over finish in Collin Morikawa and Rory McIlroy, while plenty of notable stars were a further shot back.

Bookmakers' favourite Jon Rahm was uncharacteristically off his game, with four bogeys and two birdies to finish at two over along with Max Homa, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott.

Brooks Koepka was two under through nine holes, but three consecutive bogeys on 11, 12 and 13 drained his confidence, eventually finishing three over.

Bryson DeChambeau, Louis Oosthuizen and Justin Thomas had a day to forget at four over.

There is nothing in golf quite like The Masters.

Arguably the most prestigious of the majors, Augusta National becomes the centre of the sporting world once more over the weekend, as the famous green jacket goes up for grabs again.

In 1997, Tiger Woods won his first major when he triumphed in Georgia, and 25 years on he is set to make a sensational comeback from injury.

But Woods is not the only name to look out for.

 

The favourites

Let's start from the top. Scottie Scheffler is the world's new number one and he heads into the weekend on the back of three victories in his last five events, having not finished worse than T-19th in his six major appearances since 2020.

Scheffler said he has been resting up at home ahead of travelling to Augusta, where he joked he has already been brought down a peg or two.

He told Sky Sports: "I've been humbled a couple of times already, showing up here. The guy who picked me up in the cart this morning called me Xander, so that brought me down to earth real quick! It's been great, really looking forward to this week."

The Xander in question is Xander Schauffele. He finished T3 last year, three shots back from the champion Hideki Matsuyama, and was looking good on his final round until he sent a ball into the water on the 16th, but he won gold at the Tokyo Olympics and comes into the tournament in strong form.

Reigning champion Matsuyama cast doubt over his participation when he withdrew from the Texas Open with a neck problem, meanwhile, which may hinder his title defence.

 

Brooks Koepka has won four majors, but did not make the cut last year and will be out to put that right this time around, having defeated Jon Rahm in the WGC-Match Play last 16. 

Rahm has finished in the top 10 in each of his last four Masters appearances. However, the Spaniard has not won a tournament since triumphing in the US Open last year, but did secure a place in the top 10 in all four of last year's majors.

Dustin Johnson failed to make the cut in 2021 in a torrid title defence. He had dropped out of the top 10 up until an impressive performance at the WGC-Match Play moved him up to number eight, and he'll be determined to rekindle the form that saw him clinch the green jacket in 2020.

Viktor Hovland is ranked fourth in the world, though his weak chipping game may prove costly to his chances at Augusta, while Collin Morikawa cannot be discounted for a third major title and Justin Thomas will be out to win a second major having won the US PGA Championship in 2017.

 

The outsiders

Augusta is where golfers can shoot to stardom over the course of four spectacular days, and there will be plenty of the field who fancy their chances despite not being among the bookmakers' favourites.

One such player capable of a challenge is Cameron Smith. The Australian is ranked at a career-high six, won the Players' Championship last month and has finished inside the top 10 in three of the last four Masters.

Will Zalatoris, meanwhile, comes into the weekend with the best SG (strokes gained, which compares a player's score to the field average) tee-to-green* statistics on the PGA Tour this season, with his 1.767 average just edging out Thomas, and he came second on his Masters debut in 2021.

Zalatoris only has one pro win to his name so far but the 25-year-old has largely impressed at the majors. He finished T2 in 2021 at Augusta and T8 in last year's PGA Championship, while recording a T6 finish in the 2020 US Open.

Rory McIlroy's Masters record is frustrating. It is the only major the former world number one has not yet won. He finished in the top 10 six times between 2014 and 2020 before missing the cut last year, and now he'll have another stab at sealing a career Grand Slam, though his best finish this season has been third in the Dubai Desert Classic.

 

Only five players have previously completed a clean sweep of the majors, and McIlroy has not won one of the big four events since 2014.

Russell Henley will feature for the first time since 2018 after 12 top 10 finishes in the past year, and he has finished in the top 25 at Augusta three times, while Bryson DeChambeau is going to compete despite missing a chunk of the season with a hip problem. He finished T46 on three-over-par in 2021.

Marc Leishman finished fifth a year ago, improving on T13 from 2020, and Sergio Garcia will at least hope to make the cut for the first time since he won in 2017. Perhaps if the Spaniard can just make the weekend, he can go all the way again?

 

The return of the king

As far as comeback stories go in sport, Woods has already provided one of the very best.

In 2019, against all odds following years of back issues and surgery to fix the problems, Woods won The Masters for a fifth time in his illustrious career, taking his total of major victories to 15. He trails only Jack Nicklaus in that regard.

But this comeback might just top the lot.

The 46-year-old admitted he cheated death in a major single-car crash in February 2021, which left him with serious leg and foot injuries. Woods was unable to walk unaided for several months and has not played serious golf since, but he is all set for a remarkable return on the biggest stage of them all.

It will be his first appearance in any tournament since he played at Augusta in November 2020. Since winning his maiden major a quarter of a century ago, Woods has claimed nine more major titles than any other player, while he is one of only three players to win successive Masters titles (2001 and 2002).

Woods has never failed to make the cut in 21 appearances, and even if he does not challenge at the top of the leaderboard this time around (though you would not put it past him) his comeback is already the story of the weekend.

 

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