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.

 

Bryson DeChambeau is thrilled to see Tiger Woods back and ready to feature at The Masters, though he is unsure just quite how the 15-time major winner has overcome adversity once again.

Woods, who remarkably won the Masters in 2019 after coming back from spinal surgery, suffered serious leg and foot injuries in a car crash in California in February 2021.

The 46-year-old was unsure if he would ever play professionally again yet, 14 months after the accident, he is set to make a remarkable return to action at Augusta National, where he won his maiden major title in 1997.

It will be the first competitive action for Woods since he competed at The Masters in November 2020.

DeChambeau, who is overcoming his own injury issues to feature in the season's first major, is delighted to have Woods back on the course.

And while the big-driving American is unsure just how Woods has managed to come back, he has tipped the five-time Masters champion to make a bid for glory.

"Its great to see his face. I mean, I was walking down, I was teeing off on 3, and he was walking down 17. He just, like, jumped up and raised up, and we were both kind of air high fiving, like saying, 'what's up'," DeChambeau told a news conference.

"It's just great to see him in a positive frame of mind. I haven't spoken to him much, but I have seen him and it seems likes he's in a really great frame of mind and he wants to win.

"Obviously, he's determined to win. He wants to come back here and win. Tiger is Tiger, and you can never count him out. He is one that may shock a lot of people if he does tee it up this week.

"Very, very excited to have him back. Creates a lot of hype and, shoot, from the driving range, we could hear the loud roar when he came out of the clubhouse up to that first tee, and that was pretty special to see or hear at least.

"I couldn't be happier for him in the place he's at right now, coming back, and proud of him, too. Shoot, coming back off that injury, we've had some conversations, and man, I don't know how he's done it. It's very impressive."

While DeChambeau is looking to make a vast improvement on his T46 finish at Augusta from last year, Jon Rahm heads into the tournament aiming to add a second major title to his collection, having recently lost the world number one ranking to Scottie Scheffler.

But the Spaniard, too, has not failed to get caught up in the excitement of Woods' return.

"You can feel it. A lot of it is Tiger," Rahm said when asked about the excitement surrounding the build-up at Augusta. "I was playing with Tony Finau on the front nine yesterday. We were about four or five holes ahead, we were on 7, and they [Tiger's group] were walking down on 2, and I've never seen a mass this big, even on a Sunday in contention, on those two holes.

"It feels like this Monday they allowed way more people to come in just because the last two years had limited invitations, COVID, and what everybody has gone through. More people wanted to come out, then Tiger's playing, so a lot more people are coming out Monday trying to see him. It's a combination of things, I think.

"There's a lot more electricity in the air in that sense, and you have Tiger being there, yeah. Monday felt like a Saturday in a regular event."

Woods has been grouped with Louis Oosthuizen and Joaquin Niemann for the first round on Thursday.

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.

Dustin Johnson got the best of Brooks Koepka in a heavyweight matchup to finish 2 up in their WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play quarter-final.

After Johnson got through Richard Bland and Koepka made it past Jon Rahm earlier on Saturday, the two former major champions went all 18 holes before Johnson won the last to turn 1 up into 2 up and avoid a playoff.

It was a great start for Koepka, winning two of the first three holes, but Johnson found his touch going into the seventh and went on to claim four holes and tie the rest from that point.

Scottie Scheffler passed his test against Seamus Power with flying colours, winning three and two with a strong back-nine.

Winning two holes apiece on the front nine, it was all Scheffler down the stretch, including winning the two par fives (holes 12 and 16) by two strokes to wrap things up with a couple holes to spare.

Brooks Koepka edged a battle of two heavyweights at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, needing a 19th hole to beat world number one Jon Rahm.

The two were paired in the pick of a round of 16 that delivered its fair share of thrills and spills early on Saturday.

Koepka was 2 up twice on the back nine, only to be reeled in by Rahm at the 16th and 17th, meaning an additional hole was required.

A birdie from Koepka was enough as they replayed the 10th, setting up another intriguing quarter-final clash with Dustin Johnson.

For a time, it appeared Johnson would be joining Rahm in making an early exit, as 49-year-old opponent Richard Bland was 2 up through five holes.

However, Bland double-bogeyed the sixth as he lost four of the next five holes, allowing Johnson to canter home 3 and 2.

The other standout match-up saw a replay of last year's final. Billy Horschel won the 2021 title, but he was beaten this time by Scottie Scheffler, who finished 1 up.

Scheffler's next task is against Seamus Power, who this time last year was finishing in a tie for 54th at the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship, leaving him ranked 463rd in the world.

On Saturday, Power routed Tyrrell Hatton 4 and 3 – albeit not the biggest win, as Abraham Ancer dominated Collin Morikawa 7 and 6 and will face Corey Conners, a 5 and 3 winner.

In the final section of the draw, Will Zalatoris required 22 holes to get the better of Kevin Na, with Kevin Kisner up next.

Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka will face off in the last-16 at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, after they secured progression from the group stage on Friday.

Top-seed Rahm was defeated 3 and 2 by Patrick Reed, who was already eliminated, while Koepka needed a birdie on the last hole to beat Shane Lowry and go 3-0 in group play.

Scottie Scheffler and Billy Horschel set up a replay of last year's Match Play final, after they won their respective groups.

Following a loss to Ian Poulter in the second round of play, Scheffler recovered strongly to defeat Matt Fitzpatrick 5 and 4, before then taking the playoff out with both at 2-1. Horschel tied with Thomas Pieters after 18 holes to guarantee his place.

Dustin Johnson went 3-0 in the group, after he was able to see off a closing two birdies from Max Homa and win 1-up.

He will face 49-year-old Richard Bland, who went 2 and 1 over countryman Lee Westwood to finish Group 9 with two wins and a tie.

Seamus Power lost his final game to Keith Mitchell in Group 4, but still managed to top the group and secure a last-16 tie against Tyrell Hatton. In the process, the 35-year-old Irishman has also secured his first Masters appearance.

Collin Morikawa secured passage to the knockout phase, defeating Jason Kokrak 1-up, while Adam Scott, Abraham Ancer, Kevin Kisner also managed to make the last-16.

Meanwhile at the Corales Puntacana Championship, Ben Martin leads Alex Smalley by two strokes after 36 holes, shooting another six-under 66 for the day.

Several of the biggest names on the PGA Tour continued strong starts at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play on Thursday, but Bryson DeChambeau was not among them.

Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka have all enjoyed 2-0-0 starts in Austin as they aim to top their four-man groups and reach the weekend.

Yet DeChambeau had only been able to tie with 49-year-old Richard Bland – bidding to become the oldest professional to qualify for the Masters – on Wednesday, with even that result requiring a little luck.

Up against Lee Westwood on Thursday, DeChambeau knew he must improve but did not. Westwood finished 1 up to leave DeChambeau bottom of Group 9 with just half a point.

DeChambeau at least has the excuse he is struggling with a wrist injury; world number four Patrick Cantlay will do well to explain away his below-par performances.

Cantlay lost his narrow lead over Keith Mitchell late on Wednesday and was well off the pace when play resumed in round two, beaten 5 and 4 by Seamus Power.

That result tied the biggest of Thursday, with Rahm and Justin Thomas also 5 and 4 winners against Cameron Young and Marc Leishman respectively.

Nothing quite compared to Maverick McNealy's sensational 8 and 6 defeat of Joaquin Niemann from the previous day – and McNealy could only tie with Kevin Na on Thursday, despite twice being 3 up.

Elsewhere, at the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship, the tournament got under way with Ben Martin moving to the top of the leaderboard with a six-under 66, enough for a one-stroke lead.

Scottie Scheffler backed up last month's Phoenix Open triumph by taking out the Arnold Palmer Invitational by one stroke after a final round of 72 at Bay Hill on Sunday.

Scheffler carded an even-par round with three birdies and three bogeys to finish five under and one shot ahead of Viktor Hovland, Billy Horschel and Tyrrell Hatton – who stormed 10 places up the leaderboard with a final-day 69 to earn a tie of second.

The 25-year-old Scheffler made his move on the third day, with a five-under 68 launching him into contention. American Scheffler will now move up to fifth on the official world rankings.

Joint overnight leaders Horschel and Talor Gooch lost their grip on top spot, with the former making three bogeys and a double bogey on his final-day front nine before finishing with a three-over 75.

Gooch ended up two further strokes back with a five-over 77 after four bogeys and two double bogeys on his front nine.

Norwegian world number four Hovland loomed as the likely player to capitalise on their misfortune, as he assumed the lead.

But five bogeys in Hovland's closing 11 holes left the door open for Scheffler, who held his nerve, notably making an excellent long putt to save par on the 15th hole.

"It feels great, especially to win on such a difficult golf course and the way it finished," Scheffler told Sky Sports.

"I didn't play my best stuff, I just kept grinding and made some key putts down the stretch, and it was really just a fight all day."

First-round leader Rory McIlroy never threatened on Sunday, with a four-over-76 meaning he finished back at one over after 72 holes.

World number one Jon Rahm was one stroke behind the Northern Irishman after a final-round 74.

Norwegian world number four Viktor Hovland surrendered his lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational with two bogeys to finish the third day at Bay Hill on Saturday.

Hovland, who was the leader at halfway, carded a three-over 75 with six bogeys, saving face with a hole-out eagle from the bunker on the sixth and birdie on the eighth.

The Norwegian had retained his lead until bogeys on 17 and 18 allowed American pair Billy Horschel and Talor Gooch to claim a share of the lead.

Horschel and Gooch are seven-under after 54 holes, with Hovland one stroke back, followed by Scottie Scheffler at five-under after he carded a joint round-high four-under-68.

"I was really in a good rhythm until some bad shots on the back nine," Hovland told reporters.

On his hole-out eagle, he added: "That was awesome. Obviously, not the greatest start to the day. Even the pars that I made on the next few holes was really scrappy. Hit some really bad shots.

"Then obviously walking up to the greenside bunker on that hole was hard on the downslope and no green to work it. I thought I was in no man's land, just try to chunk it out there and give myself a putt at it. It came out really soft and landed in the first cut and just died and went in."

Horschel carded a one-under-71 to claim the joint lead, with three bogeys and four birdies, including closing out with an important birdie putt.

Gooch had an even round for 72, bogeying the 18th to settle for a share of the lead after he had birdied both the 15th – with a 33-foot putt - and 16th.

Scheffler surged up 16 spots and into contention with a round that included three birdies and an eagle on his back nine. The American rolled in a 21-footer for eagle on the 16th.

Max Homa, playing alongside Scheffler, landed a rare ace on the 14th hole although he is off the pace with an even card overall in a group featuring top-ranked Jon Rahm.

Gary Woodland is behind Scheffler at four-under, with Rory McIlroy among a group of three at three-under ahead of the final day.

Viktor Hovland holds a two-shot lead at the half-way point of the Arnold Palmer Invitational after Rory McIlroy endured a disappointing finish.

Overnight leader McIlroy was not as sharp as he was on the opening day at Bay Hill but still looked in with a chance of retaining his status as pacesetter for much of the round.

That was until the 15th, when he needed three putts from 30 feet. He then missed a birdie opportunity on 16 and failed to save par from eight feet on 17.

The Northern Irishman ultimately finished at level par for the day with 72 – Hovland, who started on the 10th, carded 66, giving him the round of the day and the lead.

His score would have been even better had he not bogeyed the 13th, however he responded admirably to that set-back with three birdies in his next four holes.

Hovland added two more on the fourth and sixth to ultimately set the clubhouse lead as he moved to nine under for the tournament – McIlroy failed to rise to his challenge.

Joining McIlroy two shots back on seven under in a tie for second are Talor Gooch and Tyrrell Hatton, the latter of whom felt his four-under 68 was "pretty flattering".

Similarly, Hovland is not getting carried away with his position in the standings, particularly considering he was only two shots off the lead heading in the weekend last year and went on to finish 15 off the pace.

"I kind of try to forget the weekend here last year," Hovland told the PGA Tour. "I played really well the first few days, very similar to how I played so far this year.

"The course just gets harder and harder every single day, and it started blowing. A few too many bad swings and I ended up in bad spots and just didn't really take my medicine."

As for McIlroy, the four-time major champion was taken aback by how quickly conditions on the course changed from Thursday, adamant he will be better prepared on day three.

"Those are the sort of greens you expect to see late on a Sunday, not late on a Friday," McIlroy added. "It's going to be interesting to see where they go from here, but it's going to be a good test over the weekend.

"I'm glad I got 18 holes in those conditions because the course definitely changed a lot from when I played it yesterday morning to this afternoon. I'll be a little more prepared for it [on Saturday]."

Billy Horschel is one shot further back on six under, and then there's a three-shot gap to a group of seven – world number one Jon Rahm is at two under.

Patrick Reed, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose were among those to miss the cut, which was set at three over par.

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy leads by two strokes after a first-round 65 that included an eagle at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Florida on Thursday.

McIlroy made six birdies and an eagle on the 16th hole to card a seven-under-65 with a bogey on the 11th the only blemish on his scorecard.

The Northern Irishman, who made 11 of 14 fairways, leads by two strokes from American trio Beau Hossler, JJ Spaun and Billy Horschel, with a group of six players one further shot back including Sungjae Im and Will Zalatoris.

“This is my fourth start of the calendar year. I’ve had one really good chance to win and probably one other half chance," McIlroy told reporters after day one.

"I feel like I’m playing well enough to have chances to win golf tournaments, but all you can ask of yourself is to keep putting yourself in those positions on Sundays and then you see where your game really is.

“Hopefully, this is another week where I put myself in a position where I can really see where my game is when the pressure is on.”

McIlroy's day was highlighted by his 41-foot putt for eagle on the par-five 16th hole.

"I played the par-fives particularly well, and that was the bulk of the score," said McIlroy who won at Bay Hill in 2018.

"I've said this all along: You can play within yourself here and still shoot a good score, I feel, if you're just disciplined and pick off the birdies where you're supposed to."

McIlroy is one of four players from the PGA Tour's top six, with world number one Jon Rahm struggling with an even round on the opening day - including falling short on a gimme putt - to be seven shots off the pace.

Viktor Hovland carded a three-under-round of 69, while Scottie Scheffler is two under after the first day.

Rory McIlroy believes the identity of those rejecting the Super Golf League "has to tell you something", as both he and Jon Rahm remain committed to the PGA Tour.

A number of high-profile players are said to have been targeted by organisers of the lucrative Saudi-backed breakaway, including Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson.

But the most prominent names to have discussed the league publicly – including McIlroy, Rahm and Collin Morikawa – have instead pledged their allegiance to the PGA Tour.

McIlroy referred to the rival series as the "not-so-Super League" on Wednesday, declaring himself "so sick" of the subject.

He added: "You look at the people who have already said no. You've got the top players in the world who are saying no, so that has to tell you something."

World number one Rahm also appears fed up with fielding questions on the Super Golf League but clarified his stance – speaking, like McIlroy, ahead of the Genesis Invitational.

"This is my official one and only time I'll talk about this, where I am officially declaring my fealty to the PGA Tour," Rahm said.

"I'm a PAC [Player Advisory Council] member, and I have a lot of belief in [PGA Tour commissioner] Jay Monahan and the product that they're going to give us in the future.

"There has been a lot of talk and speculation about the Saudi league. It's just not something I believe is the best for me and my future in golf, and I think the best legacy I can accomplish will be with the PGA Tour."

Jon Rahm has won the Seve Ballesteros award for the second time in three years after being voted player of the year by his fellow DP World Tour members.

Rahm won the U.S. Open by one shot at Torrey Pines in June, his first major victory, and also finished in the top 10 in the other three majors in 2021.

He tied for fifth at The Masters and eighth at the US PGA Championship, before finishing level with Louis Oosthuizen in third at The Open at Royal St George's in July.

The world number one also top scored for the defeated European team at the Ryder Cup, winning 3.5 points in his five matches including remaining undefeated alongside fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia despite the United States winning 19.5-9.5 at Whistling Straits in September.

Rahm was pleased to win the award for a second time, especially given its famous title.

"Winning anything with Seve's name on it is a huge honour for me, as is the fact that this is voted for by the players of the DP World Tour," the 27-year-old Spaniard told the DP World Tour's website.

"It is very unique to be recognised by your peers like this. It is a true honour to be able to win this award for a second time and hopefully I can continue to make the DP World Tour proud."

DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley added: "In the first year of this being the Tour's combined Player of the Year award named in honour of one Spanish great, it is fitting the winner is another incredible Spaniard who is creating his own remarkable legacy on the global stage.

"Jon's form throughout 2021 was simply outstanding and his victory at the U.S. Open, in front of his family, was undoubtedly a highlight that will live long in the memory.

"That cemented his place among the pantheon of Europe's all-time leading players and his contribution in the colours of Europe at the Ryder Cup also demonstrated what an extraordinary competitor he is."

Brooks Koepka made a strong start to the Phoenix Open as he heads into day two in a tie for third at five under par, with the four-time major winner looking to put an "embarrassing" fall from grace behind him.

Koepka has not won a tournament since succeeding in Phoenix a little under a year ago – while he impressed at the PGA Championship in May, finishing joint-second, Koepka is not happy with how the past 12 months or so have gone.

He teed off in Arizona ranked 20th in the world, something of a far cry from spending 47 weeks at number one across 2018 and 2019 – three of his four major wins came in those years.

Koepka, rarely one to mince his words, feels ashamed of his slide, even if he puts it partly down to injury.

"That's embarrassing to be 20th, I feel like," he said after his first round on Thursday.

"A lot of it has to do with injury, man. I've been hurt, on the sidelines. Not playing, playing through injury, you can't compete with guys out here.

"It's nice to be somewhat healthy and get out here, and I mean, I'm not too worried about it [the ranking], it will bounce back up."

Indeed, there was nothing embarrassing about his performance at TPC Scottsdale on day one, his six birdies – offset by a single bogey – putting him right near the top of the leaderboard.

Nevertheless, he still has a plenty of work to do.

Lee Kyoung-hoon is one shot better off thanks to a glorious showing after the turn, playing the front nine five under par after starting on the ninth hole.

But leading the way is a surprise contender: 24-year-old Sahith Theegala, who is competing as a sponsor's exemption.

Theegala has a one-shot lead over Lee, though he had to finish his round while putting on his 17th hole of the day as play was suspended due to bad light.

Additionally, his next shot when he resumes in the morning will be a 16-foot putt for par, so his lead may not last for long.

A host of familiar names are not too far behind those leading the way, with Xander Schauffele, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Cantlay, Jon Rahm and Bubba Watson among a large group on four under.

Jordan Spieth is three shots further back.

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