Xander Schauffele was the beneficiary of an 18th-hole double-bogey from leader Sahith Theegala, going on to win the Travelers Championship by two strokes with a birdie at the last.

Schauffele finished the tournament at 19 under with rounds of 63, 63, 67 and finally a 68 on Sunday as wind picked up and the scoring conditions worsened.

The win is the sixth of his PGA Tour career and his first singles win since January 2019, also collecting the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in a team format with Patrick Cantlay in April of this season.

It was Theegala controlling the final stages after he moved to 19 under and the outright lead with birdies at 13, 15 and 17 down the stretch, but after finding the fairway bunker on 18, he muffed his first attempt to get out, requiring another two shots to get to the green, before his bogey putt lipped out.

It meant Schauffele only needed par to claim the championship, and he went one better, finishing in style with a perfect drive, approach and putt for birdie.

Speaking on the 18th green after his winning putt, he said it felt incredible to convert a 54-hole lead for the first time in his career.

"It's incredible," Schauffele said. "I was looking at birdie just to get into a play-off and saw there was a bit of a hiccup with Sahith when I was standing on the tee.

"I knew I had to hit that fairway and hit it anywhere on the green to make par."

Theegala finished tied for second at 17 under along with J.T. Poston, who was one of three players to shoot 64 or better on Sunday (also Chesson Hadley and Scott Stallings).

In outright fourth was Michael Thorbjornsen following a week he will never forget, finishing at 15 under after being the only amateur to make the cut, closing his week with rounds of 65, 66 and 66 to make a statement about his future on the PGA Tour.

Hadley held outright fifth place at 14 under, going bogey-free with four birdies and an eagle for his 64, while Keith Mitchell and Kevin Kisner shared sixth place at 12 under, with Kisner carding a disappointing 71 on Sunday to take himself out of contention.

The round of the day came from Stallings, who went bogey-free with seven birdies for his 63, rounding out the top 10 in a tie for eighth along with Brian Harman, Chez Reavie, William McGirt and Nick Hardy.

A star-studded group finished tied for 13th at 10 under, featuring world number one Scottie Scheffler, number six Cantlay and fellow top-20 American Tony Finau. It was tough work for the stars, with an even par 70 for Scheffler on Sunday, while Cantlay entered the day one stroke off the lead and carded a 76.

Rory McIlroy and recent winner Lee Kyoung-hoon were in the group that completed out the top 20.

Xander Schauffele shot a three-under 67 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead over Patrick Cantlay, coming into the final round of the Travelers Championship.

Looking for his sixth individual title on the PGA Tour, the reigning Olympic champion began the day with a five-stroke lead and went two-under over the front nine to help set up a career-best run of 48 holes without a bogey.

Schauffele hit trouble and a briefly fell into a tie for the lead on the par-five 13th, though, finding the water with his tee shot to eventually finish with a bogey.

He recovered to retake the solo lead however, claiming birdies on the 16th and 17th hole, hitting the pin on his approach and one-putting on the latter.

Schauffele leads by a solitary shot on 17-under from close friend Patrick Cantlay, who charged up the leaderboard on Saturday with a bogey-free, seven-under 63.

The two formed a close bond after being paired at the 2019 Presidents Cup and along with pairing up again at the Ryder Cup, took out this year's Zurich Classic together.

The reigning FedEx Cup champion will be looking to claim his first individual title of 2022, though, after losing in playoffs this year to Scottie Scheffler and Jordan Spieth at the Phoenix Open and the Heritage respectively.

Sahith Theegala is three strokes back from Schauffele on 14-under after posting a six-under 64 on Saturday, even after a bogey on the par-four 18th.

The 24-year-old was otherwise in fine touch over the back nine in Cromwell, with an eagle on the 13th in contrast to the leader accompanied by three birdies.

Yet to win a tournament on the PGA Tour, Theegala is followed by Kevin Kisner on 13-under, then a tie for fifth between Martin Laird and KH Lee on 12-under.

Xander Schauffele shot his second consecutive 63 to head into the weekend at the Travelers Championship at 14 under – five strokes clear of the chasing pack.

Remarkably, Schauffele is yet to post a bogey in the tournament, with 14 birdies and 22 pars through his 36 holes.

He started beautifully in his second trip around TPC River Highlands, birdieing three of his first five holes, and capped off his round by birdieing the picturesque 17th hole for the second day in a row.

Schauffele was one stroke behind J.T. Poston and Rory McIlroy after Thursday's action, and tied for the round of the day on Friday along with Harold Varner III.

At 14 under, Schauffele has tied the TPC River Highlands 36-hole record, and it ties him with Justin Rose back in 2010 for the lowest 36-hole score at the Travelers Championship since 1984.

The five-man group tied for second place at nine under is made up of Americans Patrick Cantlay, Harris English, Nick Hardy and Kevin Kisner, as well as Australia's Cam Davis. Hardy and Kisner were the pick of that group on Friday, shooting 64s.

McIlroy and Poston sit one shot further back at eight under after the first-round leaders both shot even-par 70s, and are joined at eight under by a group including Lee Kyoung-hoon and Matthew NeSmith.

Webb Simpson is at seven under, rounding out the top-20, along with Michael Thorbjornsen, who is the only amateur to make the cut after rounds of 68 and 65.

World number one Scottie Scheffler is at five under, along with Varner, with the pair taking very different routes to that number. Scheffler has been consistent, with a 68 and a 67, while Varner has been the opposite, following his opening 72 with a 63.

With the cut-line at two under, Danny Willett and Mito Pereira were two of the players to miss out on the weekend despite being under par, while Sam Burns finished his week even, Jordan Spieth was one over, and the talented duo of Rickie Fowler and Joaquinn Neimann were at three over.

Rory McIlroy continued to lead the way both on and off the course, shooting a bogey-free eight-under 62 at the Travelers Championship on Thursday.

After defending his title at the Canadian Open for a 21st PGA Tour win a fortnight ago, following up with a top-five finish at the U.S. Open, McIlroy opened with five birdies over the front nine on the TPC at River Highlands course.

The most vocal of critics against the LIV Golf Invitational Series, the in-form Northern Irishman then closed with two birdies over the final four holes, including a birdie on the par-four 18th to punctuate a blistering opening round.

The birdies were flying at the opening day in Cromwell however, with JT Poston taking a share of the opening-round lead with an eight-under of his own.

They hold a one-stroke lead over Xander Schauffele, who closed with four birdies over the final six holes on Thursday to finish on a seven-under 63, tied for second with Scotsman Martin Laird.

Schauffele was in fine touch with his approach game, hitting the ball particularly cleanly and could have finished with an even lower score had he capitalised with his putter.

They were followed by a three-way tie for third, with Patrick Cantlay, Webb Simpson and Charles Howell III all posting scores of six-under in the opening round.

Meanwhile, Cam Davis and Matthew NeSmith share fourth place after the opening 18 holes, finishing on five-under for the round.

While others shone in Cromwell, Jordan Spieth had a tough day out for his opening round despite three birdies over the last five holes, finishing with a five-over 75 for the day.

He will have plenty of work to do on Friday just to make the cut, while world number one Scottie Scheffler posted a two-under 68.

Collin Morikawa and Joel Dahmen are the 36-hole leaders of the U.S. Open after an entertaining second round at The Country Club on Friday, tied at five under.

Dahmen was one stroke off the lead after the first round, and he followed it up with a strong 68 in windy conditions. He is one of three players to shoot 68 or better in the opening two rounds. Morikawa came into the day at one under, and shot the round of the day as the only player to get around in 66. 

One stroke back from the lead is a five-man group headlined by stars Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, along with American duo Hayden Buckley and Aaron Wise. Buckley and Wise were the two players along Dahmen to shoot back-to-back 68s.

Beau Hossler joined that group at four under thanks to a chip-in birdie on his final hole.

World number one Scottie Scheffler is part of the group at three under, and he shared the early clubhouse lead following a three-under 67. He is joined by Nick Hardy, Matthew NeSmith, Patrick Rodgers and Brian Harman to round out the top-10.

Overnight leader Adam Hadwin is a further shot back at two under with Sam Burns and Matt Fitzpatrick, while South Africa's M.J. Daffue – who was three strokes clear atop the leaderboard early in his round at six under – posted five bogeys and no birdies down the back nine to head into the weekend at one under.

Also at one under are hopefuls Xander Schauffele and Will Zalatoris, still well within striking distance, while Hideki Matsuyama and Brooks Koepka headline the group at even par.

Star-studded duo Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson are at one over, and the pair of Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau are at two over, one stroke clear of the cut-line.

Finishing right on the cut-line at three over was recent winner Lee Kyoung-hoon and Colombia's Sebastian Munoz, who has a pair of top-three finishes this season.

Plenty of big names missed the cut, with the international contingent of Spain's Sergio Garcia, Ireland's Shane Lowry, Chile's Mito Pereira and Canada's Corey Conners all one shot out at four over. Tony Finau finished five over, Cameron Smith was six over, and the pair of Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland were both at seven over.

 

Shot of the day

Cameron Young had a moment he will never forget when he conjured up a hole-in-one at the par-three sixth.

There were huge cheers after the American's dream tee shot at the 165-yard hole dropped in. Young was unable to make the cut – missing out by one stroke – but not without achieving a rare feat.

Player of the day - Collin Morikawa

Morikawa produced the round of the day to ensure he is the man to catch heading into the weekend.

The two-time major winner was not at his brilliant best, but five birdies and just the one bogey at the par-five fourth putting him in the lead.

Chipping in

Morikawa: "No one has taken it deep so far and kind of run away, but you know what, right now my game feels really good. The last few days is a huge confidence booster for me heading into this weekend, and hopefully we can kind of make some separation somehow."

Scheffler: "I've been number one in the world for a while now, and it doesn't really feel like it, so I kind of like just under the radar. I can show up and do my thing and then go home and rest."

 

A little birdie told me...

- Young's ace was the 48th in US Open history.

- Nick Hardy and M.J. Daffue emerged from the Springfield, Ohio qualifying. They both held a share of the lead on Friday.

- Scheffler is bidding to become only the second player to win this major while world number one since the Official World Golf Rankings began in 1986. Tiger Woods (2000, 2002 and 2008) is the only man to achieved that.

- Matthew Fitzpatrick is looking to emulate Jack Nicklaus by winning the US Amateur and US Open on the same course.

Justin Thomas ultimately prevailed in a thrilling US PGA Championship, lifting the Wanamaker Trophy after Mito Pereira's collapse on the 18th hole forced a playoff.

Holding the lead coming into the final round, Pereira only needed a par on the 18th hole to secure his first PGA Tour victory, but put his drive in the water and could not even salvage a bogey to earn his spot in the playoff.

With a double-bogey capping off a final round 75, he went from six under to four under, tying for third with Cameron Young.

The playoff was contested between Thomas and Will Zalatoris after both players produced clutch shots late in their rounds to finish at five under.

Thomas – who tied for the round of the day with his 67 – had a birdie putt on 18 to move to six under, but could not convert from 10 feet, finishing with a par to head into the clubhouse in outright second place, trailing Pereira by one shot.

Zalatoris, on the other hand, bogeyed the 16th to drop to four under, but came right back with a birdie on 17. He had a tricky par putt on 18 to remain tied with Thomas, and he remained cool under pressure.

In the playoff – which was contested over the aggregate score of three holes, the first being a par-five – Zalatoris appeared to strike first as he found the fairway with his drive, while Thomas hit the rough. Thomas was forced to lay-up, while Zalatoris made the green in two.

Zalatoris two-putted for his birdie, while Thomas put his wedge to within six feet, converting his birdie putt to tie the first playoff hole.

The second playoff hole was the 17th – a drivable par-four – and Thomas found the green with his drive. Zalatoris did not, and after chipping into birdie range, he missed his putt, tapping in for par. Thomas, on the other hand, safely two-putted for birdie to take a one stroke lead into the final playoff hole.

Both players drove well and made the green in regulation on the last, and after Zalatoris failed to sink a long birdie putt, Thomas only needed to two-putt for par to secure his second career major, making no mistakes. It is his second PGA Championship, five years after winning at Quail Hollow.

Also making the top-five was the English duo of Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood – with the latter matching Sunday's best score – and American Chris Kirk, tied for fifth at three under.

It was a strong final round from Rory McIlroy, who rebounded from a disappointing 74 on Saturday to shoot 68 – one stroke off the round of the day – to finish outright eighth at two under.

McIlroy looked like he may be trending for a legendary final round after four consecutive birdies starting on the second hole, but he would claim no more from the fifth.

A four-man group of Mexico's Abraham Ancer, Ireland's Seamus Power and the American pairing of Tom Hoge and Brendan Steele rounded out the top-10, and the last players to finish under par.

Cameron Smith and Xander Schauffele highlighted the group at even par, while the big names struggled, as Jordan Spieth finished at four over, Jon Rahm wrapped up at six over, and Collin Morikawa at eight over.

Shot of the day

The shot of the day went to Englishman Laurie Canter, who birdied the difficult par-four 18th hole from the fairway.

After his drive found the rough, he was forced to lay-up 97 yards from the pin, but was able to convert it thanks to some sharp backspin.

A little birdie told me…

Before his horror drive on 18, Pereira earned his 71-hole lead with great success on the difficult par-fives and par-threes. He joined Webb Simpson as the only players to shoot a combined six under on the par-fives (fifth and 13th holes) over their four rounds

Only four players finished under par for the week on the par-threes (sixth, eighth, 11th and 14th holes) – Fitzpatrick and Rose were two under, while Pereira and Steele shot one under.

On average, nobody drove the ball further than Rory McIlroy this week, posting 347.6 yards per drive. However, the longest drive of the week went to Jon Rahm, with a 418-yard bomb.

Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay won the Zurich Classic of New Orleans with a tournament-record score of 29 under.

It was an incredible week for the duo, setting the course-record 59 in Thursday's four-ball format, and nearly matching it on Saturday with a 60, while also performing strongly in the alternate shot style in rounds two and four.

They also became the first team to win the tournament in wire-to-wire fashion, leading after all four rounds, and setting the record for best score at each interval.

Sunday was the toughest of the four days for the winners, after back-to-back bogeys on nine and 10 cancelled out their eagle on seven, with a birdie on 11 and a bogey on 18 capping off an even-par finish.

Speaking to the media after stepping off the 18th green, Schauffele expressed his excitement at winning alongside such a close friend.

"It's awesome – I said it earlier this week, if there's any success that I could share with someone, it would be Pat, so I'm happy we could get it done," he said.

"I'm not sure [how we broke all the records], we just plodded along. Today was the worst of our four quarters, but Pat was very calm, which helped me stay calm. 

"It's been a while since I've been in some sort of contention here, so I think it was just overall calmness and patience."

Cantlay added: "We had a lot of fun both on and off the golf course, and we're really happy to get it done. We definitely bring out the best in each other, and we really enjoy being out here together."

Sam Burns and Billy Horschel finished outright second, two strokes behind the leaders, but three strokes clear of third place with a score of 27 under that equalled the previous tournament record.

The pairing of Doc Redman and Sam Ryder finished outright third at 24 under, and with a 67 on Sunday, they were one of two teams – along with Burns and Horschel – to shoot four rounds in the 60s.

Davis Riley and Will Zalatoris posted the round of the day with a bogey-free 66, finishing with birdies on 17 and 18 to jump up into a tie for fourth at 23 under.

Joining Riley and Zalatoris at 23 under were the groups of Keegan Bradley with Brendan Steele, Harold Varner III with Bubba Watson, Taylor Moore with Matthew NeSmith, Garrick Higgo with Brandan Grace, and Aaron Rai with David Lipsky.

Reigning Masters champion and the season's points leader Scottie Scheffler finished at 18 under with partner Ryan Palmer, while The Players champion Cameron Smith was 17 under with compatriot Marc Leishman.

Father-son pairing Jay Haas and Bill Haas shot an even-par 72 to finish even or better in all four rounds as Jay became the oldest player to ever make a PGA Tour cut at 68 years old.

Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele are on track to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, closing the third round of play with a five-stroke lead.

After a record opening-round score of 59 in the first day of four-ball play on Thursday, the Presidents and Ryder Cup teammates scorched the back nine at TPC Louisiana with eight birdies to finish with a 12-under 60 for the day.

The two lead the field at an extraordinary 29-under after three rounds, with the South African duo of Garrick Higgo and Branden Grace five strokes back in second, improving on a solid second day to put themselves in the frame from Presidents Cup selection this year.

The pair will be seeking to go one better than their countrymen Louis Ooosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, who finished second at TPC Louisiana last year to Australian pair Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman.

Another Australian pair looking to work their way into calculations for Quail Hollow in September are Jason Day and Jason Scrivener, who improved on scores of 65 over the opening two rounds with a nine-under 63 on Saturday, birdieing the final four holes to sit on 23-under.

They're joined by the team of Aaron Rai and David Lipsky, along with Sam Burns and Billy Horschel, who bounced back from a bogey on the par-three ninth to close the back nine with five birdies.

Cantlay and Schauffele have been the stars of the weekend, however.

After blitzing the 54-hole record, only a catastrophic final round of alternate play would deny the reigning FedEx Cup and Olympic champions from smashing Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown's 72-hole record of 27-under.

Closing out on Sunday would make for maiden PGA Tour win this season for both Schaffele and Cantlay, with the latter coming into this weekend off a playoff loss to Jordan Spieth at the RBC Heritage.

Though Schauffele claimed the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year, his last tour win came in 2019.

Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele backed up a record 59 in round one of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans with a tidy four-under 68 to retain the lead after round two.

The duo birdied holes two and four to get off to a great start, and their only bogey through the first two rounds – on the 12th on Friday – was sandwiched between birdies on 10, 11 and 13.

Their figure of 17 under is a 36-hole record in the event.

Speaking with the media after the round, Cantlay said they were enjoying their form – and the vibes.

"I think we just wanted to hit a bunch of quality golf shots, and we did that today," he said.

"We really fought hard and made a bunch of those mid-range putts, especially in the middle of the round, and that kind of kept the momentum going.

"I felt like we just have had good vibes all week, and we’ve been playing really solid golf. Same game plan for the weekend."

Schauffele added: "Alternate shot is an opportunity to do some cool things if you're making a lot of birdies.

"But for the most part, you're trying to leave your partner in a good spot to make an easy par."

One stroke further back are the pairings of Aaron Rai with David Lipsky and Doc Redman with Sam Ryder. Those teams both shot five under after shooting 61 in the first round.

Jay Haas made history as the oldest player to ever make the final two days of a PGA Tour event, teaming up with son Bill to shoot 65 on Thursday and following it up with a 66 in the tougher Friday format to sit right on the cut line at eight under.

Cameron Tringale and Wyndham Clark are tied for fourth on 15 under, along with the South African pairing of Branden Grace and Garrick Higgo, while Australians Jason Day and Jason Scrivener are one of two teams at 14 under in a tie for sixth.

The Grace-Higgo and Day-Scrivener duos also shared round-of-the-day honours, as the former went bogey-free with seven birdies, and the latter has seven birdies, two bogeys and an eagle on the seventh.

Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman, along with Bubba Watson and Harold Varner III, highlight the logjam at 11 under.

Masters champion Scottie Scheffler and his team-mate Ryan Palmer were disappointing in the second round, but were one of four pairs to make the cut despite shooting even par for the day.

Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele were in imperious form at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans on Thursday, shooting a 13-under 59 to lead after the opening day.

The reigning FedEx Cup and Olympic champions paired up to produce a tournament record, since the Zurich Classic shifted to a team format in 2017.

While the effort won't officially be added to the list of sub-60 rounds in the PGA Tour record books, the Presidents and Ryder Cup teammates were clearly comfortable in Thursday's best-ball format.

Thursday was the first of two four-ball sessions at TPC Louisiana this weekend, and the duo went seven under over the front nine, including an eagle from Cantlay on the par-five second hole.

Three birdies each from Cantlay and Schauffele on the back nine saw them close a scintillating opening round on 13-under for the day.

As is the case with best-ball format, though, the sub-60 score has not translated into a commanding lead after the opening day, against what is a packed field.

Matthew NeSmith and Taylor Moore are a solitary stroke back after 18 holes, while three teams are locked at 11 under – Aaron Rai and David Lipsky, Tommy Gainey and Robert Garrigus, and the pairing of Doc Redman and Sam Ryder.

Sam Burns and Billy Horschel are a further stroke back at 10 under, along with the team of Bubba Watson and Harold Varner III.

Recent Masters champion Scottie Scheffler and partner Ryan Palmer shot a seven-under 64, but with 10 of the world's top 20 golfers in the field, Cantlay and Schauffele will not be short on competition heading into Friday's alternate format.

Cantlay and Schauffele are comfortable in the alternate format also, though, holding a 4-0 record from the 2019 Presidents Cup and 2021 Ryder Cup.

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.

 

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.

Scottie Scheffler edged Patrick Cantlay in a three-hole playoff to clinch the Phoenix Open title marking a dramatic turnaround after narrowly avoiding the cut on Friday.

World number 15 Scheffler and reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year Cantlay faced off after both finished 16-under-par following final day rounds of four-under-67.

Scheffler, who avoided the cut by one stroke, claimed the title with a birdie on the third hole of the playoff as Cantlay could only make par.

The 25-year-old American, who resides in Dallas, landed his second shot from the bunker on the green, before sinking a 26-yard putt for the decisive birdie, with Cantlay unable to match that.

The victory marks 2021 US Ryder Cup team member Scheffler's first PGA Tour title, having finished in the top 10 of three majors last year.

Scheffler had birdies on the 15th and the 17th holes to force his way into a playoff, although he almost won it outright on the 18th but missed a birdie putt from five feet.

Overnight leader Sahith Theegala found the water off the tee on the penultimate hole leading to a bogey that saw him slip from the lead.

Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka stormed into contention late, with three birdies and a bogey on his final four holes but fell short of the playoff.

Koepka and Theegala finished tied for third with Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Xander Schauffele at 15 under.

Scheffler had surged up the leaderboard on the third day with a nine-under-62 and backed that up with another strong round on Sunday.

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