The 2022 Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
AND SO the season really gets under way as the world’s best golfers arrive at Augusta National for The Masters, with Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama defending the title he won in such emotional circumstances 12 months ago.
Matsuyama will be among the favourites to make a successful defence of his Green Jacket but the man of the moment is surely Scottie Scheffler. Just 42 days after securing his first PGA Tour title, Scheffler found himself top of the world rankings after his victory at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
His rise has been nothing short of meteoric.
The race for world No 1 has been a constant talking point in recent months, with two-time major winner Collin Morikawa, Norway's Viktor Hovland and FedExCup champion Patrick Cantlay all primed to challenge Jon Rahm for top spot, although Scheffler leapfrogged the lot with an astonishing start to 2022.
Incredibly, the 25-year-old began the year outside the world's top 10 despite a stellar 12 months, where a runner-up finish at the 2021 WGC Match Play was one of 10 top-10s in a campaign that also saw him make his debut for the USA in a record-breaking Ryder Cup victory at Whistling Straits.
He was world No 15 when he celebrated a breakthrough success at the WM Phoenix Open in early February, defeating Cantlay in a play-off.
Scheffler would return to the winner's circle just two events later, posting a final-round 72 to finish a shot clear of Hovland at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, lifting him to world No 5 and adding his name to the list of contenders closing in on Rahm's No 1 position.
Although Rahm was able to retain his No 1 spot at The Players Championship Scheffler ended the Spaniard's eight-month-long stint at the top of the rankings by continuing his winning run at Austin Country Club.
Scheffler needed a six-hole play-off against Matt Fitzpatrick to progress through the group stage, having lost to Tommy Fleetwood the previous day, before avenging last year's final defeat against Billy Horschel by defeating his compatriot on the final hole to reach the quarter-finals.
Further wins against Seamus Power and former world No 1 Dustin Johnson booked a final against 2019 champion Kevin Kisner, where a 4&3 victory secured Scheffler a third win in five PGA Tour starts.
"I never really got that far in my dreams," Scheffler said after making it to world No 1. "I never made it that far. I just love playing golf and I love competing and I'm just happy to be out here.
"I don't feel like number one in the world. I feel like the same guy I was four months ago and I hope that doesn't change. Life is good. Life has been good to me for the past few years."
Scheffler's ascent to the top of the world game comes just 42 days after he claimed his first PGA Tour title, beating the previous record held by Tiger Woods by 210 days, with the three first PGA Tour victories coming in the quickest time since David Duval took 21 days to claim his first three titles in 1997.
This will be Rory McIlroy's eighth attempt to complete the career Grand Slam. And it doesn’t appear to be getting any easier.
On a course that should be made for his game, McIlroy has never finished higher than fourth, although he enjoyed six top 10s in seven appearances at Augusta until he missed the cut last year.
He has developed an unforuante habit of putting together three good rounds and one bad one - and the same old problems were apparent when he self-destructed at the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year to throw away victory.
There are many who say he is too good not to win at Augusta but there are no guarantees and the longer he goes without winning, the more difficult it will become for him.
Cantlay secured the FedEx Cup last year after winning three times in as many months last season and being voted PGA Tour Player of the Year.
He recently broke the record for the most consecutive rounds (21) in the 60s but his record in the majors is disappointing to say the least. He has managed just two top 10s in 19 tries, but in his last three visits to Augusta he has shot a 64 and a 66 so he knows how to get the job done. But he held a share of the lead with three holes to go before Tiger Woods stole the show in 2019. Don’t write him off.
Rahm is a supreme ball striker and has been a permanent presence on the first page of leaderboards with nine top 10s in his past 14 starts worldwide, dating back to his first major victory at the US Open.
He also has four straight top 10s at the Masters and is currently on a run of 15 consecutive rounds of par or better at the Masters, one behind Tiger’s record. He is a combined 40 under par at Augusta since his opening round in 2018, with a scoring average of 63.33.
And then there is the man with the mullet. Cameron Smith can work the ball both ways at will, which is a prerequisite at Augusta.
Given his ability to shape the ball both ways, Smith has a game which is built for Augusta. He also has three top-10 finishes in his past four appearances there and remains the only golfer to post four rounds in the 60s at the same Masters.
It also helps that he is playing the best golf of his life right now. He is second only to Morikawa for best scoring average on the PGA Tour this season and has only missed three cuts since June 2020.
It helps to hit the ball a long way at Augusta, which now measures more than 7,500 yards but hitting greens in regulation is more important - and the stats bear that out. In five of the past seven Masters, the champion has ranked in the top five for strokes gained approach. If you go back even further, 17 of the past 22 Masters winners have ranked inside the top six for greens hit in regulation during the week of their victory.
And then there are those greens.If you can avoid three putts at Augusta the chances are that you are going to be there or thereabouts. The PGA Tour average for three putts is three percent; at Augusta that jumps to nearly six percent. When Dustin Johnson and Danny Willett won, they only had a single three-putt all week.
There are four par fives - the second, eighth, 13th and 15th - and they also hold the key to going low. Last year the long holes ranked as the four easiest on the course, with the 575-yard 2nd yielding a 4.6897 scoring average.
The past four winners of the Masters - Hideki Matsuyama, Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed - played the par fives in a combined 43-under par.
How to Watch
Wednesday, April 6
7pm Masters Par-3 Contest, Sky Sports Golf
Thursday, April 7
2pm Masters first round, Sky Sports Golf
12.15am First round highlights, BBC2
Friday, April 8
2pm, Masters second round, Sky Sports Golf
12.05am Second round highlights, BBC 2
Saturday, April 9
8pm, Masters third round, Sky Sports Golf
12.05am, Third-round highlights, BBC2
Sunday, April 10
7pm, Masters final round, Sky Sports Golf
Midnight, Final-round highlights, BBC2
Monday, April 11
11.30am, Final-round-highlights, BBC2
Scottie Scheffler is the hottest golfer on the planet right now, with three victories this season, and the American is among the favourites on Betway. He reels off top 10 finishes for fun and although he is probaby best known for the distance he hits the ball, he also possesses a superb short game and a wonderful temperament. Viktor Hovland is a big-time player who is fast becoming a serial winner on both sides of the Atlantic. He missed the cut at the Phoenix Open but the harder the course, the better Hovland seems to play. If he does have a weakness it is around the greens but he has a wonderful golfing brain and possesses patience in spades - both of which will stand him in good stead at Augusta. It is difficult to fathom quite why Patrick Cantlay has such a comparatively poor record in the majors. He seems to have every shot in the book and a major is the only thing missing from his CV. This could be the week he puts that right.
Augusta National will measure 7,510 yards this year, an increase of 35 yards on last year. The par-four 11th now measures 520 yards - 10 yards longer than the par-five 13th. Expect to see some high numbers on what was already the hardest hole on the course. And the par-five 15th has been extended by 20 yards to 550 yards. Augusta is a thing of beauty, with rolling fairways, plenty of undulations and some of the most challenging greens on the planet. As always, it will be presented at is very best, with the magnolias in full bloom.
The Masters was won in 2015 by Jordan Spieth, in 2016 by Danny Willett, in 2017 by Sergio Garcia, in 2018 by Patrick Reed, in 2019 by Tiger Woods, in 2020 by Dustin Johnson and last year by Hideki Matsuyama.
Jon Rahm. Has an outstanding record here (11/1)
Viktor Hovland. Brilliant golfing brain (19/1)
Scottie Scheffler. On fire just now (15/1)
Five to Follow:
Jon Rahm. Brilliant short game (11/1)
Viktor Hovland. Major champion in waiting (19/1)
Scottie Scheffler. Wonderful talent (15/1)
Sam Burns. Outstanding young talent (34/1)
Rory McIlroy. Prove us all wrong Rory! (17/1)
Outsiders to Watch:
Tyrrell Hatton. Does he have the patience? (51/1)
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Short game to die for (41/1)
Robert MacIntyre. Big-game player (101/1)
Gary Woodland. Quietly finding his best form again (81/1)
Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Underrated South African (126/1)
This 2022 Masters Preview was written in collaboration with Betway.
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