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What to know for the Masters | CBC Sports

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The azaleas are in bloom, Tiger is on the prowl and the LIV barbarians are back inside the gate. Yes, it’s time for the Masters. Here’s what to know for the best golf tournament of the year:

It’s Scottie Scheffler’s to lose.

The world’s top-ranked player is the crystal-clear favourite to win his second green jacket this week, and it’s easy to see why. Statistically, Scheffler is head and shoulders above everyone else — especially from tee to green, where he’s been called the best ball striker since Tiger Woods in his heyday.

Unlike peak Tiger, though, Scheffler is not a great putter. He ranks 97th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained with the flat stick. That’s a big reason why the 27-year-old Texan’s 2022 Masters victory remains his lone major title while Woods already owned eight at the same age.

But, when Scheffler’s putting is on (or even just above average) he’s extremely tough to beat. And that’s been the case for the last month. In his three starts since the beginning of March, Scheffler has two victories and a runner-up finish. Both wins came against top-notch competition at the big-money Arnold Palmer Invitational and the even-bigger-money Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, where Scheffler became the first player ever to repeat as champion of the Tour’s flagship event.

Other PGA Tour stars to watch include world No. 2 Rory McIlroy, who still needs a green jacket to complete the career Grand Slam; No. 4 Wyndham Clark, making his Masters debut after winning his first major at last year’s U.S. Open; No. 5 Xander Schauffele, still seeking his first major despite four top-three finishes; and Jordan Spieth, the three-time major winner and 2015 Masters champ who always seems to play his best at Augusta.

LIV Golf is hunting for its first green jacket.

Last year, everyone wondered how the first wave of defectors would hold up in the crucible of Augusta after a full season of bloated paycheques, soft competition and shorter 54-hole events on their unserious-looking rebel tour.

Turns out, pretty good. Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka tied for second while Patrick Reed tied for fourth. Koepka went on to win the PGA Championship in May, becoming the first player to capture a major as an active member of LIV.

A couple of weeks later, the Saudi-backed outfit and the PGA Tour shocked the world by announcing they’d reached a “framework agreement” on what sounded like a merger. In retrospect, it was more like a ceasefire, because their supposed deal has still not been completed. So the golf war, annoyingly, drags on.

Late last year, LIV dipped back into its bottomless pockets to poach world No. 3 Jon Rahm for a reported $350 million US. The Spaniard won the Masters last April before jumping ship, meaning LIV now boasts the top three finishers from 2023.

In case you forgot how this works (or just wish you had), LIV players are banned from all PGA Tour events. But the four majors (plus this summer’s Olympic tournament) are run by separate entities, so the Masters is one of the few opportunities to see all of the best players in the world compete against each other (sorry, Talor Gooch).

Along with Rahm, Koepka, Mickelson and Reed, LIVers to watch this week include 2020 Masters champion Dustin Johnson, 2022 British Open champ Cameron Smith, 2020 U.S. Open winner Bryson DeChambeau and current league leader Joaquin Niemann, who has won a pair of events this year.

Tiger Woods is not giving up.

At 48 years old and hobbled by an appalling array of injuries and surgeries over the years, it’s quite unlikely that the biggest star in golf history will match Jack Nicklaus’ record by winning his sixth green jacket this week. And he can probably forget about Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles too. Woods has been stuck at 15 since his improbable Masters victory five years ago.

Tiger’s body was on the fritz then, and it’s really fallen apart since the brutal 2021 car wreck that nearly cost him a leg. Reduced to a part-time player, he withdrew on Sunday of the Masters last year due to an ankle injury that led to another surgery, which kept him out until December. He made it through four unremarkable rounds at the Hero World Challenge before pulling out of February’s Genesis Invitational during his second round.

Woods said this week that he can still contend at Augusta “if everything comes together.” But a more realistic goal might be breaking the record for most consecutive cuts made at the Masters. At 23 and counting, he shares the mark with Gary Player and Fred Couples.

Four Canadians will tee it up on Thursday.

Three have a chance to win their first major.

Nick Taylor is ranked 24th in the world after following up last year’s monumental Canadian Open victory by winning the Phoenix Open in February. But he’s short off the tee, which isn’t a great fit for Augusta, and this will be his first time playing a traditional Masters. Taylor tied for 29th in 2020, when the tournament was moved to November because of the pandemic and the course played differently.

Adam Hadwin is ranked 46th after three top-six finishes this year. He’s played in three Masters, most recently in 2020. He missed the cut that time and tied for 24th and 36th in his other two starts.

Corey Conners, ranked 49th, actually has the best chance to win. Experience is vital at the Masters, and he’s played in five of them. Before missing the cut last year in awful weather, Conners had three straight top-10 finishes, including a tie for sixth in 2022.

Taylor, Hadwin and Conners are vying for Canada’s likely two spots in the Olympic men’s tournament in Paris this summer. Those will be determined by the world rankings after the U.S. Open in June.

Joining those three at Augusta this week is Mike Weir, the only Canadian to win a green jacket. The 52-year-old plays on the senior’s tour now and has made just one Masters cut since 2015. But his 2003 victory gave him a lifetime invitation, and remains one of the great moments in Canadian sports history.

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