Tour Confidential Masters Preview: Our experts tackle 9 burning questions

Tiger Woods leaves the course to enter the Clubhouse after practicing a few holes with Rob McNamara and caddie Lance Bennett prior to the 2024 Masters Tournament

Tiger Woods after a practice session at Augusta National on Sunday.

getty images

Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us at @golf_com. This week we discuss Rory McIlroy’s Masters chances, Augusta sleepers and questions for ANGC chairman Fred Ridley.

Welcome to Masters week, where we have Tiger Woods making just his second start of the year, the defending champ now playing for a league he wasn’t involved in a year ago and a whole bunch of other meaty storylines we are about to tackle. Let’s start with Rory McIlroy, who again will have loads of pressure on him as he’ll attempt to win the Masters and complete the career grand slam. Why will this finally be Rory’s year? And why won’t it be?

Ryan Barath, senior editor, equipment (@rdsbarath): In my heart, I want nothing more than to see Rory complete the career grand slam and get back to even with Brooks Koepka when it comes to major wins. He’s been playing well and I think if he can continue to minimize mistakes, he has a chance. As for reasons why not — golf is hard, and when you have all the best players in the world in one place, coming out as top dog gets even more difficult, and a bounce here or there could be what makes the difference.

Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): This will be Rory McIlroy’s year because he’s only been to Augusta National once in preparation for the event (instead of like, a half-dozen times last year), because he just visited golf’s King Midas, Butch Harmon (King Midas in a good way, I know that story has a dark turn) and because he hasn’t yet peaked this year, so expectations are in a more reasonable spot and he should be able to swing free. This won’t be Rory McIlroy’s year because Augusta National is a second-shot golf course and his approach play has been meh. Also because he stepped on the wrong azalea or something left of the 10th fairway in 2011 and got cursed forever.

[Update from Dylan: I wrote the above on Friday. The below feels like an important addition:]

Jessica Marksbury, senior editor (@jess_marksbury): Yes, Dylan! This will be Rory’s year because I think our collective expectations are a bit lower than years past. As Dylan mentioned, Rory has, outside of his hot start in Dubai this year, been a bit meh — that’s perfect! How often do players actually perform the way we think they will at Augusta, especially when they’re coming in hot? It’s tough to keep up that momentum on such a grand stage. For Rory, playing with the lead seems like too much pressure. I’d love to see him lurk in the background for 54 holes and then make a crazy Sunday charge for the win. As for why it won’t be his year, well, probably because the scenario I just dreamed is so, so hard that it pretty much never happens.

Jack Hirsh, assistant editor (@JR_HIRSHey): I’m with Ryan here. I want to see Rory complete the career grand slam because he’s been one of the best players over the last 14 years and we have yet to see anyone complete the slam since Tiger Woods. But I think the 2011 debacle just created a mental block in his head that he just can’t get over. Think about how his best final round, the 64 in 2022, came when the tournament was pretty much already decided. Remember how we all said Sergio Garcia will win a major when no one expects it … and no one expected it in 2017? I think it might be a few more years, when McIlroy isn’t among the favorites, that he actually comes through at Augusta. 

The World No. 1 enters the first major of the year in fine form after he nearly won three straight events in March. Who would you take to win this week: a trio of McIlroy and the last two Masters champs (Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler), or the field?

Barath: I’m taking the trio, but if there is one player outside of that who could be a deal breaker it’s Brooks Koepka. I bet some of my fellow contributors have a couple of other players they would likely place above those three so I’m interested to hear what everyone else has to say because it sure does feel hard to bet against Rahm, Rory and/or Scottie.

Dethier: I’ll take the field. It’s a terrible feeling not to have Scheffler on my side (not to mention the other two) but I’ll take the gang that includes Koepka, Xander, Spieth and, well, everyone else. It’s still golf. The favorites don’t win very often.

Marksbury: I’ll take the field, too. One of my favorite things about the Masters is the number of players who seem to play well there every year, regardless of their form coming in. Sure, Rahm, Scheffler and McIlroy are a formidable trio, but what about Jordan, Hideki, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, PHIL? TIGER?! And then, oh yeah, Mr. Five Majors, Brooks too! Goes without saying, the field is loaded. 

Scottie Scheffler’s most important club isn’t what you think
By: Jonathan Wall

Hirsh: Nope, sorry Dylan and Jess, I’m taking the trio. Despite my comments earlier about McIlroy, I can’t bet against those three. The best player in the world has won the Masters the past two seasons and Scheffler looks unbeatable right now. I’d be happy to take Scheffler over the field. I think not winning in Houston helped his chances since he won’t have the pressure of trying to win four in a row.

Last year, Rahm won the Masters and later signed with LIV, admitting that the lifetime exemption he secured in the Masters was a part of the reason it made it easier to ditch the PGA Tour. How concerned should the Tour be of this happening again if other big-name PGA Tour stars — Rory, Wyndham, Viktor, etc. — win their first green jacket this year?

Barath: I bet the PGA Tour has a small amount of fear that a player could use the Masters as a springboard to take a BIG check and move to LIV. But, on the other side, it sure seems like several LIV players including Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson are talking about getting “the golf world” back together, which doesn’t look great for LIV, either. At this point in time regardless of who wins, I don’t see any players switching leagues. 

Dethier: I think the Tour should be mildly concerned. Winning the Masters means entry into the majors for the next five years plus entry to Augusta National forever. There are a few top pros who could still make the jump. At the same time, if a guy hasn’t left by now… I’d still be surprised to see the winner jump.

Marksbury: I think there’s reason to worry. A Tour player who wins the Masters will be worth a lot to LIV. And with unification seemingly on the horizon, if a player is offered a boatload to make the jump, believing he can likely return eventually, you can see why that would feel like a low-risk deal on the player’s end.  

Hirsh: The PGA Tour should be concerned as I think the looming potential of another star’s jump to LIV, whether they make it or not, puts them at a further negotiating disadvantage with the PIF. But perhaps it could make them more likely to get a deal done faster, because as pretty much everyone agrees, golf’s reunification needs to happen fast.

A victorious Jon Rahm at the 2023 Masters. getty images

Whose form do we like right now that we aren’t talking about as much as we should?

Barath: Corey Conners. He drives it well and hits his irons solid. If he can just get his putter hot for four days, I believe he has a nice chance. 

Dethier: Xander Schauffele. He hasn’t won, but he’s done everything else. He’ll be in the mix.

Marksbury: Ludvig Aberg. Hard to believe the Masters will be his first major championship. But given what we’ve seen from him over the last year, he seems ready to make a big splash.

Hirsh: Dylan picked Xander? I’m shocked! Let me go with Sahith Theegala. Four top-10s already this year, third most on Tour. Finished ninth at Augusta last year in his debut and a lot of players tend to improve in their second try at the Masters.

Who is more likely to win: a LIV player, or a PGA Tour player?

Barath: Simply based on percentages, I’m going with a PGA Tour player.

Dethier: Yup. If Scheffler was on LIV (a big if), this would be a closer call.

Marksbury: This is tough, but I agree with Ryan and Dylan. Again, I’m taking the larger field, so the PGA Tour guys.

Hirsh: I think Scheffler has already won, so a PGA Tour player. But even if Scheffler pulls a DJ (falls down a flight of stairs and can’t play), it’s hard to pick 13 guys against the other ~75, especially when one of them isn’t Talor Gooch, obviously.

This is the one time a year we get to hear from ANGC chairman Fred Ridley. Lots has changed since last year; what are you most hoping we get his thoughts on? Or, better yet, what’s the one question you want to ask him?

Barath: I hope he talks about how the men’s professional game can be brought back together, and encourages both sides to come to an agreement. As for a question, I would ask “With Augusta National now hosting a women’s amateur event, along with the Masters, does he ever envision a time in the near future when professional women will have their own event held at Augusta National?”

Dethier: I want to know why Jon Rahm’s public appearances haven’t included a green jacket since he left for LIV.

Why Fred Ridley is an Augusta National chairman unlike any other
By: Michael Bamberger

Marksbury: Given the news of the ball rollback last year, I’m curious about his thoughts on that front — especially if the PGA Tour opts out of adopting the proposal.

Hirsh: Well, all my colleagues took my best ones. So I’ll go with something that probably wouldn’t be pressing enough to ask, but something we would all want to know: “Would Augusta ever consider sharing details on the Masters app with the PGA Tour to make their app better?”

Surprising news dropped that Justin Thomas and caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay are parting ways after about 2 1/2 years together. Anything to read into with this? And would you consider this odd timing, a week before the biggest tournament of the year?

Barath: Pardon my take but JT has kinda low-key stunk this year, and considering he’s not likely to fire his coach (his dad), he probably felt the need for a shake-up and Bones was the one to get cut. As for timing, I don’t read too much into it.

Dethier: I was surprised because you’d think you’d want some consistency heading into the major season. At the same time, if you think you need to make a change, you’d want to do so before major season. Now my question is how much Bones we’ll see on TV this season…?

Marksbury: Definitely weird timing! They seemed like a pretty solid duo. The partnership must have come to a real breaking point to make a move like this pre-Masters — a course Bones clearly knows so well. But Bones has plenty of options. He was great during his stint as a broadcaster, and could also be a coveted get on the bag for some other up-and-comer — or even an established player! — if he’s interested in continuing on that path.

Hirsh: I’m not reading into the split, sometimes it just happens and it seems like Bones wanted to get back into to TV. Why the split couldn’t wait until after the Masters, when Bones wouldn’t have been covering it for NBC (since they don’t broadcast it) is more concerning. 

Bones and JT are splittsville. getty images

Quickly, let’s finish with the important stuff. What’s the absolute best thing to eat or drink at the Masters?

Barath: The BBQ sandwich is a must. Add in a nice cold beer and an ice cream sandwich on a sunny spring day and you’re all set.

Dethier: At the risk of sounding like an eight-year-old, the chocolate chip cookies are really good. I’m going to try to limit myself to one per day.

Marksbury: I have sampled and liked ALL the sandwiches — except pimento cheese! Sad to say I’m just not a fan. But I tried.

Hirsh: Sighhhhh…I haven’t yet been. But I hear the chicken biscuit is an absolute sleeper. With Augusta deep in Bojangles territory, it must be good to get a reputation there.

And, lastly, what’s an insider tip that most fans might not know about the Masters or ANGC?

Barath: The no phone policy is honestly one of the best things about the Masters and I hope it never changes.

Dethier: There’s a bank of pay phones on property. So if you go, memorize a couple phone numbers first. People like getting calls from Augusta National.

Marksbury: Hope this isn’t too obvious, but SHOP EARLY. Lots of people don’t like the idea of carrying around merch for the day, but you can ship everything home! So convenient. The most popular items do sell out (garden gnome, anyone?) so it’s important to tick that box ASAP, then go about your day.

Hirsh: Again, having not yet attended, I’ll go with something the fans at home can enjoy. We all know the Masters app is phenomenal, as I alluded to before. I love setting up the personal stream with my favorite players and watching without commentary when players I wanna watch aren’t on featured groups in the morning. Golf in its purest form.

Exit mobile version