The first Major of the year is here, and the anticipation for this year’s Masters couldn’t be higher.

Between tiger forest and Phil Mickelson back, the first meeting of LIV Golf and PGA Tour players at Augusta National Golf Club, as well as scottie scheffler, jon rahm and Rory McIlroy Continuing to play hot Potato with a world No. 1 ranking, there are plenty of compelling stories as the world of golf descends on the sport’s most famous venue.

Here’s what to watch for in Georgia this week:

What can we expect from Tiger this week?

Mark Schlabach: Last year, Tiger had not played competitively in 508 days and he showed up at the Masters and made his 23rd straight cut. He played well through the first 36 holes, but the cold weather affected his surgically repaired leg and back, making one of the toughest walks in all of golf even more difficult. He shot 6 out of 78 in each of the last two rounds, his worst score at the Masters. He looked better physically in the Genesis and said his right leg is stronger than a year ago, but his right ankle still bothers him. I think he’ll make the cut again because he knows the field better than anyone on the field. I think a top-25 finish isn’t completely out of the question for Tiger, but I’d find it hard to believe he could do better than that.

Pablo Uggetti: Given what we saw at Riviera, where Tiger seemed a bit more comfortable to walk while his game showed plenty of promising flashes, I think making the cut will be the low bar he should be able to clear. In an ideal world, the five-time champion would have made at least one more appearance before reaching the Masters, but health is more important than making sure his game is good. If Tiger can succeed anywhere with just one competitive tournament under his belt, it’s Augusta. Even if the walk is tougher than most courses, the warm weather should help him, and I venture to guess he’ll get an early start on Thursday and a long rest before his second round on Friday. I won’t go so far as to say that he will race, but it should be another promising step in this new stage of his career.

What can we expect from Phil this week?

Schlabach: Given the way Mickelson played in the majors last year and what he did in the first three LIV Golf tournaments this season, finishing 27th in Mexico, 32nd in Tucson, Arizona and 41st in Orlando, Florida, you wouldn’t expect much of nothing He’s not playing well and hasn’t in a long time, and there’s going to be a circus around him in Augusta. Mickelson won’t address the media in a formal press conference before the Masters kicks off on Thursday, so there will be a microscope on him during practice and the early rounds after he skipped this event, which he won three times. , in 2022. There will still be some customers cheering for it.

uggetti: Honestly, I have no idea. Mickelson has seen himself as a shell of himself, both figuratively and literally, since he left for LIV, and his performance at last year’s US Open (the last major he participated in) was particularly poor. Since he came away with a thumbs up from that tournament, Mickelson has shown absolutely no signs of life at any of LIV’s events, consistently finishing near the bottom of the leaderboard. He has finished 27 or worse in eight of his 10 appearances. Then again, Mickelson is a previous winner here, and he’d be something of a dark twist to the entire PGA Tour-LIV Golf saga if he somehow turned back the clock and competed this week.

Speaking of the PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf, how much of the dispute will be on display?

Schlabach: I don’t think it’s going to be as long a story as expected because everyone will be on their best behavior at Augusta National. LIV Golf players will likely sport their team logos on jerseys and caps, so the elephant in the room won’t be completely invisible. I just don’t know how many of the 18 LIV Golf entrants will be true contenders. Australia cameron smith, who tied for second in 2020 and tied for third last year, has played well here. However, he hasn’t played much this season, and his form hasn’t been great of late, finishing 26th in Tucson and 29th in Orlando. previous champions dustin johnson and patrick cane I haven’t played much either. brooks koepka he won the Orlando event and suddenly he’s playing better. With the LIV Golf League placing so much emphasis on team competition, go RangeGoats! — Can you just flip the switch and play again as individuals? And finish 72 holes? However, one or two of them are likely to be on the leaderboard on Sunday.

uggetti: It all depends, but I think it’s going to come and go depending on the results of the tournament and what the players on the podium say. The matchups and Dinner of Champions will certainly put him in the spotlight, but I think once the tournament starts, the only way he will become a part of weekend history is if the LIV players are there. in contention. With 18 LIV players on the field, that is very much at stake, and it will be fascinating to see how Augusta, the sponsors and the rest of the players react to the potential for a LIV player to win the biggest tournament in the sport.

Who is your dark horse pick for the week?

Schlabach: It’s probably not too much of a stretch to say that a guy who finished second in his first Masters appearance and tied for eighth in his third would be a dark horse, but I’m not sure there are too many people choosing Sungjae Im to win a green jacket this week. In 2020, the South Korean became the first Asian player to finish runner-up and took the first round lead two years later. Im has won twice on tour and loves playing Augusta National. Im doesn’t particularly hit the ball off the tee, but he does keep it on the fairway and has a solid all-round game.

uggetti: It seems like every big tournament these days is going to be won by Scheffler, McIlroy or Rahm, making it hard to look past them for an unexpected winner. i will take jason day. Obviously, he’s headed in the right direction — five top-10 finishes in the last six tournaments and 11 top-20 finishes this season — and the swing changes he’s made seem to have paid off. Day missed the cut in the last two Masters he’s played in, but finished in the top 5 in 2019. A win at Augusta would be a fitting, storybook-like way to cap what has been a long, ups and downs way back to the top of the game.

Who are you definitely not going to pick this week?

Schlabach: patrick cantley He is one of the best players in the world, especially with a driver in hand. But his performance in major championships is unnerving, to say the least. He has only one top-5 finish at a major, a tie for third at the 2019 PGA Championship, and a top-10 finish at the Masters, a tie for ninth in 2019. it will go off for Cantlay at some point and he’s going to compete for a major championship. I don’t think it’s this week.

uggetti: will zalatoris. This might seem like a poor choice in hindsight, given that Zalatoris has proven to be a supremely better player when he plays in the majors, but whether through injuries or issues, Zalatoris has struggled this season. After finishing tied for 11th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Zalatoris finished tied for 36th and missed the cut before finishing fourth at Riviera. However, over the past three tournaments, Zalatoris has finished tied for 53rd, 73rd and 59th. Even more damning, Zalatoris ranks 137th in strokes gained a year after finishing 103rd in the same stat last season.

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