The Masters are Back with New Faces Poised to Pounce

Since the inaugural event in 1934, the Masters Tournament held at Augusta National Golf Course in Georgia has been an emblem of respect and success for professional golfers. As the smallest and most prestigious of all golf major championships, the few who have earned the coveted ‘green jacket’, which is awarded to the tournament’s victor, join a historic and selective group at the pinnacle of the sport. 

While the event is prestigious for players, a yearly ticket lottery and the prevention of cell phones and electronic device use on the grounds also makes Masters attendance a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for viewers. Following Hideki Matsuyama’s victory in 2021, in which he became the first Japanese and Asia-Pacific amateur champion of the event, golf continues to grow in popularity around the world, with all eyes focused this week on Augusta.

While many active players attempt to continue their success and recent form, perhaps the largest storyline revolves around golf’s most influential figure: Tiger Woods. 

On February 23rd, 2021, Woods sustained significant injuries to his right leg after a single-car crash outside of Los Angeles. Following an investigation, it was determined that Woods was driving the vehicle at between 84 and 87 miles-per-hour on a road with a posted speed limit of 45. Although he wore a seatbelt, a collision with a tree at 75 miles-per-hour knocked Woods unconscious, bruised his left and right rib cages, fractured his right tibia and fibula, and lacerated his jaw. In an interview in November of 2021 at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, Woods asserted that amputation was a realistic possibility following the horrific accident. 

On the PGA Tour, players are required to walk the entirety of the course without the use of carts for transportation, a critical concern for Woods who struggled to walk at his first public appearance in December 2021 at the PNC Championship. While many fans of the game question his potential to return to prior dominance, the extreme difficulty of Augusta National’s terrain presents a major obstacle to Woods’ participation in the event. 

After his last official competition at the 2020 Masters, Woods tweeted on Sunday, April 3 that he “will be heading up to Augusta…to continue [his] preparation and practice.” As a “game-time decision” on participation in this week’s event, Woods’ mere presence draws immediate worldwide attention and viewership to the Masters and golf as a whole.

Perhaps the second largest story surrounding this year’s Masters also relates to a player who will be absent from the event. After winning the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, Phil Mickelson became the oldest man to ever win a major championship at the age of 50. However, recent controversy off the course has threatened his future on the PGA Tour and his career as a whole. 

Since 1968, the PGA Tour has been the home of professional golf and the centralized governing authority for large tournaments and golfer behavior. When the LIV Golf Invitation Series, a Saudi-backed organization, began to offer large sums of money and the potential for increased freedom to players to lure them away from the PGA Tour, Mickelson upset both sides by making several degrading comments. 

By smearing the image of the PGA Tour as a cash-hungry power and discussing the poor human rights record of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitation Series, Mickelson appeared to prioritize financial gain at the expense of critical human rights issues. As the PGA Tour previously stated that any player who endorses the LIV Series will be banned for life, Mickelson is effectively unable to participate in any PGA Tour sanctioned event, including the Masters. After KPMG quickly removed their sponsorship of Mickelson, it appears as though the only way for Mickelson to play on the PGA Tour and restore his public image is to renounce any connection to the LIV Golf Invitation Series. 

With a massive focus on big-name golfers who will be absent from the event, a new era of young golfers has risen to the top of the sport in recent months. As the new #1 ranked player in the world, 25-year-old Scottie Scheffler is riding a streak of three victories in 2022. After participating in the Ryder Cup victory in 2021, Scheffler won the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the Arnold Palmer Invitationa, and the WGC Dell-Technologies Match Play event in early 2022. As a graduate of the University of Texas, Scheffler’s best finish at a major was 4th place at the 2020 PGA Championship, but he will look to continue a recent run of dominance this week at Augusta. 

To achieve success at the Masters, prior experience under pressure and harsh course conditions is critical. For this reason, past champions including Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, other major champions including Collin Morikawa, Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas have the potential to make runs at the green jacket. As golfers grapple with the historic and challenging aspects of Amen Corner and Augusta National as a whole, a balanced field of players will create a buzz around the course on Sunday afternoon that consistently makes the Masters one of the year’s best sporting events.