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Preview: The 2023 Masters - predictions, course guide, preview

Sports Mole previews the 2023 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, including predictions and a course guide.

Major season is back in the world of golf, as the most famous course in the sport, Augusta National, plays host to the 2023 Masters this week.

Scottie Scheffler was the most recent winner of the coveted Green Jacket, winning by a landslide in Georgia last year, and he comes into this year's event as the favourite.

The Masters preview

Scottie Scheffler of the U.S. celebrates with his green jacket and trophy after winning The Masters on April 10, 2022© Reuters

The Masters this year will be the first since a large number of PGA Tour players jumped ship and joined the Saudi-backed LIV Golf League.

With the Masters being their own entity, not a part of the PGA Tour, they have taken the decision to allow anybody who joined LIV to play, as long as they meet the qualification criteria required.

That is in contrast to all PGA Tour events such as the Players Championship, which went ahead without its reigning champion Cameron Smith last month, who has joined LIV.

There are 18 LIV members who are set to tee up on Thursday at Augusta, and the vast majority of press conferences in the days leading up will touch heavily on the subject, as was seen at The Open Championship last summer.

Despite all the drama and debate that comes with conversations about LIV, the golfer with most eyes on him this week will be Tiger Woods, as the five-time winner returns to the course for the first time since the Genesis Invitational in February.

Tiger Woods wearing the green jacket after winning The Masters in April, 2019.© Reuters

Woods's fairytale win at Augusta in 2019 after an 11-year major drought and countless injury and personal issues was one of the greatest moments in the history of the sport.

However, since his near-fatal car accident in 2021, his chances of repeating the feat are greatly limited this week, but that will not stop him from attracting crowds well into the thousands no matter where he finds himself on the leaderboard.

The player everyone will be fearing is the favourite and current champion Scheffler, who enters the week in scintillating form.

The current Players champion reached the final four of the WGC-Matchplay two weeks ago in what has been yet another strong start to the season, similar to last year when a string of victories early in 2022 included his maiden Masters crown.

Only nine players finished under par here last year, but Scheffler was the runaway winner, shooting a very impressive 10-under-par, three strokes clear of Rory McIlroy who shot a record-breaking final day score of 64 on Sunday but could still get nowhere near the American.

This week will be McIlroy's ninth attempt at completing the career grand slam, as an elusive Masters win is all he needs to complete the set, after his USPGA success in 2014.

Rory McIlroy on his way to winning the Tour Championship and Fedex Cup on August 28, 2022.© Reuters

Like Scheffler, McIlroy was a semi-finalist in the Matchplay two weeks ago, and also finished in a tie for second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but he missed the cut at the biggest event of the year so far, The Players Championship.

Jon Rahm is the other highly-fancied man in the field, but his preparation has been far from ideal after a withdrawal from the Players and an exit in the group stage of the Matchplay.

Many will believe that this tournament represents Jordan Spieth's best opportunity to return to the winner's circle at a major.

The three-time major winner has mixed history here, after winning in 2015, but a sensational collapse in 2016 saw him throw away a five-shot lead going into the back nine on Sunday after a quadruple bogey on the 12th hole, handing the win to Danny Willett.

Jordan Spieth reacts on the 18th green during the final round of the 2016 The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2016© Reuters

While Spieth is potentially on the up again, three players who have lit the golfing world alight over the last two years, Justin Thomas, Will Zalatoris and Collin Morikawa, are all completely out of sorts heading into this week.

Thomas has just one outright top-10 finish this year, Morikawa has missed two of his last four cuts as well as failing to get out of the groups at the Matchplay, while back surgery late last year has seen Zalatoris's form nosedive with just two top-25 finishes in 2023.

The recent resurgence of Jason Day makes him one to keep an eye on as the 2015 USPGA champion has finished in the top-20 in all seven events he has entered this year.

His Australian compatriot Cameron Smith will be the most fancied out of the LIV contingent after winning both The Players Championship and The Open Championship in 2022, although a lack of competitive golf may scupper his chances as he returns to the big stage.

Recent major winners Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia and Brooks Koepka all lost form massively before leaving to join LIV, but the latter did win in their Orlando event last week.

Corey Conners won at the Valero Texas Open on Sunday, and the Canadian finished in a tie for sixth at Augusta last year, so could definitely be in contention if he can continue to show improvements on his short game.

Course guide

Tiger Woods on the 13th green during a practice round at Augusta National on April 6, 2022© Reuters

Augusta National needs no introduction, as its stunning greenery and layout makes it one of the most pristine and iconic sporting venues in the world.

With some of the toughest and fastest greens found anywhere in the world, it is a course where power is not always king, as a competent short game is paramount to success here.

Each hole is famous across the globe, and has its own name based on the trees and shrubs associated with it, plus, the course is home to arguably the most famous stretch of holes in golf - Amen Corner.

This encompasses the 11th, 12th and 13th holes, three of the best and most challenging on the course.

Hole 12 can be a devilishly difficult par-three, with a small, narrow green and a large portion of water to clear at the front - it was the scene of Spieth's catastrophic collapse in 2016 when he put two balls in the water.

The 13th hole is a relatively short par-five, but makes players decide whether to go for the green in two, or lay up with the threat of the water hazard just shy of the green - Phil Mickelson's gutsy approach shot from the pine straw on this hole contributed greatly to his win in 2010.

Scottie Scheffler tees off on the 18th during the final round of the Masters on April 10, 2022© Reuters

The all-important 18th hole offers a not-too-difficult, but psychologically-troubling, narrow tee shot, meaning the leader on the 72nd on Sunday will need to keep his cool, with safety often being the key here.

SM words green background

We say: Scottie Scheffler to win

In the eagerly anticipated first major of the year, there is potential for many great storylines and dramatic moments here, with the added factor of PGA Tour and LIV Golf players facing off.

Only the two greatest players ever to play the game, Woods and Jack Nicklaus, have won back-to-back Masters, and Scheffler has the chance to do so this week.

McIlroy can become just the sixth player ever to achieve the career grand slam but inconsistency and a short game that still leaves a lot to be desired is his great enemy.

With an abundance of young talent in the field, we could well get a first-time major winner this week, with the likes of Conners, Max Homa, Sam Burns and Cameron Young all in good form.

However, with his form over the past 12 months, and his destruction of the field last year, Scheffler is our choice to match the record of those two golfing giants and claim his second Green Jacket at this year's Masters.

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Dustin Johnson with the green jacket after winning the Masters on November 15, 2020
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