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Preview: The Masters 2024 - predictions, course guide, preview

Sports Mole previews the 88th edition of The Masters at Augusta, which gets underway on Thursday.

The first major of the 2024 season gets underway on Thursday as the world's best players attempt to claim the green jacket by winning the Masters.

With Jon Rahm attempting to defend the title on his first appearance among PGA Tour professionals since departing for LIV, there is an added storyline among the traditional battle to claim one of sport's most craved crowns.

The Masters preview

Spain's Jon Rahm celebrates with his green jacket and the trophy after winning The Masters on April 9, 2023© Reuters

As soon as Rahm made the decision to defect to LIV in what remains a controversial move despite the potential alliances moving forward, it brought about a pivotal shift in terms of opinions shared among the golfing fraternity.

Those conversations remain saved for another day as the Spaniard attempts to show that he has not lost an ounce of competitiveness since his exit from the PGA Tour.

On results alone, it does not appear that he has. In five appearances in LIV events, Rahm has finished between third and eighth on each occasion, but he would likely swap that record for the efforts of nearest rival Scottie Scheffler.

In eight events during 2024, the world number one has not finished below 17th - a remarkable statistic - with victories coming at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship.

Scheffler was denied a third straight win by Stephan Jaeger at the recent Houston Open, having to settle for second, but there is no doubting that the American remains the man to beat this week.

Rory McIlroy will be encouraged by his form at the Valero Texas Open last week, posting a third-placed finish, but that remains his only top 10 on the PGA Tour this season.

The sheer amount of winners, several of them first-timers, on the PGA Tour this season means that there are numerous outsiders to consider, the latest being Akshay Bhatia who defied a partial dislocated shoulder to get over the line at the Texas Open on Sunday.

Former champion Hideki Matsuyama will be one to watch, with a win and three top-12s in his last four starts, but last year's runners-up Brooks Koepka finished last week's Miami LIV event with back-to-back 77s, not ideal preparation for the difficulty of this course.

Course guide:

A signpost ahead of 2024 Masters.© Reuters

Over the years, the winning score on Sunday has generally been a modest one. The anomaly in the history books is Dustin Johnson's 20-under-par in the 2020 event that was put back to November in softer conditions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Either side of that, the lowest winning score has been Patrick Reed's 15-under in 2018, with the brilliance of Scheffler and Rahm only leading to 10-under and 12-under scores in the last two editions.

That is a consequence of Augusta presenting one of the most prestigious and toughest challenges in golf, partly due to now being 7,555 yards in length and being particularly undulating.

There have been adjustments over the years to various holes, most recently last year when the tees at the 11th and 15th holes were put back 15 yards and 40 yards respectively. Ahead of this year, the par-five second has been extended by 10 yards and to the left, effectively forcing players into a draw off the tee.

All the traditional features and names remain, though. Amen Corner - holes 11 to 13 - is a highlight for players and fans alike, while each hole is named after the tree or shrub that it is associated.

Each of the four par-fives are naturally viewed as birdie holes, but risk and reward is involved on 13 and 15 with water preceding the green. The course concludes with the Nandina and Holly holes, two notoriously tough par fours that have decided many a tournament in the past.


Scottie Scheffler during the final round of the Masters on April 10, 2022.© Reuters

While there have been an array of fresh winners on the PGA Tour this season, you have to feel that there are only a select few who are in contention this week.

As well as the aforementioned Rahm, Scheffler, McIlroy and Matsuyama, former winners Reed and Jordan Spieth will always be a threat around this golf course.

We cannot look past Scheffler, though. In 11 of his past 12 major appearances, the 27-year-old has finished no lower than 23rd, his one missed cut coming at the 2022 US PGA Championship.

Finishing tied-10th in this tournament 12 months ago will also act as motivation for a player who is well rested after sitting out last week, and his short betting odds with the bookmakers are entirely justified.

>> Click here to see the first-round tee-times

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Jon Rahm during final round of 2023 Masters on April 9.
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