The 5 Players to Watch at the Masters

The best players in the world will assemble again this week at Augusta National Golf Club for the first of the year’s four major championships.Will a marquee name come through and add to his legacy? Or will an unheralded player emerge? It’s happened before at the Masters Tournament and will likely happen again.Here are five players to watch.Scottie SchefflerScheffler, 26, the defending champion and No. 1 player in the world, is on quite a roll.He has ended up in the top four in four of his last five starts, including two victories. The one occasion he didn’t record a high finish was in February when he tied for 12th at the Genesis Invitational in Pacific Palisades, Calif.His performance in last month’s Players Championship was especially impressive. He seized a two-stroke advantage with a seven-under 65 on Saturday. On Sunday, Scheffler made five consecutive birdies starting at the eighth hole to pretty much put the tournament away.“I knew the conditions were going to get really hard late,” he said, “and I did a really good job of staying patient and not trying to force things.”Scheffler was in position for another win two weeks ago at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas before he fell to Sam Burns. If he were to prevail again at Augusta, he would become the first consecutive champion since Tiger Woods in 2002.Tiger WoodsSpeaking of Woods, how can he possibly not be someone to keep a close eye on?As he’s made clear, from here on we’re likely to see him at only the four major championships and perhaps another tournament here and there. Which is similar to the type of limited playing schedule Ben Hogan maintained after his car accident in 1949. Woods, 47, has played in only one event, the Genesis Invitational. He tied for 45th.It might be easy to assume Woods won’t be a factor this week.It might also be a mistake.In 2019, he surprised the golfing world by winning his fifth green jacket, second to the six won by Jack Nicklaus. And if there is anyone who knows Augusta National, it would be Woods.One of the keys will be how the leg he injured in a car accident in 2021 holds up. He started last year’s Masters with a more than respectable 71 before ending up in a tie for 47th.However he fares, it will be fascinating to watch.Rory McIlroyEvery year, it becomes more difficult to comprehend how McIlroy, one of the most talented players in the game, has failed to pick up a major title since the 2014 P.G.A. Championship.The Irish star was 25 when he prevailed that year by a stroke over Phil Mickelson. The victory gave him four majors.He is now 33.It looked like the drought might end in last year’s British Open.Heading into the final round, he was tied with Viktor Hovland, both up by four over Cameron Smith. Except McIlroy recorded only two birdies on Sunday, while Smith had eight in firing a 64. McIlroy, who could manage no better than a 70, finished third, two shots back.A victory at Augusta would make him the sixth player to capture the career grand slam (winning all four majors) the others being Ben Hogan, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen. He would also atone for what happened in the final round of the 2011 Masters. Up by four strokes entering the day, he fell apart with an 80.With his talent, McIlroy is destined to win another major sooner or later.Jordan SpiethSpieth, 29, is another star who has experienced a drought in the majors that wasn’t expected.Go back to the summer of 2017 when Spieth, 23 at the time, rallied to win the British Open. That gave him three majors.He’s still stuck at three.Each round seems to provide an assortment of errant shots and magical recoveries. How he will fare from day to day, from shot to shot, remains a mystery.Spieth has played some of his finest golf at Augusta National. Since he captured the title in 2015 with a record-tying score of 18-under 270, he has finished three times in the top three (2016, 2018 and 2021).He will also have the calendar working in his favor. On Easter Sunday in 2021, Spieth won the Texas Open. On Easter Sunday last year, he won the RBC Heritage in South Carolina.The final round of the Masters this year falls on Easter.Jason DayDay, from Australia, is looking more and more like his old self, and now he’s coming back to a course where he has enjoyed success.A former No. 1 player in the world, Day, 35, has finished in the top 10 in five of his last six starts. At the match play event, he defeated four opponents before Scheffler rallied to knock him out in the quarterfinals.Still, it was another encouraging week.“It was a great step in the right direction,” Day said. “It opens my eyes to the fact that I have a few things I need to work on, short-game-wise, putting-wise.”Day has been plagued by health issues over the years, and he has won one major, the P.G.A. Championship, in 2015. At the Masters, he tied for second in 2011 and finished third two years later.He is trying to become the second player from his country — the other was the 2013 champion, Adam Scott — to win at Augusta National.

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