Fears over first-day wipeout in 88th Masters at wet and windy Augusta National

World No 1 Scottie Scheffler is bidding to land a second success in three years in the 88th Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. Picture: Jamie Squire/Getty Images.World No 1 Scottie Scheffler is bidding to land a second success in three years in the 88th Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. Picture: Jamie Squire/Getty Images.
World No 1 Scottie Scheffler is bidding to land a second success in three years in the 88th Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. Picture: Jamie Squire/Getty Images.
Weather set to be talking point before world No 1 could eclipse field in season’s first major

Eager golf fans may have to endure a frustrating first day in the 88th Masters before the 2024 battle commences between players from the game’s traditional tours and those now flying the LIV Golf flag, including, of course, Jon Rahm, the defending champion at Augusta National.

In short, the weather forecast for the Georgia venue on Thursday is bloody awful. A band of rain and scattered thunderstorms are set to sweep through the region between 6am and 1pm local time. As much as an inch and a half of rain is being predicted and the wind is expected to gust up to 35mph.

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“We could even be facing a complete washout,” a Green Jacket was overheard on Wednesday telling someone close to the giant oak tree in front of the clubhouse where almost everyone who is anyone in golf gather in the build up to the season’s opening major and, for all those currently licking their lips around the world - both golfers and non-golfers - that would be a huge disappointment.

A best-case scenario could be that there is a relatively small window to get some play early in the afternoon before more thunderstorms hit, but the good news is that from Friday onwards Mother Nature’s hand isn’t going to have any further impact other than it continuing to be a tad windy on Friday on the tree-lined fairways on the gem of a course that was shaped by Dr Alister MacKenzie and, along with the Old Course in St Andrews, is the most famous chunk of golf terrain around the globe.

With a field of just 89 players, that means all four rounds should be completed on schedule in an event that marks the 75th anniversary of the Green Jacket being introduced as a prize for the winner and ever since being the most-coveted piece of clothing in the game. If Rory McIlroy becomes a new owner of one on Sunday night, he’ll become just the sixth player to complete a career grand slam after Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. This week marks his tenth attempt, but McIlroy will have been hugely encouraged by Woods delivering a ringing endorsement earlier in the week about the world No 2’s capability of eventually getting all his eggs to line up here one week.

That, of course, happened for Scottie Scheffler as he emerged victorious two years ago and the world No 1 is heading into this one as an even better all-round player. Yes, it makes you cringe a bit when he does his Fred Astaire feet shuffle at impact, but there’s a reason that the American is a 4-1 favourite this week and, to put that into context, you probably have to go back to Woods in his prime to discover when those shrewd odds-makers reckoned someone was worthy of such a slim price before a ball has been struck in anger.

Coming into this event, Scheffler cemented his position at the top of the global standings by winning both the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship and, a potential putting blip apart, there’s little to suggest that he can’t do it again here. Since the beginning of the 2022 season, the 27-year-old leads the PGA Tour in greens in regulation, strokes gained approach and scoring average.

“When I step up on the first tee, I just remind myself: I've done the work,” said Scheffler in his press conference this week, which has already witnessed a solar eclipe and could now be set for a golfing version. “I've done everything I could. I've checked all the boxes. And I've done everything to where I can go out here and play well. And then when it comes time to compete, I'm just trying to soak in the competition. Go out there, have fun, be committed to my shots.” Sounds simple but it’s easier said than done and Scheffler has definitely become Tiger-like over the past couple of years.

Bidding to become the first player to pull off back-to-back wins in this event since Woods did the trick in 2002, Rahm leads a 13-strong LIV Golf contingent that also includes three-time champion Phil Mickelson, who finished with a flourish 12 months ago, signing off with a 65, to finish four shots behind Rahm in joint-second along with Brooks Koepka, another player now playing his golf on the Saudi-backed breakaway circuit but still as hungry as ever to win majors, with five of those coveted titles already under his belt.

Yes, of course, that PGA Tour/DP World Tour versus LIV Golf element is a lip-licking prospect over the next four days and also at Valhalla for next month’s PGA Championship, the US Open at Pinehurst in June and then the 151st Open at Royal Troon in July because, for the vast majority of the players, it’s the only time that will happen this year, but, make no mistake, this week is all about performing as an individual on one of the greatest stages in sport and that’s why this event is so appealing and always will be.

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Though not a record, the field on this occasion includes 19 first-timers and there’s a distinct possibility that one of those players could end Fuzzy Zoeller’s reign as the last debutant to claim a Green Jacket after the American achieved that impressive feat in 1979. US Open champion Wyndham Clark, after all, is among those on that list, as is Swede Ludvig Aberg, who has taken the professional game by storm since his switch from the amateur ranks yet, incredibly, is teeing up in his first major. “I mean, stats like that are meant to be broken,” said Clark of his chance to make a dream debut. “And I like my chances. I really like myself on this golf course. So I feel good coming into the week.”

For what it’s worth, I fancy him to back up that confidence and also see Jordan Spieth, the 2015 winner, producing some of his Masters magic, but, like Woods, I’ve always believed McIlroy’s game was made for here and, if he can keep out of his own way over the first couple of days and also get that bit of luck here and there, this could well be his week.



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