By Phil Casey, PA Golf Correspondent
World number one Scottie Scheffler will defend his title when the 87th Masters takes place at Augusta National from April 6th-9th.
Scheffler is bidding to become just the fourth player to win back-to-back green jackets after Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods.
Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the main contenders for the year’s first men’s major championship.
Another "crazy" McIlroy drive 🚀
He drives the 6th green and goes 3UP vs Scheffler. #DellMatchPlay pic.twitter.com/J4kLkpBufi
— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) March 26, 2023
Despite losing his semi-final of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play from two up with three to play, McIlroy left Austin Country Club feeling “really bullish” about the state of his game and his chances of completing the career grand slam at Augusta. The world number two also revealed he was fitting in a second scouting trip to the course, despite having already played 54 holes there recently. McIlroy’s final round of 64 last year was a thrilling reminder of his capabilities and a missed cut in 2021 is the only real blemish on his Masters record over the last nine years.
Although it is widely recognised that Augusta National is a course where experience is a distinct advantage, Scheffler’s victory in 2022 came on just his third start and followed finishes of 19th and 18th in the previous two years. It was also his fourth win in six events and the American has been in a similarly rich vein of form this season, successfully defending his WM Phoenix Open title and also winning the Players Championship by five shots before reaching the semi-finals in defence of his match play title.
The lead remains at four after birdies for Cameron Smith and Scottie Scheffler on No. 7. #themasters pic.twitter.com/zW0NxJ1PDI
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 10, 2022
So much has happened in men’s golf since last year’s Masters that it would be easy to forget that Cameron Smith was in the last group alongside Scheffler in the final round and birdied the first two holes to close within a shot of the leader. The Australian then faltered and eventually finished third, but was also fifth in 2018 and 2020 and claimed his maiden major title in the 150th Open at St Andrews last July before joining LIV Golf. That move makes his form difficult to accurately assess with just a missed cut on the Asian Tour and three LIV events under his belt before Augusta.
Rahm’s form has slipped somewhat since his brilliant run of three wins, a third place and a tie for seventh in five events lifted him back to the top of the world rankings. The second seed, who withdrew from the Players Championship due to a stomach virus, lost to Rickie Fowler and Billy Horschel to fail to reach the knockout stages and slipped a place in the world rankings as a result. A tie for 27th in last year’s Masters ended a run of four straight top 10s and the former US Open champion will be keen to contend for the title once again.
Corey Conners moves within two of the lead. #themasters pic.twitter.com/tGBy0kjj5P
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 8, 2022
At first glance Conners appears a surprise inclusion on a list which otherwise is made up of major champions. However, the 31-year-old Canadian has quietly racked up three straight top 10s in the Masters, having missed the cut on his debut in 2015 and then failing to qualify until 2019, when he finished 46th. Eight of his last 12 rounds at Augusta have been par or better, including a second round of 65 in the low-scoring edition in 2020, which was staged in November due to the Covid-19 pandemic.