18 pivotal Masters questions

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Golf's first major championship is set to start. M. James Ward reviews the various potential plot twists and what answers they will provide.
Posted on
April 11, 2024
by
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Augusta, GA. The 88th Masters begins today. The coming together of PGA TOUR members and those from LIV marks the first time they share the same stage since last year's Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.

Plenty of questions are in search of answers. Here's the leading 18.

***

Will Scottie Scheffler further cement his hold atop the golfing world?

Over the last three events, the 27-year-old has gone win, win and runner-up. His final round scoring average is 66.63 and his play has been nothing short of stellar.

A second major win would boost his standing even higher. Nonetheless, will his most recent form continue this week?

 

Can Rory end his major-less streak dating back to 2014 and join the career Grand Slam club?

McIlroy knows the full meaning a victory would have for his overall standing in the game. Is he ready to put that in motion? He's only been in the top ten once this year on the PGA TOUR.

Should he get into contention on the final round the pressure will be rising with each stroke. The career Grand Slam club could be adding its sixth member this week.

18 pivotal Masters questions
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

What lessons did Brooks Koepka learn from last year's final round 75 and co-runner-up finish?

The man many believed was impervious to final round major pressure succumbed to it last year when paired with winner Jon Rahm. A win at the next major – the PGA Championship at Oak Hill – helped repair the situation but now Brooks returns to the scene where the pain of a stinging defeat was applied. Is he ready to vindicate himself this year?

 

Can Jon Rahm once again show dominance at the majors?

The defending champion is back on the grounds where he won his second major. The Spaniard left the PGA TOUR late last year for LIV and there will be considerable focus to see if his form is ready for the rigors of a 72-hole event.

Should he defend his title he will join the smallest of groups to do so with the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo.

18 pivotal Masters questions
(Zac Goodwin/PA)

Can early season form from Joaquín Niemann continue at Augusta this week?

LIV's most accomplished player – scoring a 59 earlier this year in winning in Mexico. The Augusta brain trust offered him an invitation to this year's event.

It will be very interesting to see how the 25-year-old responds this week as more eyes will be watching to see if he can attain his first major and green jacket.

 

Are Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay ready to secure a first major?

The two USA Ryder Cup partners have been touted for a number of years for the considerable talents they possess. Winning on the PGA TOUR has happened but, thus far, the combined major tally is zero. Xander had a late round lead collapse at The Players after opening with a record 62 in the first round. Then faded over the remaining 54 holes.

Cantlay has always been cited for his silky-smooth putting stroke but the 32-year-old only has four top ten finishes from 24 majors played. Show time is now here for both.

Xander Schauffele
Xander Schauffele (AP Photo/Matt York)

Anyone see Viktor Hovland or Collin Morikawa recently?

After a solid year in 2023 highlighted by winning The Tour Championship, the 26-year-old Hovland has pulled an impressive Houdini acts with only one top 20 finish in 2024.

The year is still on the early side but he needs to give an indicator he's ready to resume being seen as one of the most gifted non-major winners.

Morikawa has already won two majors and much was expected of the 27-year-old in going forward. His play has fallen off – just one top ten and that came in the field-limited Sentry event to kick off the season.

Augusta is a second shot course and his prowess with his irons gives him a paper advantage. The train is ready to leave the station - will Morikawa be on it or stay behind?

 

Can DJ spin one more record this week?

Hard to imagine but the former world-number-one and 2020 Masters champion has become lost in the shadows. Dustin has two major wins but since leaving for LIV his standing in the game has diminished.

The 39-year-old is still capable of elite level play and this week would be an excellent forum to demonstrate that. Is there more music to be played by this DJ? This week will answer that.

(Niall Carson/PA)

Need a sleeper pick? Sahith Theegala?

Finished in the top ten in his debutante Masters in 2023. The former Pepperdine Star has four-top-tens this year including one at The Players Championship.

Quality short game and putter are never in short supply when dealing with the vexing putting surfaces at Augusta National.

 

Where is JT's head and golf game?

The 30-year-old opted to dump long-time veteran looper Jim "Bones" McKay in a last-minute situation that heads are still being scratched to figure out the rationale. Thomas is looking to show his name still matters but in the last twenty years only Patrick Reed was able to win the Masters after missing the cut the year prior.

Justin Thomas still has considerable game but the PGA Championship victory at Southern Hills in 2022 seems like light years ago.

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Is Ludvig Åberg ready?

Credit the Swede in demonstrating serious chops when turning professional late last year and making his mark quickly in winning on the PGA TOUR.

Augusta marks his first Masters and major – after having played on the winning Euro Ryder Cup team last year.

Åberg has shown no intimidation on the biggest of stages. The 24-year-old now faces the next challenge in what promises to be a career worth watching.

 

Will Finau and Young ever learn to truly putt well?

Tony Finau is an impressive tee-to-green player but when arriving on a putting green generally turns to mush. Cameron Young at 26 looks to have a number of quality years on the PGA TOUR but to date the solid ball striker has never won an event. Tied for seventh at last year's Masters, Young, like Finau, looks lost when stepping onto any green. Both need to show the flatstick is not Kryptonite.

Texas Children's Houston Open 2024 R2
Tony Finau (Moises Castillo/AP)

Can Lowry become Ireland's first Masters champion?

Most certainly. Many might scoff at the notion given the pedigree of Rory McIlroy, but do not underestimate the 37-year-old's golf skills.

Four straight top 25 finishes show a keen awareness level of what's needed at Augusta National. If he gets into the mix, he will not be so fast to leave the party.

 

What about Jordan Spieth?

Yes, Spieth has won at Augusta – but that was nine years ago. He could have successfully defended the title the next year until he threw up on himself when dunking two balls into Rae's Creek at the 12th.

Jordan has won three majors, but they are fading into the shadows – the last coming at The Open in 2017 and has had only two wins on the PGA TOUR in seven years.

A coming to life scenario is doable with six top-four finishes in ten Masters. Spieth has a number of serious question marks but personal grit remains an important attribute.

Byron Nelson - Jordan Spieth withdraws ahead of PGA Championship
(Steve Welsh/PA)

Will Cam Smith re-emerge?

Since winning The Open in 2022, the pathway for the gifted Aussie has been to make his next move via LIV membership.

Smith has played well at Augusta previously with four top tens including a shared runner-up slot in 2020. Now having turned 30 the focus will be to see if the form he displayed when winning The Open Championship in 2022 is alive and well.

 

Can Tiger Woods play 72 holes this week?

The five-time winner is making his first return to competitive golf since withdrawing from the Genesis Invitational because of the flu. Last year Woods tied the Masters record for most consecutive cuts made but then withdrew during the third round when horrid weather conditions made walking for him impossible.

Tiger has stated he is here to win. The reality says otherwise for the 48-year-old. 2024 marks five years since Woods captured his 15th major win here. Making the cut and completing 72 holes would be cause to celebrate.

Tiger Woods smiles
(Jason Getz/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Is a second major win coming for Hideki Matsuyama and Wyndham Clark?

The Japanese star won at Augusta in 2021. A steady performer and fully capable of handling the intense pressure that comes with being in contention.

He won the Genesis Invitational earlier this year and is on form coming into this year's Masters.

Wyndham Clark's U.S. Open win last year in Los Angeles elevated his standing considerably. Clark followed that up this year by winning the AT&T event at Pebble Beach with a course record 60 in the rain-shortened event.

Form has been consistent – runner-up finishes in the Bay Hill Invitational and Players could have resulted in wins in both cases but Scottie Scheffler outperformed everyone in the final round in each event. Like Matsuyama – Clark shows little fear when getting into contention although 2024 marks his first playing in the event.

Interestingly, Clark is ranked fourth in the world – the highest slot ever for a Masters rookie.

Can Will Zalatoris secure his first major this week?

And the last question goes to the golfer with the letter "Z" that starts his last name.

After being sidelined with back surgery in 2023 the return of Will Zalatoris was much anticipated.

The 27-year-old has already finished runner-up in a major three times. His recent play is now moving upwards but his face is one of several among the next generation of players seeking to break through.

Will Zalatoris
(Richard Sellers/PA)
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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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