Golf's new generation set to conquer Augusta

86th Masters starts today

Masters 2022 – New generation

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

AUGUSTA, GA. Coming into the men’s first major event in 2022 the nonstop chatter has centered on two past titans of the sport.

First, it was on three-time green jacket winner Phil Mickelson. Lefty’s absence from Augusta for the first time since 1994 was even addressed by Masters chairman Fred Ridley during his annual Wednesday press conference. Ridley stated Phil had not been disinvited but opted to sit out this year’s event voluntarily. Interestingly, the communication between the two was via text and Phil has since gone dark in regards to when he might return to competitive golf, and whether his self-imposed sabbatical was simply voluntary or mandated by a PGA Tour suspension for non-flattering comments made regarding the operations of the Tour.

Masters 2022 – New generation

But the far larger story came with the re-emergence of Tiger Woods at a location where he has won five times — the most recent coming in 2019 ending an 11-year drought in claiming a major title.

The 46-year-old Woods set off a tidal wave of excitement when he played Monday in a practice round. The gallery in attendance swarmed to see the 15-time major champ play the role of the piped piper with countless patrons traversing the verdant green fairways of Augusta National Golf Club to catch a glimpse.

Justin Thomas (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Masters 2022 – New generation

Woods had long downplayed a return to competitive golf until he felt his game, and more importantly his health, returned to a level from which he could again believe he can compete against the best players in the world. The desire to see Tiger play again has created a fever pitch of excitement not seen since the likes of another 46-year-old did similarly in 1986 when winning his final major — Jack Nicklaus.

But no matter the enthusiasm it must be soberly tempered by the fact that Woods has been on the sideline for such a prolonged period of time — the last time coming at the November 2020 Masters. And there’s no way to possibly fathom what his game will be like when he tees off at 10:34 AM with Louis Oosthuizen and Joaquin Neimann.

Masters 2022 – New generation

Niemann’s pairing with Tiger showcases just one of several rising stars as the 23-year-old Chilean won the Genesis Invitational this past February and has risen to 20th in the world rankings after starting the year 31st.

But Neimann’s rise is exceeded by several others who have served notice they are now the next generation of golf’s dominant class of players. The bigger question mark remains to be answered – who among them can see it through until the green jacket at the 86th Masters is draped around their shoulders? 

Scottie Scheffler

Masters 2022 – New generation

World ranked number one Scottie Scheffler has had a phenomenal season to date with three wins — the most recent coming in the WGC Dell Technologies Match-Play event just a few weeks ago. 

Prior to 2022, the Texan had never won on the PGA Tour but his promise of stardom came front and center during last Fall’s Ryder Cup matches when the 25-year-old simply obliterated then world number one Jon Rahm in the final day’s singles matches 4&3 and earning a 2-0-1 overall record.

In his blossoming career Scheffler has only played in a handful of majors but the results have shown quality play with top ten placements in the last three majors from 2021. A break thru win at Augusta would only reinforce what those who have followed him closely have long believed — that he is fully capable in taking his game to even higher heights.

Jon Rahm

Masters 2022 - New generation
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Masters 2022 – New generation

Although Rahm lost his perch as the world’s top player, the 27-year-old is still a formidable force as the number two player on the planet. The Spaniard played well at Whistling Straits before Scheffler snuffed him out and while his game this year has featured close calls at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and Farmers Insurance events, the reigning U.S. Open champion is totally capable in joining three others from Spain who have won at Augusta — Seve Ballesteros, José María Olazábal and Sergio Garcia.

Justin Thomas

Masters 2022 – New generation

In the 7th position of the world rankings is American Justin Thomas. The 2017 PGA Championship winner previously held the top spot in the world rankings and has won 14 times on the PGA Tour. 

The key for the 28-year-old is showing if his game can reach even higher heights and none would be higher than victory at Augusta. 

The Kentuckian has never missed the cut in six previous events with his best finish being fourth in 2020.  His last win came at the 2021 Players Championship and a return to the winner’s circle is overdue.

Collin Morikawa

Masters 2022 - New generation
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Masters 2022 – New generation

Among the under-30 stars none has done more in such a brief time than Collin Morikawa. The 25-year-old has won five times on the PGA Tour but two of those wins have been in major events — the 2020 PGA Championship and the 2021 Open Championship.

His consistency of play in big events has been clearly front and center with two other top ten placements in the 2021 majors — at the PGA Championship and U.S. Open.

Morikawa’s iron play is the best on the PGA Tour but questions on the consistency of his putting will be tested on the rolling contours at Augusta National.

A win at the Masters would mean victory in three of the four key events before his 27th birthday.

Patrick Cantlay

Masters 2022 – New generation

The only profiled player to reach 30 years of age — Cantlay has shown the capacity to win under difficult circumstances as he did when he won at the BMW event in a six-hole playoff over Bryson DeChambeau as well as capping the 2021 season off with a win at The Tour Championship and earning PGA Tour Player-of-the-Year honors.

A seven-time winner on the PGA Tour, Cantlay is now ranked 5th in the world. 

With just two top ten finishes in majors to date, the issue for Patrick is now adding a major title to his growing portfolio of wins. That time is now.

Cameron Smith

Masters 2022 – New generation

The 28-year-old Aussie provided a clear message on his overall game when taking The Players Championship in March. 

He won earlier in the year at the Sentry in Hawaii and his skills have been on display at major events with a total of three top finishes in four years at Augusta — including a tie for second in 2020.

While Adam Scott became the first from Down Under to win a green jacket, the very real possibility exists the 6th ranked player in the world may be the second to do so.

Viktor Hovland

Masters 2022 - New generation
(Jeff Haynes/USGA)

Masters 2022 – New generation

The Norwegian has been a part of the golfing scene since his stirring triumph at the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach. The 24-year-old has won three times on the PGA Tour and his game has shown increasing consistency.

What’s missing from his vitae is a top ten finish in a major championship.  The 4th ranked player needs to show his game is at home when the biggest events come calling. 

Sam Burns

Masters 2022 – New generation

If there’s a player who could assume the role og golf’s “invisible man” it is Sam Burns. The 11th ranked player has been a consistent presence with three PGA Tour wins — the latest coming just a few weeks ago when defending his title at the Valspar Championship. 

Burns does not have a top ten placement in any major but the 25-year-old has shown a desire to raise his game to an even higher plateau. This week’s Masters will expose whether he is able to hit the launch pad in a big time way.

Xander Schauffele

Masters 2022 - New generation
(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Masters 2022 – New generation

The 2021 Golf Medal winner is 28 years old but it seems Schauffele’s presence at the highest levels of professional golf has been going on for some time. The four-time PGA Tour winner has been a steady force in previous major championships with nine top 10 finishes.

In 2021, Xander fought back from a huge deficit to Hideki Matsuyama and when he arrived at the 16th the Masters title was in clearly in reach. Unfortunately, Schauffele rinsed his tee shot at the par-3 16th and settled for a tie for third.

This year’s event could be the one in which he sees matters all the way through.

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