Rory McIlroy’s quest headlines some intriguing storylines ahead of the Masters - Hindustan Times
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Rory McIlroy’s quest headlines some intriguing storylines ahead of the Masters

ByJoy Chakravarty
Apr 08, 2024 04:51 PM IST

Ahead of the 2024 edition, here are some of the storylines that should keep you interested until the final putt drops at Holly…

It’s here. The second week of April. All eyes will be trained on goings-on in a small, usually sleepy, town in Georgia as the most awaited seven days in golf play out.

Apr 7, 2024; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland walks down the fairway after hitting a tee shot on the tenth hole during the final round of the Valero Texas Open golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports(USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con)
Apr 7, 2024; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland walks down the fairway after hitting a tee shot on the tenth hole during the final round of the Valero Texas Open golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports(USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con)

Of course, we are talking the Masters. The first major championship of the year. Come Sunday, and one player will walk away with the Green Jacket and immediately elevate his career to legendary status.

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I have often been asked why Masters, the youngest of the four men’s major championships and one with the smallest field, has become the most aspirational title for most golfers. It really is the magic of Augusta National Golf Club course. It is the only major that is played at the same venue every year, and that adds to the charm. Most golfers, and fans, know what to expect on each hole. And yet, such is the timeless design of Dr Alister MacKenzie, the course continues to befuddle the sport’s finest.

Ahead of the 2024 edition, here are some of the storylines that should keep you interested until the final putt drops at Holly, the 18th hole of Augusta National…

Another year, another McIlroy attempt: It doesn’t seem fair that the repeated failure of probably one of the greatest golfers of our generation to win the only major championship that keeps him away from a career grand slam becomes the spotlight story every year we head to the Masters. But that’s the price Rory McIlroy must pay for being that good.

The Northern Ireland star, ranked No2 in the world, has continued to change his approach as he heads to the tournament. This year, he even enlisted the help of Tiger Woods’ former coach Butch Harmon, and increased his workload before the Masters. It included playing last week’s Valero Texas Open, where he recorded his first top-10 of the year on the PGA Tour.

Whether it pays off in the form of a fifth major win, his first since the 2014 PGA Championship, remains to be seen.

Another ‘comeback’ for Tiger: The good news is that Tiger Woods’ last withdrawal from a PGA Tour event – at the Genesis Invitational in February – wasn’t because of any injury-related issue. He suffered from the ‘flu at Riviera, was severely dehydrated and needed on-course medical attention.

And yet, it put a dent into his plans to play at least one tournament every month. The only tournament he has now played since the Masters last year is the Hero World Challenge in the first week of December. That would put a serious question mark on the match fitness of the 15-time major champion. Having said that, probably the only person with a better knowledge of tackling Augusta National than Woods is Jack Nicklaus.

Rahm’s title defence: Jon Rahm has already delivered a winner at the Masters this year. His Spanish-themed menu for the Champions Dinner has proved a huge hit, especially his ‘Mama Rahm’s Special Lentil Stew’, an ode to his grandmom’s cooking.

Having said that, Rahm does not look like the Superman he was last year, when he drove down the Magnolia Lane in blazing form with three PGA Tour wins and his triumph at the DP World Tour Championship in the lead-up to the tournament. Now a member of LIV Golf, he has been in contention several times this year, but a win has not yet materialised.

Scheffler and his Happy Feet: People keep talking about the ‘shuffling feet’ of Scottie Scheffler’s golf swing and how he looks out of balance many times, but the fact of the matter is, he just can’t put a foot wrong. After all, the 2022 champion is the world No1 and has two wins and seven top-10s in eight starts this year.

Purely based on form, no player will be more heavily favoured at Augusta National this year than the always-smiling Texan. In his last three starts, Scheffler has two wins and a tied second.

The LIV Golf angle: With 13 of the 89 players in the field this week from LIV Golf, including special invitee Joaquin Niemann, it will once again strengthen the case of why the Saudi-backed League deserves a justifiable place in the world of golf.

Defending champion Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed were among the top-six players in the tournament last year. Even if a couple of them finish inside the top-10, it would renew all talks about how unfair it is that they are kept away from the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR).

The rookies keep getting better: Among the rookies this year, we have Swedish phenomenon Ludvig Aberg and American Akshay Bhatia, who secured his place on Sunday by winning the Valero Texas Open. Quite famously, the intricacies of Augusta National makes it a tough nut to crack for the first-timers and Fuzzy Zoeller was the last player to win on his debut in 1979.

However, Aberg has been sensational, having risen to No9 in the OWGR and playing a Ryder Cup before making his first major start. And the in-form Bhatia has the benefit of being a southpaw, which somehow makes it easier to handle the golf course.

THE WEEK THAT WAS:

PGA TOUR

Tournament: Valero Texas Open

Winner: Akshay Bhatia (USA), beating Denny McCarthy on first playoff hole

Winner’s scores: 63-70-68-67 (20-under par)

Prize fund/Winner’s Cheque: USD9.2 million/USD1.656 million

Top Indian: None in the field

Results

Report

 

LIV Golf

Tournament: LIV Golf Miami

Individual Winner: Dean Burmester (RSA/Stingers GC), beating Sergio Garcia (ESP/Fireballs GC) in second playoff hole

Winner’s scores: 68-69-68 (11-under par)

Team champions: Legion XIII (22-under)

Prize fund/Winner’s Cheque: USD25 million/USD4 million

Indian score: Anirban Lahiri 36th (72-70-77)

Results

Report

 

DP WORLD TOUR

Tournament: No event last week

 

ASIAN TOUR

Tournament: No event last week

 

LPGA

Tournament: T-Mobile Match Play

Winner: Nelly Korda (USA) beat Leona Maguire (IRE)

Scores: 4&3

Prize fund/Winner’s Cheque: USD2 million/USD300,000

Top Indian scores: Aditi Ashok T62 (75-78-77)

Results

Report

 

PGTI

Tournament: Nissan presents Chandigarh Open

Winner: Gaganjeet Bhullar

Winner’s scores: 67-67-65-68 (21-under par)

Prize fund/Winner’s Cheque: INR1 crore/INR15 lakh

Top five scores: Angad Cheema 2nd (66-67-66-72); Yashas Chandra 3rd (67-66-68-72); Abhinav Lohan 4th (71-67-67-68); Karandeep Kochhar T5th (65-72-70-68); Michele Ortolani (ITA) T5th (64-71-73-69); Khalin Joshi T5th (64-71-69-71); Amardeep Malik T5th (68-69-68-70); Rahil Gangjee T5th (68-68-67-72); Sunhit Bishnoi T5th (66-70-68-71)

Results

Report

 

LADIES EUROPEAN TOUR

Tournament: Australian Women’s Classic

Winner: Nicole Broch Estrup (DEN), Pei-Ying Tsai (TPE), Jess Whitting (AUS) – declared joint winners after tournament reduced to just 18 holes following heavy rainfall

Winner’s scores: 66 (6-under par)

Prize fund/Winner’s Cheque: Eur300,000/USD385,000

Top Indian scores: Pranavi Urs T23rd (70)

Results

Report

 

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