AUGUSTA, Ga. — Masters week is finally here and there will be plenty of storylines in the first major championship of the season, which tees off Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club.
World No. 1 golfer Scottie Scheffler will try to become the first back-to-back winner at the Masters in more than two decades. Rory McIlroy will once again attempt to complete the career grand slam, and Tiger Woods will give it another go after making the cut for the 22nd straight time last year.
And, of course, there are 18 players from the LIV Golf League in the 88-player field for the 87th Masters. Six of them are past champions Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Charl Schwartzel and Bubba Watson, which might make for an interesting Champions Dinner on Tuesday night.
Given their surroundings this week, players from both tours figure to be on their best behavior. Keep your tees to yourselves, boys.
Here are the 88 players competing in the Masters, from those who can win to the amateurs:
Tier I: The guys who can win
Here are the legitimate contenders. They have the games, guts and nerves to handle four pressure-packed rounds on one of the most treacherous golf courses in the world.
He’s the defending Masters champion and has won more than anybody on the PGA Tour during the past 14 months. He’s attempting to become only the fourth back-to-back winner at Augusta National. The other guys were named Jack, Faldo and Tiger.
What’s the only thing you’ll hear more than “a tradition unlike any other” this week? The fact that McIlroy is trying to complete the career grand slam. He changed his driver and putter and reportedly needed only 19 putts during a practice round at Augusta. It’s time to get it done, Rory.
We can neither confirm nor deny Rory had 19 putts in a round at Augusta last week. pic.twitter.com/i7gs5JMtIL
— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) March 22, 2023
It could certainly be argued that Rahm has played better than Scheffler with five worldwide victories since November. He has four top-10s in six starts at Augusta National. Rahm cooled off a bit this season after the PGA Tour left the West Coast for the East Coast, but there are few deficiencies in his game.
A two-time major winner, Morikawa hasn’t picked up a victory since the 2021 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s. He’s one of the best ball strikers on the planet, but his putting is still a concern. He was solo fifth at the Masters last year.
The reigning Open Championship winner has finished in the top 10 in each of his past three starts at Augusta, including a tie for second in 2020 and a tie for third in 2022. Having played in only a handful tournaments since November like the rest of the invitees from the LIV Golf League, Smith’s readiness will be a concern. Still, he’s probably LIV Golf’s best hope of making things very uncomfortable on Sunday.
Homa has joined the PGA Tour’s elite with five victories since February 2021. His track record in majors hasn’t been great — his only top-20 in 12 starts as a pro was a tie for 13th at the 2022 PGA Championship — but his game seems tailor-made for Augusta National. He missed the cut in two of his past three starts at the Masters.
Finau has won three times on tour since July and typically plays well in the big events. He has 13 top-25s in 26 starts in majors, including three top-10s in five starts at the Masters. There’s a major championship victory coming for Finau soon, maybe even this week.
Schauffele came close to picking up his elusive first major at the Masters, tying for second in 2019 and for third in 2021. He’s more than capable of making a back-nine charge on Sunday. Schauffele will have to be more accurate off the tee, but everything else is there to win.
The 2015 Masters champion knows his way around the fabled course as well as anyone. Along with that victory, Spieth has four other finishes in the top three at Augusta. He missed the cut for the first time last year after he knocked two balls into Rae’s Creek on the par-3 12th hole.
Hovland finished 27th or better in both of his starts at Augusta, and his tie for fourth at the 150th Open at St. Andrews in July seemed to be a breakthrough in majors. The Norwegian player is great with a driver and irons in his hands, but will his putting and short game be good enough to win the Masters?
For the first time since August 2017, JT isn’t in the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking, ending a streak of 293 consecutive weeks. Last year, the former world No. 1 said being ranked eighth “pisses me off,” so being 11th should motivate him even more. He finished in the top 25 in each of his past six starts at Augusta, including a tie for eighth in 2022. He’ll have to putt better than he has this season to win.
Maybe DJ is so good that he’ll show up at Augusta National and simply flip on a switch — or maybe not. The 2020 Masters champion dominated LIV Golf in its inaugural season in 2022 but hasn’t played well so far this season.
In his first Masters appearance in 2020, Im became the first Asian player to finish runner-up. In 2022, he held the first-round lead and tied for eighth. Six of his 10 rounds at Augusta were under par.
Arguably one of the best players in the game without a major championship victory, Cantlay has only one top-five finish in a major — a tie for third at the 2019 PGA Championship. He missed the cut and tied for 39th in his past two Masters starts.
One would think a player who was runner-up in his first Masters start and tied for sixth in the other would be higher on the list. But Zalatoris is still scratching his way back from a back injury that sidelined him for more than four months. He tied for 11th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and was solo fourth at the Genesis but hasn’t done much else. He withdrew from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play because of illness.
The reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year is probably more than ready to shed the bridesmaid label. He was runner-up in five of his past 21 worldwide starts, including a loss in the finals at Match Play. He missed the cut in his first Masters start in 2022, but he tied for third at the PGA Championship and was solo second at the Open. His putting and short game will have to improve for him to contend at the Masters.
The 2021 Masters champion is still dealing with a neck injury, which seems to come and go. He pulled out of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play after two matches because of the injury. Matsuyama had just two top-10s in his first 12 starts this season.
Burns’ victory at the match-play event in Austin, Texas, was a reminder of how talented the guy is. Like Homa, Burns is still searching for the major-championship recipe to join the game’s truly elite. He doesn’t have a top-10 finish in 10 major starts. He missed the cut in his first appearance at the Masters in 2022.
After missing the Masters for the first time in 12 years in 2022, Day’s resurgence has him back in the field. He has six top-10s in 13 starts this season, including a tie for fifth at Match Play and solo fifth at the WM Phoenix Open. Day has three top-5s at Augusta, including a tie for second in 2011.
Conners and Smith are the only two golfers to record top-10s in each of the past three Masters. Conners, from Canada, tied for 10th in 2020, for eighth in 2021 and for sixth in 2022. His form hasn’t been great lately, especially his putting and short game, but Augusta National seems to bring out his best.
Lowry, the 2019 Open Championship winner at Royal Portrush, had a breakthrough at Augusta by tying for third last year. It was his third straight top-25 finish in the Masters. Lowry has a new caddie, Darren Reynolds, on his bag after parting ways with Brian Martin.
Tier II: If everything goes right
Here are the sleeper candidates to slip on a green jacket. The list features past champions and runners-up whose games have been works in progress this season. Will it all come together at Augusta?
A two-time Masters runner-up, Rose has held at least a share of the lead in eight rounds at the Masters, the highest total for any player who hasn’t won a green jacket. He finished in the top 25 in 13 of 17 starts, including a solo seventh in 2021. His victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February showed he has something left in the tank.
The 2018 Masters champion has two other top-10 finishes since then, tying for 10th in 2020 and eighth in 2021. He had just one round under par in LIV Golf’s first two events.
Hoge made the cut in his first Masters start last year, tying for 39th at 7 over. If Augusta National is truly a second-shot course, you’d have to like Hoge’s chances. He leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained: approach to green and is 24th in strokes gained: tee to green.
Augusta National has perplexed many first-timers, but Im and Zalatoris proved that rookies can play well. Kim, who has already won twice on tour, cooled off considerably in his past five starts.
The former University of Georgia star is making his first Masters start since 2019 when he tied for 43rd. He leads the tour in driving and has made a bigger commitment to his short game. His results have been solid this year.
Fleetwood seems to be on the verge of picking up his first victory on U.S. soil (he has nine worldwide wins), tying for fourth at the CJ Cup and for third at the Valspar Championship. He finished in the top 20 in three of his past five starts at the Masters, including a tie for 14th last year.
The reigning U.S. Open winner’s form hasn’t been great lately — he has just one top-10 finish in nine PGA Tour starts and has missed four cuts since February. He tied for 14th at the Masters last year, his second-best career finish.
Another player from the LIV Golf League, Niemann tied for 40th and for 35th in his first two Masters starts. He is Chile’s most successful golfer, having won twice on the PGA Tour.
After carding an 8-over 80 in the final round last year, Hatton called Augusta National “unfair at times” and said the course “doesn’t really suit my eye.” Hatton tied for 18th at the 2021 Masters but has otherwise struggled. He finished second at the Players and has played well for much of 2023.
Theegala is making his first Masters appearance after qualifying for the Tour Championship last season. His erratic accuracy off the tee might be a concern at Augusta.
Gooch tied for 14th in his first Masters start in 2022. Remember to bring your pants, Talor. Shorts might be allowed in the LIV Golf League but they’re a no-no at Augusta National.
Henley leads the tour in driving accuracy, but his iron play and putting haven’t been great this season. He tied for 11th at the Masters in 2017 and for 15th in 2018.
The Irishman tied for 27th in his first Masters appearance last year. He won the Butterfield Bermuda Championship in October and tied for third at Mayakoba.
Bradley doesn’t have a great track record at Augusta, with just one top-25 finish in six previous starts. His game is in good form, however, after winning the Zozo Championship in October and being the runner-up at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Pereira, from Chile, carried a lead to the 72nd hole at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills last year, so he’s obviously talented. He hasn’t played much since moving to LIV Golf, but he tied for sixth at the Saudi International.
Ancer, another LIV Golf player, missed the cut at the Masters last year. He tied for 13th in his debut in 2020 and for 26th the next year.
LPGA star Minjee Lee’s younger brother is making a name for himself. He tied for second at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and for sixth at the Players. Lee tied for 14th at the 2022 Masters, in which his sister caddied for him during the Par 3 Contest.
Kim has three top-25 finishes in six previous starts at the Masters, including a tie for 12th in 2021. He famously broke his putter when he slammed it into the turf and bent the shaft in 2021. He was still tied for sixth after the round.
Na, captain of the LIV Golf League’s Iron Heads GC, has put together an impressive string of three straight top-15 finishes at the Masters: a tie for 13th in 2020, for 12th in 2021 and for 14th in 2022.
Tier III: Hey, miracles happen
They are the long shots. This tier includes aging former champions, a few players struggling with their form and a few first-timers.
HVIII had quite a debut at the Masters last year when he was inside the top 10 after each of the first two rounds. An 8-over 80 on Saturday ruined his chances, but he rebounded to card a 3-under 69 on Sunday.
The 2013 Masters champion hasn’t played very well this season and finished outside the top 30 in four of his past five Masters starts.
Kokrak, who joined the LIV Golf League, tied for 14th at the 2022 Masters. He made the first ace of the Par 3 Contest on the fourth hole.
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 6, 2022
Schwartzel, an unlikely Masters champion in 2011, has quietly put together three straight finishes in the top 26, including a tie for 10th last year. The South African player was solo third in 2017.
It has been a seven-year wait for Kirk to get back to the Masters. He qualified by winning the Honda Classic in February. Kirk, who lives about 100 miles from Augusta, missed the cut in his latest start in 2016.
The four-time major champion used to show up to majors and bully his way onto the leaderboard. In his first season with LIV Golf, his body seemed to be breaking down and his confidence seemed to be at an all-time low. He didn’t even crack the top 25 in the first two LIV Golf events but won the individual championship in Orlando. He missed the cut in each of his past two Masters starts.
English got progressively better in his first three Masters starts, going from a missed cut to a tie for 42nd to a tie for 21st. He has been up and down after a prolonged layoff because of hip surgery, but there have been bright spots with a tie for 12th at the Genesis and for second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Another first-timer, Kitayama showed quite a bit of mettle in winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first tour victory. He also reached the quarterfinals of match play.
Fox, from New Zealand, finished in the top 30 in each of his first three tour starts this season. His father, Grant, was a rugby player for the All Blacks, and his grandfather, Merv Wallace, was a renowned cricketer.
The five-time Masters champion’s health and durability are going to be concerns anytime he tees it up, but he made the cut and finished 47th in his return to competitive golf at the 2022 Masters. It was his first start in 508 days after suffering serious injuries in a car wreck in February 2021. The good news for Tiger: The weather forecast is a lot warmer than a year ago, when cold temperatures wreaked havoc on his body over the weekend.
Harman’s form hasn’t been great as of late, but he’s capable of putting together four good rounds at Augusta. He tied for 12th after carding 3 under in each of the first two rounds in 2021.
Horschel has been one of the better players on tour the past few seasons but admits Augusta National has baffled him. In eight previous starts, he has never carded a round in the 60s. He shot 70 five times.
There was a time when the only thing more certain than pollen being in the air at Augusta was Oosthuizen on the leaderboard at a major championship. Not so much anymore. Last year, he withdrew from the Masters after the first round because of an undisclosed injury, tied for 60th at the PGA Championship and missed the cut at the U.S. Open and The Open.
The immensely talented player from Belgium shared the second-round lead and tied for fourth in his Masters debut in 2017. He missed the cut in his past two starts, in 2018 and 2022.
The 2022-23 season has been a bit of a struggle for Poston, a two-time winner on tour. He has played better of late, tying for 10th at the Valspar Championship and for ninth at Match Play.
Meronk, a two-time winner on the DP World Tour, will become the first player from Poland to compete in the Masters. He says he will “try my best to grow golf as big as possible” in his native country and might actually mean it.
Hughes won the Sanderson Farms Championship in October and reached the quarterfinals of Match Play. He and fellow Canadian Mike Weir were co-winners of the rain-shortened Par 3 Contest last year.
After winning his first major at the 2017 Masters, Garcia missed the cut in each of the next three tournaments. He tied for 23rd last year.
The Masters has been feast or famine for the unexpected 2016 champion. He missed the cut in four of his past six starts, tied for 25th in 2020 and for 12th last year.
It’s difficult to know what to expect from the two-time Masters champion. He missed much of last season while recovering from a knee injury and has made only four starts since the PGA Championship in May. He has missed the cut in only one of his previous 14 starts at Augusta.
The Austrian-born player had a successful debut at the Masters in 2022, tying for 30th. He hasn’t done much since losing in a playoff to Mackenzie Hughes at the Sanderson Farms Championship in October.
Tier IV: Happy to make the cut
They aren’t expected to be among the contenders unless something magical happens. Some know-it-all probably said the same things about Danny Willett, Charl Schwartzel and Trevor Immelman before they unexpectedly won, too.
DeChambeau once boasted of playing Augusta National as a par-67 course, but he’s struggling to break par in the LIV Golf League. Since making that bold statement in November 2020, DeChambeau has tied for 34th, tied for 46th and missed the cut at the Masters.
Kisner is going through one of the more difficult stretches of his career and changed swing coaches and equipment. He made the cut in five of his seven Masters starts.
The 2019 U.S. Open winner hasn’t enjoyed much success at Augusta National, missing the cut in five of his past seven starts. He tied for 32nd in 2019 and for 40th in 2021.
Lee, a two-time winner of the AT&T Byron Nelson, missed the cut in his first Masters start last year.
The Canadian player punched his first ticket to the Masters by winning the RSM Classic in November. It will be his first start in a major championship.
Moore earned a Masters invitation by claiming his first tour victory at the Valspar Championship on March 19. It was his 46th career start.
The story of Stallings’ invitation being sent to another man in Georgia with the same name might get the most ink and air time the entire week.
Noren is a 10-time winner on the DP World Tour, most recently in 2018, but he has missed the cut in nearly half of his 32 appearances in majors.
It has been quite a fall for Molinari since he carried a 2-stroke lead into the final round and lost to Woods in 2019. The Italian player hasn’t won since and has fallen to 125th in the OWGR.
Higa, who has won six times on the Japan Golf Tour, including four in 2022, is making his first Masters start with a special invitation. He finished first in Japan’s Order of Merit last season and is 81st in the OWGR.
This season has been forgettable for the long-hitting Champ, who missed the cut in eight of his first 10 tour starts. He’ll look to rekindle the magic at Augusta, where he tied for 10th last year.
Tier V: Past champions
They’re here only because they own green jackets and earned the right to come back and play, but their days of competing are in the rearview mirror.
The three-time Masters champion returns to Augusta National after missing last year’s tournament for the first time since 1994. Mickelson, 52, finished 27th and 32nd, respectively, in the LIV Golf League’s first two events. “Lefty” missed the cut in each of his past three starts in majors.
Johnson, who claimed a green jacket in 2007, is still capable of putting together a good week, like his tie for 12th at the Honda Classic. His best golf is behind him, however, as he prepares to captain the U.S. team in the Ryder Cup in Rome in September.
Even at 65, the two-time Masters champion keeps winning tournaments. He has won three times on the PGA Tour Champions since February 2022. Langer tied for 29th in the 2020 Masters and this will be his 40th start at Augusta National.
Weir, the first left-hander and Canadian player to win a green jacket, in 2003, has made the cut only once since 2015, tying for 51st in 2020.
The 1992 Masters champion last made the cut in 2018 when he tied for 38th. Couples, 63, picked up his 14th PGA Tour Champions victory in October.
Singh, the 2000 Masters champion, will be making his 30th start in the tournament. He last made the cut when he finished 49th in 2018.
The two-time Masters winner had one of the greatest stretches in the tournament’s history, finishing in the top 15 a whopping 13 times from 1989 to 2006.
The 1987 Masters champion, who was born in Augusta and worked a scoreboard at the tournament as a teenager, is expected to make his 40th start. Two years ago, he carded a 2-under 70 in the first round, his lowest round since 2009.
On the 35th anniversary of his stunning 1988 Masters victory, in which he made birdie from a fairway bunker on the 18th hole to beat Mark Calcavecchia by 1 stroke, Lyle might be making his last start in the tournament. Lyle, 65, recently confirmed his retirement from PGA Tour Champions.
Tier VI: Amateurs
They’re the new kids in the Crow’s Nest and the most talented (and most fortunate) amateur players in the world. They’re trying to do what Ryan Moore (tied for 13th in 2005), Hideki Matsuyama (27th in 2011) and Bryson DeChambeau (21st in 2016) did before turning pro.
Sargent, a Vanderbilt sophomore, is the first amateur to receive a special invitation to the Masters since 2000. Last year, he became the first freshman since 2007 to win an NCAA individual title. He is the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world.
The Texas A&M star won the 2022 U.S. Amateur at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey. He is the sixth-ranked amateur in the world.
Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira
Oliveira, who is from Argentina and plays at Arkansas, earned an invitation by winning the Latin American Amateur Championship in January. He scored a record total of 23 under par.
The South African player became the second-youngest winner of the 127-year-old British Amateur Championship when he won at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in June.
The Australian player claimed the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand in October to earn a spot in the field.
The Georgia Southern star was runner-up to Bennett at the 2022 U.S. Amateur. He is playing a fifth season for the Eagles this year.
McClean, from Northern Ireland, won the 2022 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Erin Hills in Wisconsin. He works as an optometrist in Belfast.
Editor’s note: If the winner of the Valero Texas Open hasn’t already qualified for the Masters, he would be added to the field.