Golf’s first major championship of 2023 sees the best players in the world gather at Augusta National for the time-honoured tradition that is the Masters.
It has been a tumultuous 12 months for the sport with past Masters champions such as Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson joining the Saudi-backed LIV Golf breakaway tour.
There could be a tense atmosphere, but tournament organisers will hope the quality of golf and Augusta’s picturesque beauty commands fans’ attention this April.
When is it?
The tournament proper starts on Thursday April 6 with the final round on Sunday April 9. However, preparations will begin in earnest on the Monday when players arrive to play practice rounds.
In an annual tradition, there is a light-hearted Wednesday competition on the par-three course. No player has ever won the Par-3 Contest and gone on to win the Masters, a ‘curse’ that is now part of tournament legend.
Where is it?
Augusta National Golf Club, located in the north east of the US state of Georgia close to the border with South Carolina and the Savannah River.
Augusta National is one of the most private and exclusive golf clubs in the world. There are only 300 or so members, among them Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Peyton Manning. The only way to play the course is by invitation of a member.
There is a more pernicious side to the club’s so-called exclusivity, though. Augusta did not permit an African American member until 1990, while there were no female members until 2012 when Condoleezza Rice joined.
Aside from the storied golf course, Augusta is also known as the former home of ‘Godfather of Soul’ James Brown, who is commemorated with a downtown statue.
What is the prize money?
Last year’s Masters purse totalled more than £12 million, with winner Scottie Scheffler taking home a check for around £2.1 million.
That makes the Masters one of the most lucrative golf tournaments in the world, although the sums on offer pale in comparison to the exorbitant riches of LIV Golf.
Last year’s No 1 player on the LIV series – Dustin Johnson – took home more than £28 million in prize money alone. Reports state that Johnson’s signing-on fee for joining LIV was well in excess of £100 million.
Who has qualified?
Technically speaking, players receive an invite to play in the Masters. Unlike the US Open or the Open Championship, there is no ‘open’ qualification process as such.
All in all, there are 19 different ways to make sure an envelope from Augusta drops through your letterbox. The simplest way is to be in the top 50 of the World Rankings on January 1.
All previous Masters champions can play, should they choose to take up the invitation, as well as those players who finished in the top 12 of the previous year’s renewal.
Any player who won a major or a fully-sanctioned PGA Tour event the previous season will also book their place for Augusta. One player who has done just that is Justin Rose, thanks to his victory at Pebble Beach in February.
The same goes for any player who achieved a top four finish in any of the previous season’s majors.
Any player in the world’s top 50 the week before the Masters who has not qualified by any other measure will also be exempt.
The rest of the field is made up of the winners of the amateur game’s most distinguished events. The Masters is a smaller field than the other three majors, with around 90 players usually in attendance.
How can I get Masters tickets?
Those wanting a golden ticket to watch the Masters will need to apply for a ticket via the official channels for the following year.
You can apply for practice day tickets, tournament tickets or both. Applicants are then entered into a ballot and they will find out if they have been successful in July.
Tournament day tickets cost around £112 plus any shipping or handling costs. Food and drink at the course is subsidized and surprisingly good value with a large imported beer costing less than £5.
How can I watch on TV?
Viewers in the US will watch the Masters on ESPN and CBS. Augusta are quite strict with how much coverage they permit, with full coverage beginning at 1pm Eastern Time on the first few days. There will be more coverage across the weekend.
In the UK, there is exclusive live coverage on Sky Sports Golf and Sky Sports Main Event. On Thursday and Friday, full coverage will begin at 8pm GMT when the global broadcast window opens, but there will be coverage of featured groups and selected holes via the red button from 2pm.
The global broadcast window begins at 7.30pm on Saturday and 6.30pm on Sunday, but there will be some coverage from 3pm in the afternoon.
Who are past winners?
Who are the players to watch and what are the odds?
Rory McIlroy (7/1)
McIlroy has been playing the most consistent golf of his career, and won his first tournament of 2023 in Dubai which bodes well.
The Northern Irishman has not won a major since the 2014 PGA Championship, but is knocking loudly at the door after finishing in the top eight of all four majors last year.
The Masters is the only major that McIlroy is yet to win, meaning he is chasing the career grand slam, a feat achieved by Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
Despite not winning at Augusta, McIlroy boasts a very strong record there with seven top-10 finishes. His long driving and high ball flight suits the layout, as does his glorious iron play.
Jon Rahm (7/1)
The Spaniard’s victory at Riviera was his fifth title in nine worldwide starts and saw him reclaim the No 1 spot in the world rankings. Arguably, nobody has played better golf since Tiger Woods was in his prime.
Rahm has no obvious weakness and if the putter behaves then he could take some beating. Some worried about his fiery temperament on the toughest tests, but he seems able to channel his passion in the right way.
Rahm has four top-10s in six Masters appearances, and will be inspired by the fact compatriots Seve Ballesteros, José Maria Olazábal and Sergio Garcia are past champions.
Scottie Scheffler (12/1)
The defending champion, who cruised to victory during a rich vein of form at Augusta last year.
Recorded strong finishes at the BMW and Tour Championship in the FedEx Cup play-offs, and successfully defended his Phoenix Open title this month to return to the top of the world rankings. His putting has proved a source of frustration.
Cameron Smith (14/1)
Last year’s Open winner, and the LIV rebel most likely to trouble the engravers at Augusta.
The Australian is a demon putter with a killer short game, and he loves the track. Smith has recorded three top-five finishes in his last five Masters appearances, and seven of his last 12 rounds at Augusta have been in the 60s.
No doubt about his talent or suitability, but will LIV players be properly prepared?
Justin Thomas (14/1)
A two-time major champion, the most recent of which came at Southern Hills in last year’s PGA Championship, and Thomas certainly has the talent to add to that rally.
Like McIlroy, his ability to send iron shots into orbit suits Augusta and there is no lack of power off the tee. His putting can be a little streaky, but capable of shooting the lights out when he is on.
Surely a Masters winner in-waiting, but we have said that every year without success.
Collin Morikawa (18/1)
Another stellar iron player with two majors to his name, Morikawa has started 2023 with three top-six finishes in four starts.
Morikawa rediscovered his natural left-to-right fade late last year, and the claim that Augusta only yields to those who draw the ball is over-stated. Went close to an victory early in 2023, but was edged out by Max Homa at Torrey Pines.
Finished fifth in last year’s Masters after a five-under par final round alongside McIlroy.
Jordan Spieth (18/1)
The 2015 Masters champion has a formidable Augusta record. After finishes of tied-second, first and tied-second on his first three appearances, Spieth looked like threatening Jack Nicklaus’ record tally of six green jackets.
He has not quite recovered from his 2016 collapse though, when he blew a four-shot lead with nine to play. There have been two top-three finishes since, but no second green jacket.
Exceptionally gifted around the greens with tremendous powers of recovery, but can be erratic from tee to green. Putter has also cooled in the last few years.
Dustin Johnson (20/1)
Won his first green jacket at the highly unusual November Masters in 2020, but moved over to LIV Golf last year. He finished as the rebel tour’s number one player, but will he be tuned up for Augusta?