2024 Masters Preview: 24 Storylines, Including Rory McIlroy’s Pursuit of the Grand Slam

2024 Masters Preview: 24 Storylines, Including Rory McIlroy’s Pursuit of the Grand Slam article feature image

Via Brennan Asplen/Getty Images. Pictured: Rory McIlroy.

2024 Masters Preview: 24 Storylines

1. Will Scottie Scheffler Gain Strokes With His Putter?

Scheffler leads the PGA Tour this season in Strokes Gained (SG): Total and SG: Approach by wide margins, and he also ranks fourth on Tour in both SG: Off the Tee and SG: Around the Green. He is undoubtedly the best player in the world because he is elite at everything except putting.

If his flatstick shows up at Augusta National Golf Club, Scheffler will likely win, potentially in blowout fashion. After gaining strokes putting in each of his last three starts since switching to a mallet putter, Scheffler is now narrowly into positive SG: Putting for the season as he ranks 97th on Tour.

In those last three starts, Scheffler won a thriller at THE PLAYERS Championship, ran away and hid from the field at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and finished a six-footer on the 72nd hole of the Houston Open away from a playoff with Stephan Jaeger.

Jon Rahm entered the 2023 Masters as the hottest golfer in the world and claimed the green jacket. Will Scheffler’s putter allow him to do the same this year?

2. Can Rory McIlroy Finally Get It Done?

It’s been 10 years since Rory McIlroy won his last major championship, the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club, and the PGA Championship returns to Valhalla next month for the first time since his win.

Nonetheless, McIlroy is clearly focused on winning the Masters Tournament to become the sixth male golfer to complete the modern career grand slam (Bobby Jones also completed the original grand slam as an amateur). The pressure continues to mount in his 16th chance at Augusta National this week at 11-1 odds as of Wednesday afternoon at bet365.

McIlroy has been a staple on the first page of the leaderboard at Augusta over the last decade with seven top-10 finishes over the last 10 Masters Tournaments. McIlroy enters with momentum after finishing third at the Valero Texas Open, which was his first top-10 finish on the PGA Tour in 2024. While he has struggled on approach so far this season, his approach play this week was sublime, as Justin Ray contextualized on X:

His 3.7 strokes gained approach today are his most in any single PGA Tour round since Sunday of the 2022 Canadian Open when he shot 62.

— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) April 7, 2024

3. Does Koepka Add Another Major?

Brooks Koepka passed McIlroy in major championships won last summer with his fifth major victory at the PGA Championship, but he needs two more legs (the Masters and The Open Championship) to complete the career grand slam.

Koepka held the 36 and 54-hole leads at the Masters last season but stumbled to a final-round 75 as he tied for second. This was the second time that Koepka has tied for second at the Masters after finishing second behind Tiger Woods in 2019 as well.

Since 2017, Koepka has finished with multiple top-six finishes at major championships in five of seven years – the only exceptions being 2020 (when he did not play in the U.S. Open and The Open Championship was not held) and 2022 (when he was battling back from injury and wasn’t playing anywhere near his best golf).

When Koepka has been at full strength and there have been four majors in a given year, he has been consistently at the top of major championship leaderboards. Will that continue this year?

Remarkably, Koepka has more major victories (five) than non-major PGA Tour wins (four) and will continue to do so unless a LIV-PGA Tour merger happens down the line. As a result, it’s tough to make too much of Koepka unremarkable LIV Golf results so far in 2024, as he has just one top-10 finish this season (a T5 at Mayakoba) and is coming off of a poor showing at LIV Miami this weekend when he finished T45 (out of 54 golfers).

4. Will a Star Break Through With His First Major?

The golfers at the forefront of this conversation include Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Viktor Hovland, Tony Finau, Sam Burns and Max Homa. Hovland got himself in the mix in the first two majors of 2023 and finished in the top 20 in all four major championships last year when he went on to win the FedExCup. Otherwise, the rest of these four have underwhelmed expectations in recent majors. 

Will one of them break through and change the narrative surrounding their careers this week?

6. What Should We Expect From Phil Mickelson?

Phil Mickelson finished with a backdoor tie for second at last year’s Masters Tournament thanks to a final-round 65 that left him four shots behind Rahm. Mickelson hasn't had a top-five finish on any tour since then and only has finished better than 30th once in five LIV Golf starts this season (a T6 at LIV Jeddah).

That tie for second was Mickelson’s first top 15 at Augusta since he tied for second in 2015. Does Mickelson have one more run at Augusta left?

7. Will LIV Golfers Excel at the Masters Again?

Among the top-six golfers at the Masters last year, three (Phil Mickelson T2, Brooks Koepka T2 and Patrick Reed T4) were on LIV Golf at the time, and green-jacket winner Jon Rahm has since joined the league.

There is clearly a selection bias among LIV golfers since many were chosen because of their past success at Augusta National. Past Masters champions and recent major winners are exempt for future Masters Tournaments, but other LIV golfers may need a top-12 (and ties) finish to qualify for next year at Augusta.

8. Do the PGA Tour’s Struggling Stars Find Form?

Rory McIlroy (41), Justin Thomas (56), Collin Morikawa (69), Patrick Cantlay (93), Sungjae Im (115) and Viktor Hovland (119) are among the bigger names on the PGA Tour who ranked outside of the top 40 on Tour in 2024 in Strokes Gained: Total entering Sunday.

Will Augusta National help bring out the best in their games, or will they keep searching for their form?

9. Is It Max Homa's Time to Contend at a Major?

Max Homa has become a fan favorite, but the six-time PGA Tour winner has yet to contend at a major championship in 17 tries. His tie for 10th at last July’s The Open Championship was his best result to date in a major, but he was still nine strokes behind Champion Golfer of the Year Brian Harman.

Reigning U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark had never finished in the top 75 of a major in six starts before winning at Los Angeles Country Club last year. Could Homa do something similar at Augusta this year given that a tie for 43rd is his best result in four tries here?

10. Does Tiger’s Body Hold Up?

The last time the golf world saw Tiger Woods, he was being escorted off of Riviera in a golf cart following his withdrawal due to illness.

He noted that he wanted to play once per month in 2024 but surprised some when he decided not to make another start before the Masters. There was some speculation that he would play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational or THE PLAYERS Championship but to no avail.

Woods was +2 for the tournament when he withdrew with 12 holes remaining in his second round as he was battling to make the cut, which ended up at +1. He has shown glimpses of form over the last couple of years, but injuries have made that form fleeting. In his six official starts since the beginning of 2022, Woods has withdrawn three times, missed the cut in another start and has not finished inside the top 40.

However, his health should be at its best point now in that span, and there is no better course fit for the greatest golfer of all time’s game than Augusta National Golf Club.

At the same time, Augusta is also one of the most challenging courses to walk, and Woods’s leg will be tested significantly more this week than it was at Riviera.

11. Can Jordan Spieth Recapture the Magic at Augusta?

Jordan Spieth finished second, first and second in his first three starts at Augusta National from 2014-16, and he has six top-four finishes in 10 starts here overall.

Not really a surprise here, but Jordan Spieth's Masters finishes correspond almost perfectly to how he's playing in the three months leading into the Masters … pic.twitter.com/z7bGlHPOob

— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) March 6, 2024

Kyle Porter noted on X a month ago that Spieth’s results at Augusta have correlated with his recent form entering the Masters. Will that trend continue this year?

12. Is Joaquin Niemann a Legit Contender?

Joaquin Niemann is one of the few LIV Golf members who chose to leave the PGA Tour while entering his prime, and he has been playing some great golf over the past six months.

The Chilean has made nine starts since November across the DP World Tour (three starts), LIV Golf (five starts) and the Asian Tour (one start) and finished in the top five in seven of those nine events, including one DP World Tour win and two LIV Golf wins.

The vast majority of the PGA Tour’s best were absent in those nine starts, including world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, but they will all be in the field this week.

Niemann’s success in those three starts on the DP World Tour, including his win at the ISPS Handa Australian Open, helped him gain a special exemption into the Masters this week. The top 50 golfers in the Official World Gold Ranking reach the majors at different cutoff points, but that isn't of much use to Niemann, who is currently 91st, given that LIV events don't earn OWGR points.

A top-12 finish (including ties) would help him gain entry into the Masters again next year, and a win would get him into the Masters for life (along with a spot in the other majors for the next five years).

Datagolf currently has him ranked ninth in the world, just ahead of Wyndham Clark and behind Patrick Cantlay. He has a chance to solidify himself as one of the elite golfers in the world with a high finish this week or immortalize himself with a win.

13. How Will Akshay Bhatia’s Shoulder Cooperate?

Akshay Bhatia looked like a lock (reminder: there are no locks in sports betting) to win the Valero Texas Open heading to the back nine on Sunday with a six-shot lead over Denny McCarthy.

In case you turned your stream off then or earlier, McCarthy went on to birdie eight of nine holes on the inward nine and post 20-under. Bhatia holed a put from 11’6” on the 72nd hole to force a playoff and fist-pumped but popped his left shoulder out of its socket in doing so.

In his first PGA Tour win at the 2023 Barracuda Championship, Akshay Bhatia made a putt from about 15 feet to force a playoff, which he won.

In his second PGA Tour win at the 2024 Valero Texas Open, Bhatia made a putt from 11’6” to force a playoff, which he won.

✅ Clutch

— Roberto (@robertoa213) April 7, 2024

He received some attention from his trainer on the playoff hole, which he won after McCarthy chunked his approach into the water. Now the question remains if his shoulder will bother Bhatia this week, and if so, how much will it be a hindrance? He noted that the shoulder had bothered him before today, so this injury situation remains uncertain.

At just 22 years old, Bhatia is now a two-time winner on the PGA Tour after turning professional at 17 years old and choosing to skip college. He is making his Masters debut this week and has played in just one major championship: a T57 at the 2021 U.S. Open.

14. Ludvig Åberg Makes His Major Championship Debut

Ludvig Åberg will make his major championship debut this week at the Masters and has the shortest odds of all the debutants this week at +2200 as of Sunday night at bet365. No golfer has won the Masters in his debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

Since turning professional last summer, the 24-year-old has won on the DP World Tour at the Omega European Masters, won on the PGA Tour at the RSM Classic and been a member of the winning European Ryder Cup team (where he went 2-2-0). He enters with five consecutive top-25 finishes on the PGA Tour, with four of those starts being signature events, including a solo second at Pebble Beach.

15. Will Bryson DeChambeau Put It Together at the Masters After His Par-67 Comments?

DeChambeau noted before the delayed 2020 Masters Tournament that he was approaching Augusta National as a “par-67” because of the advantage that his length gave him off the tee to attack the course, especially the par-5s.

In his four starts since those comments, he has a T34 in 2020, a T46 in 2021 and consecutive missed cuts the last two years. Is this the year when he puts it together at Augusta? In seven total starts at the Masters, his best finish is a T21 in 2016.

16. Is Wyndham Clark Ready to Win in His Masters Debut?

Wyndham Clark has the second-shortest odds just behind Åberg among Masters debutants this year at +2500 on bet365 as of Sunday evening. While Scheffler won back-to-back signature events at TPC Sawgrass and Bay Hill, Clark finished second in both tournaments.

The reigning U.S. Open champion has a win this season at the shortened AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and should be a great fit for Augusta National given his only weakness is driving accuracy, which should be accommodated by the wide fairways this week.

17. Does the Year of the Long Shot Continue?

Outside of Scheffler’s two wins at Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass, every other winner of the 15 events on Tour this season have been priced at least at 50-1, including Grayson Murray (Sony Open in Hawaii) and Nick Dunlap (The American Express), who were at least 350-1 to win.

Will another long shot take the first major championship of 2024, or will the cream rise to the top at the Masters this week? No Masters winner has been priced at 50-1 or longer since Patrick Reed won at exactly 50-1 in 2018.

18. Can Collin Morikawa Turn His Irons Around?

Collin Morikawa won in two of his first eight major championship starts but didn’t win in his next eight. His approach play throughout the span of all 16 of his major championship starts has been sublime, but this year his iron play has fallen off a cliff, at least by his standards.

Since being a full-time PGA Tour member in 2020, he has ranked in the top three on Tour in Strokes Gained: Approach every season until this year… and he’s now 80th(!) this season. That is still above the PGA Tour average, but it is clearly below his lofty standard.

YearSG: Approach RankSG: Approach Value

That ranking will get worse when the PGA Tour updates its stats online Monday after Morikawa finished 70th out of 82 golfers who made the cut at the Valero Texas Open in SG: Approach at -1.99 for the week.

Since Morikawa turned professional in 2019, he had never lost strokes to the field on approach in three consecutive tournaments until today.

Dating back to 2019 when he turned professional, Collin Morikawa had never lost strokes on approach in 3 consecutive tournaments until today.

His Strokes Gained: Approach over the last 3 events per round, via @DataGolf

Arnold Palmer Inv: -0.24
Valero: -0.38

— Roberto (@robertoa213) April 8, 2024

19. Who Will Steal the Show?

Amateur Sam Bennett was in the penultimate pairing Saturday at the Masters last year, and Michael Block hit a slam-dunk hole in one while playing with Rory McIlroy on his way to a tie for 15th at the PGA Championship in 2023.

Which golfer will come out of nowhere and become a household name in the major championships this year?

20. Can Cameron Young Breakthrough?

Cameron Young and Tommy Fleetwood (to be discussed in a moment) are the two biggest names who have yet to win on the PGA Tour but undeniably have the talent to not only win, but win on the biggest stages in golf. Each has finished in the top three at multiple major championships and enters with some momentum.

Young has gained strokes on approach in eight of nine tracked tournaments in 2024, including six straight events, as he ranks 15th on Tour in SG: Approach. In the most recent major, Young led the field in SG: Approach at Royal Liverpool but finished T8 because he lost over a stroke per round with his putter. He enters after a solo second in his last start at the Valspar Championship, where he led the field in SG: Off the Tee.

Young is currently 45-1 at bet365 to win outright this week, and if he drifts to 60-1 or longer this week, I will think long and hard about putting at least a sprinkle on an outright ticket.

21. Can Tommy Fleetwood Breakthrough?

Fleetwood is coming off consecutive top-10 finishes at the last two majors (T10 at The Open and T5 at the U.S. Open) and also enters with momentum, as his tie for seventh at this weekend’s Valero Texas Open is his best result of the PGA Tour season.

Fleetwood also has a win on the DP World Tour this season at the Dubai Invitational, where he out-dueled McIlroy by a stroke.

22. Will Justin Thomas Be Boom or Bust This Week?

Justin Thomas is one of the golfers who perplexes me the most this week.

On the one hand, the two-time major winner ranks sixth in SG: Approach and 12th in SG: Tee to Green on Tour this season. He also has finished in the top 22 (including a career-best solo fourth in 2020) in six of eight starts at Augusta National. He also has four top-12 finishes in seven starts on Tour this season.

On the other hand, JT also ranks 174th in SG: Putting this season, has missed two cuts and finished T64 in the other event where he didn’t finish in the top 12 but made the cut. He and his caddy Jim “Bones” Mackay also announced their split this past week, which is unusual timing right before a major.

I think JT wins at some point soon this season when his putter gets hot. His approach play fell off last year, but it’s clearly back up to his standard this year.

His year in a nutshell can be described by his trip to TPC Sawgrass. He led the field at THE PLAYERS Championship in SG: Approach per round, per Datagolf, at +2.34 per round, but he only played two rounds as he missed the cut by two shots because he lost over three strokes total in his two rounds on the greens.

23. Is This Xander Schauffele’s Best Chance at a Major?

This may be Xander Schauffele’s best chance to win a major championship. He ranks second in SG: Total this season on the PGA Tour, albeit a distant second behind Scheffler, and also ranks among the top 20 in SG: Off the Tee, Approach and Around the Green.

His putter, which is still slightly above average this season at 80th in SG: Putting, was fifth on Tour last season and has been among the top 33 on Tour each year dating back to 2020. If his putter heats up this week, Schauffele has a great chance to contend, especially with so many of the top players on Tour seemingly not playing their best so far in 2024.

The seven-time PGA Tour winner has gained strokes Off the Tee in seven of eight tournaments this season, on Approach in seven of eight as well and has gained Around the Green in all eight events. His putter has also lost strokes to the field by more than 0.1 shots per round in just one tournament this season.

Schauffele enters with the longest active consecutive cuts made on the PGA Tour with 42 (nine ahead of Scheffler in second at 33). His last missed cut: the 2022 Masters Tournament. Only two players have more than four top-10 finishes this season: Scheffler (of course) with seven and Schauffele with six.

24. Hideki Matsuyama Is Hiding in Plain Sight

If anyone other than Hideki Matsuyama put up the numbers that he has this year, a lot more people would be talking about it.

He came out of nowhere to win at Riviera from six strokes behind entering the final round as he threw dart after dart on the back nine to steal the show. He’s backed that up with a T12 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a T6 at THE PLAYERS Championship and a T7 this past weekend at the Valero Texas Open.

He ranks fourth on Tour this season in SG: Tee to Green, first Around the Green and 15th in SG: Total. His putter has held him back so far as he is 142nd in SG: Putting – and those numbers do not include his stats from the Valero Texas Open, where he lost strokes on the greens but gained elsewhere.

In the last nine Masters Tournaments, he has finished 32nd or better all nine times, including eight top-20 finishes. Data only goes back three tournaments at Augusta, but he has gained strokes to the field Off the Tee, On Approach and Around the Green all three years.

If you made it this far, you probably should subscribe to our golf betting podcast at Action Network called Links + Locks.

You can find me along with Spencer Aguiar and Nick Bretwisch on our weekly tournament betting previews, and our Masters preview will drop late Tuesday night with all of our outrights, matchups, placement bets, one and done picks, tournament preview and more.

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