Absence of Phil Mickelson not the only change at 86th Masters
As the only major championship to be played at the same venue every year, the Masters naturally lends itself to maintaining cherished traditions.
There is the pre-tournament par-three contest, the white boiler suits worn by the caddies and, of course, the green jacket presented to the champion by last year’s winner.
Yet even Augusta National is not immune to change and the 86th Masters will see plenty, including the absence of Phil Mickelson, the presence of a new world number one and increased yardage on the 11th and 15th holes.
Mickelson is taking a break from golf following the fall-out from his explosive comments about the PGA Tour and a Saudi-backed rival circuit, the three-time Masters champion accusing the PGA Tour of “obnoxious greed” and acting like a “dictatorship”.
The six-time major winner also made it clear he is well aware of the human rights record of Saudi Arabia but was happily aligning himself with them in order to use the threat of a breakaway to “reshape” how the PGA Tour operates.
Whether Mickelson has been banned by the PGA Tour or quietly encouraged by Masters officials not to compete at Augusta may never be made public, but for the 51-year-old to be absent for the first time since 1994 suggests there may be more revelations to come.
While Mickelson was creating history last year by becoming the oldest men’s major champion ever in the US PGA Championship, Scottie Scheffler was quietly finishing joint eighth at Kiawah Island, the first of three consecutive major top-10s.
Less than a year later, Scheffler will travel to Augusta as the world number one following a stunning run of three wins in five starts, his first PGA Tour title in Phoenix followed by victories in the prestigious Arnold Palmer Invitational and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
The 25-year-old’s rise to the top of the game has been so rapid that this year will be just his third appearance in the Masters, but he was 19th on his debut in 2020 and 18th last year.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama will hope to be fully recovered from the back injury which forced him to miss the Players Championship as he bids to become just the fourth player to win back-to-back titles, while for Rory McIlroy it is attempt number eight to complete the career grand slam.
On each of the previous seven attempts McIlroy has had at least one week off before the Masters, but this year he opted to skip the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and compete in Texas instead.
McIlroy recorded six top-10 finishes in seven appearances at Augusta before missing the cut last year and after squandering chances to win in Dubai at the end of 2021 and the start of 2022, it will be fascinating to see how the four-time major winner fares if he can get into contention.
Jon Rahm may also have a point to prove after losing his world number one ranking to Scheffler and the Ryder Cup star’s form figures at Augusta read an impressive fourth, ninth, seventh and fifth.
With or without Mickelson, all signs point to the Masters delivering drama once more.
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