Woods set to play at Augusta as Matsuyama defends title – Masters talking points

Tiger Woods plans to compete in the 86th Masters this week, less than 14 months after suffering serious injuries in an horrific car crash.

The 15-time major winner, who feared shortly after the accident that his right leg would have to be amputated, has not contested a top-level event since the 2020 Masters, which was played in November due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the main talking points ahead of the year’s first men’s major championship.

How will Woods fare at Augusta?

Tiger Woods
The vehicle driven by Tiger Woods on the back of a truck in Los Angeles after he suffered leg injuries when the vehicle rolled over (Keiran Southern/PA)

Woods not only told a packed press conference that he plans to play this week, but that he also feels he can win a 16th major title and sixth green jacket. While that sounds an unlikely occurrence even for Woods, the 46-year-old has never missed the cut in the Masters as a professional and has taken delight in proving his doubters wrong on numerous occasions. On his last Masters start in 2020, he famously took 10 on the 12th hole in the final round, but responded with five birdies in the last six holes.

Can Matsuyama retain his title?

The chances of Hideki Matsuyama joining the illustrious trio of back-to-back winners looked good when he ended his 2021 campaign with a five-shot victory in his native Japan and then won the Sony Open in Hawaii on his second start of 2022. However, a lingering back injury forced him to pull out of the Players Championship shortly before the start of round one and he withdrew from last week’s Valero Texas Open with a neck problem midway through the second round.

Eighth time lucky for McIlroy?

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIIroy will bid to complete the career grand slam by winning the Masters (Jane Barlow/PA)

Since winning the Open Championship in 2014 to claim the third leg of the career grand slam, Rory McIlroy has had seven attempts to win at Augusta and join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods in having won all four major titles. On all seven occasions 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, only to miss the cut. After squandering chances to win in Dubai at the end of last year and the start of 2022, it will be fascinating to see how McIlroy fares if he can get into contention at Augusta.

How will the new world number one do?

Scottie Scheffler replaced Jon Rahm at the top of the rankings following his victory in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, a remarkable third win in his last five starts in 2022. The 25-year-old also beat Rahm in their singles contest in the Ryder Cup in 2021, a year in which he finished in the top 10 in the US Open, Open Championship and US PGA. His “worst” result in a major last year was still a more than respectable tie for 18th in the Masters, while he was also tied 19th on his debut at Augusta in 2020.

Will we learn more about Mickelson’s status?

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson is taking a break from golf following his controversial comments about the PGA Tour (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Phil 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”, of acting like a “dictatorship” and admitting he was using the threat of a breakaway to “reshape” how the Tour operates. It has been suggested that Mickelson has either been banned by the PGA Tour or encouraged by Masters officials not to compete at Augusta, meaning chairman Fred Ridley’s annual press conference could be more interesting than usual.