Waiting for word on Woods as duo aim to join elite club – Masters talking points

Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama will defend his title when the 86th Masters takes place at Augusta National from April 7-10.

Matsuyama is bidding to become just the fourth player to win back-to-back Masters titles after Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods.

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

Will Tiger Woods take part?

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 has not played in a top-level event since his horrific car crash in Los Angeles in February last year, the 15-time major winner suffering such severe injuries that he feared his right leg might have to be amputated. The 46-year-old has fallen to 944th in the world rankings as a result, but is eligible for the Masters as a former champion and remains listed as an active player on the tournament’s official website. In 2016 and 2017 Woods waited until the Friday before tournament week to announce he would not play due to injury and the sense is that he is again giving himself as long as possible to prove his fitness.

Can Matsuyama retain his title?

The chances of 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 will arrive at Augusta with just one start – in the Valero Texas Open – under his belt since.

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, McIlroy has had seven attempts to win at Augusta and join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, 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. 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 Phil Mickelson’s status?

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

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 Masters chairman Fred Ridley’s annual press conference could be more interesting than usual.