Last-Minute Observations Ahead of The 2024 Masters: Scottie, Tiger, Rory, and the Pimento Cheese Sandwich

Rory McIlroy speaks with Jon Rahm in the practice area prior to the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National GC on April 09, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington via Getty Images)

AUGUSTA, Georgia – The Masters Tournament is a couple days away. How the hell did that happen? I could have sworn it was just yesterday that Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow, my NCAA Tournament bracket picks still looked cunningly brilliant, and I was still in denial about filing my taxes.

Well, maybe the excitement of Joaquin Niemann winning twice this year on the LIV Golf circuit distracted me from the sneak-attack that is April.

The Masters is about to be on us like slobber on a bulldog. So here are some last-minute Masters observations before golf’s biggest week begins. (It is also the only week you’ll read the words, “pimento cheese.”)

Scottie Scheffler is chalk. He’s the favorite at absurdly low, Tiger-esque 4-to-1 odds. He won back-to-back at Bay Hill and the Players, missed a putt on the last green in Houston to get in a playoff and is clearly in top form.

2024 Masters Scottie Scheffler
Scottie Scheffler hits his shot from the third tee during a practice round prior to the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National GC on April 09, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Maddie Meyer via Getty Images)

The 27-year-old Texan’s stats are Tiger-esque, too: He ranks No. 1 in strokes gained, strokes gained on approach shots, greens in regulation and proximity to the hole on shots from 150-175 yards and 50-125 yards. He ranks third in proximity on shots from inside 100 yards and overall is eighth in proximity on all approach shots. He is also fourth in strokes gained off the tee. He drives it long, he is straight enough, his short game is superb, his iron play is the best on tour and his putting is the only part of his game that isn’t peak. He deserves to be the favorite.

“You have to go back to Tiger Woods to find a player who’s dominated the tour the way Scottie Scheffler has and who arrives with every facet of his game, the most important facets of his game needed to win the Masters,” Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said in a media conference call.

“Nobody has come close to having them in the order Scottie has, not even Tiger Woods. The most important parts of winning a Masters are approach play and scrambling. The odds are better that this Masters is going to be wide open but on the other hand, it’s easy to see a Scottie Scheffler blowout.”

2024 Masters Scottie Scheffler
Scottie Scheffler and his caddie, Ted Scott, on the 11th hole during a practice round prior to the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National GC on April 10, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire via Getty Images)

Footnote: When Scheffler won the Masters two years ago, he had enough of a cushion that he four-putted the final green and still got the Green Jacket. It’s boring to pick the chalk to win. It lacks pizzazz. But he is chalk for a reason.

The pimento cheese sandwiches sold at the Masters Tournament remain the most overrated concession food in sports. Pimento cheese tastes like it smells. That’s a dealbreaker for me. Yes, I realize this is a minority opinion, but I’ll stand behind it with my Payday bar (also available at Masters concessions stands).

The Anonymous Gambler, a buddy of mine who mainly bets sports (and still owes me big-time for telling him to bet Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines in the 2008 U.S. Open, which enabled him to pay for a new hardwood kitchen floor), is undecided about his Masters card. He likes Scheffler but not the price, 4-1. Too much risk for not enough reward. He is leaning toward a couple of LIV players — Cameron Smith, a great scrambler and putter who has contended for a couple of Masters and is at 28-1 (according to BetMGM) and has cut off his mullet (Noooo!); Brooks Koepka, who bounced back from last year’s runner-up and won the PGA Championship, is 20-1; and defending champ Jon Rahm is 12-1 even though he hasn’t won in his first five LIV outings.

2024 Masters Brooks Koepka Son Crew Wife Jena Sims
Brooks Koepka, wife Jena Sims and son Crew Koepka walk to the second green during the Par Three Contest prior to the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National GC on April 10, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire via Getty Images)

The AG likes Russell Henley (fourth last year) to finish top 10. He is holding back on going big, he said, on two players of interest — Hideki Matsuyama and Ludvig Aberg. Matsuyama is a former Masters champ who looks great when he’s not battling either a neck injury or a lower back problem.

Aberg is a Masters first-timer who is the talk of the tour. He won the RSM Classic last fall, which you might have missed. He is long off the tee and straight, and here’s a stat to pique your interest — he ranks second in proximity to the hole. Iron play remains the main key to winning a Masters. I think the AG is going to go all-in on Aberg even though he wouldn’t admit it. Remember, kids, wager responsibly.

Yes, Ludvig Aberg may be the next big thing. Some ESPN golf analysts on a media conference call said they are on that bandwagon.

2024 Masters Ludvig Aberg
Ludvig Aberg looks on with his caddie, Joe Skovron, on the second green during a practice round prior to the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National GC on April 10, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington via Getty Images)

“I had a chance to watch him play in Hawaii,” said two-time U.S. Open champ Andy North. “I think he is the next superstar. I’m so impressed the way he plays, the way he attacks. Augusta National could be a great course for him.”

Curtis Strange, also a two-time U.S. Open champ, made Aberg his “dark horse” to win even though Aberg, a 6-foot 3-inch Swede who played college golf at Texas Tech and was impressive in last year’s Ryder Cup, has never played in a major championship.

“He has the perfect physique to play the game,” Strange said.

ESPN host Scott Van Pelt on Strange’s pick: “I just want to say on the record that Curtis picked the ninth-ranked player in the world to win as his dark horse. Out on a limb. Aberg can go, man. He whacks it 330 down the middle.”

Is this Masters the most important ever? Not quite. Not even close. But it is somewhat more important than normal because it marks the first time in 2024 that most of the world’s top players will compete against each other, thanks to the LIV-PGA Tour split. All four majors gained significance because of that and, ironically, the Players Championship was derailed on its path to fifth major-hood because it lost the LIV player participation.

“Majors have always been the most important weeks of the year, now more than ever,” Van Pelt said. “It elevates the competition.”

What separates the majors, North added, is knowing you’ve outplayed the best players, all of them. “To be able to beat Jack (Nicklaus) or Curtis down the stretch is a big deal and that means a lot to a player,” he said.

Call it winning without asterisks.

2024 Masters Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson looks on during a practice round prior to the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National GC on April 08, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington via Getty Images)

Phil Mickelson still does comedy. At the LIV event, he was asked what comes to mind from his first Masters 20 years ago in 2004 when he famously leaped (but not very high) after holing the winning putt?

“I think that – first of all, the photographer did not get me at the apex and didn’t do it justice,” Mickelson said.

Mickelson’s real answer to the question was that he always thinks of his grandfather, who passed away a few months earlier after telling Phil the upcoming Masters was going to be his first major win. “I get chills thinking about it,” Mickelson said. “Every time I see that putt, I think he gave that ball a little nudge in.”

Rory McIlroy is the big early-week story. He needs a Masters title to join the greatest players of all time and complete the career Grand Slam. He hasn’t won a major championship in a decade, however, and doubts about him are growing.

2024 Masters Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy walks the first fairway during a practice round prior to the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National GC on April 10, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington via Getty Images)

“The thing about golf equipment is very few players draw it (hit it right-to-left) anymore because you have to work so hard to draw it,” said Chamblee, the one-time PGA Tour winner, who failed to qualify for the Masters in 14 of his 15 years on tour.

“Your swing is too much in-to-out and you have too much clubface-closure and it leads to too many long and left shots, which are accentuated at Augusta National by hook lies and greens that slope severely back to front. So you miss long left, you’re above the hole coming down the hill and you’re just handicapped.

“Rory’s swing is beautiful, no doubt, but it’s an odd fit for Augusta. He swings too in-to-out and he misses so many shots off those hook lies. That is a scene that plays out year after year with Rory. For him to change his attack angle, approach and his release pattern for one week and get it fully set is a really tall order.”

2024 Masters Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods and caddie Lance Bennett during a practice round prior to the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National GC on April 08, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Warren Little via Getty Images)

Tiger Woods has never been a bigger question mark. He is closing in on “The Long Goodbye.“ He has been out of sight, out of mind since withdrawing from the Genesis Invitational in February after tweaking his back. No one knows for sure how physically ready he is to play competitive major-championship golf in Augusta or even whether his surgically fused ankle will allow him to walk 72 holes if he makes the cut and plays on the weekend.

“Tiger has some major restraints,” said NBC analyst Notah Begay, a former player and close friend of Tiger’s.

“He’s got zero mobility in that left ankle and has some lower back challenges. I had a chance to visit with him when his son, Charlie, played my junior event in Louisiana. Tiger said, ‘My ankle doesn’t move so the stress (of the swing) is going to transfer somewhere else—it might be my knee or my hip.’ It ended up being his lower back. He’s been trying to recover the last few months.

“The question is can he walk 72 holes, which is still up in the air, and can he recover from one round to the next? I really don’t know and he’s not going to know, either, until he gets there.”

2024 Masters Tiger Woods Justin Thomas Fred Couples
Fred Couples, Justin Thomas and Tiger Woods on the ninth green during a practice round prior to Masters Tournament at Augusta National GC on April 9, 2024 in AUGUSTA, Georgia. (Photo by Ben Jared for PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Tiger’s odds of winning are listed at 125-1. The Anonymous Gambler says that’s a sucker bet and for the same price you can get a good sleeper pick in Nick Taylor, the reigning champion of the RBC Canadian Open and Waste Management Phoenix Open.

This year’s big course change? It isn’t that big. The tee at the par-5 second hole has been moved to the left, which makes the dogleg-left a little sharper and makes the hole play slightly longer. It will likely have as much effect as backing up the 13th tee did last year — not very much.

Said North: “Guys will have to be careful curving it around the corner.”

Said Strange: “The length will mean nothing, the angle will mean a little bit. The players all have the length to put it on the green in two even if they lay up to the fairway bunker.”

Where have all the stars gone? It has been a surprising year of unexpected winners on the PGA Tour. Which is another way of saying the Tour is in the process of minting new stars. The list includes Nick Dunlap, who won as an amateur; Grayson Murray; France’s Matthieu Pavon; Jake Knapp and Austin Eckroat.

Stephan Jaeger wins 2024 Houston Open
Stephan Jaeger is congratulated by Scottie Scheffler after winning the 2024 Texas Children’s Houston Open at Memorial Park GC on Mar 31, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson for Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Scheffler silenced the talk with his back-to-back wins, then lost to Stephan Jaeger in a showdown at the Texas Children’s Hospital Houston Open.

“One of the biggest mysteries in golf right now is why so few of the world’s best players are playing well — on the PGA Tour and on LIV,” said Chamblee.

“The top 20 players, on average, are one shot worse a round than they were last year. That is a lot of bad golf from the best players in the world. Only a few players are playing a little bit better. Xander Schauffele is. Scottie Scheffler is, which is hard to do given how well he played last year. Wyndham Clark is obviously playing better.

“There’s an epidemic of distraction on the PGA Tour, whether it’s greed or trying to solve problems that are almost unsolvable. To the degree that players think about money, they’re not being drawn upward athletically. I don’t think that’s the place where your best anything comes from. If you’re distracted, you can’t play your best golf. I just think they’re hugely distracted.”

Distracted? That’s exactly how I ended here — unprepared for April and the Masters. I wonder who I can blame for that.



Please enter your name here