The Masters represents the best four days on the golf calendar, and this year's event is certain to be one of the best ever.
As the first groups get started, everyone will try to post the lowest scores possible to see their names on the leaderboard, even momentarily. However, the fact remains that this year's tournament is wide open.
Legendary instructor Hank Haney thinks this is part of the reason it will be so exciting:
This yrs Masters is so wide open it is going to be great to watch, #besttournamentbyfaringolf— Hank Haney (@HankDHaney) April 9, 2014
The competitive tournament mixed with the historic golf course at Augusta makes this a must-see event. In order to help you keep up, here is a breakdown of what you should look for on the opening day of the 2014 Masters.
Will Any of the Rookies Crack the Leaderboard?
There might not be a bigger story than the emergence of some talented rookies. There are 24 golfers making their Masters debut this week, and a number of them have a real chance to contend for a title.
Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed are currently first and second in the FedEx Cup Standings with Harris English sitting in fourth. This trio has combined for six tournament wins this year, but they will all be making their first appearance at Augusta.
Meanwhile, Jordan Spieth will also make his first appearance as an up-and-coming star in the sport. The 20-year-old has the seventh-highest odds to win this tournament, according to Vegas Insider.
Fans should also be on the lookout for Hideki Matsuyama, who performed extremely well in the final three majors last season and has competed in the Masters as an amateur in the past.
Although it is difficult to do well in this tournament without experience, it is certainly possible. Fuzzy Zoeller won the title in 1979 while Jason Day finished in second place in 2011. Day explained the advantage people have nowadays, via Tom Spousta of Masters.com:
These days, kids have a mental coach, strength coach, swing coach, maybe a short game coach. They have so many people around them that are in place to make sure that they are improving and competing and playing well.
They are a lot more confident coming out and playing in their first events. They are coming out stronger and faster. Their game is a lot tighter and every year that goes by, they are just tougher to compete and play against.
Although none of these players are household names, any of them can go on a run and shake up the leaderboard.
Can Adam Scott Repeat?
Only three players have ever won back-to-back Masters championships, with Tiger Woods being the most recent in 2000-01.
However, Adam Scott is looking to put his name on this list after winning the 2013 Masters title. He explained to reporters that he wants to keep his green jacket, saying:
"I’ve really got this thing in my head that I’m quite determined to not leave it here. I am very determined to take it with me again next Sunday," via Brian Wacker of PGATour.com.
Scott has been limiting his schedule recently, but he has performed well when he does play. Additionally, he has been by far the most consistent golfer at all majors, according to Justin Ray of ESPN:
He has been especially impressive at Augusta, finishing tied for second, tied for eighth and first in the last three years.
The 33-year-old star has the skill and the confidence to succeed. The question is whether he can live up to his potential and hold off other big names like Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and others.
How Much Will Tiger Woods be Missed?
This year's Masters will be without the biggest star in the world. Woods has decided to undergo back surgery to fix a pinched nerve.
Obviously, this leaves a giant void in the sport that is tough for anyone else to fill. Even Mickelson admitted it is weird without his top rival:
"It's a weird feeling not having him here...It makes it special when you win and he's in the field."-Phil Mickelson on Tiger Woods— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) April 8, 2014
Steve DiMeglio of USA Today provides a look at how much of a financial impact this will make:
Less than 24 hours after he revealed he would miss the Masters, resale ticket prices for the tournament dropped significantly. According to resale market aggregator TiqIQ, the cheapest ticket fell 15%. StubHub saw a decrease of up to 25% for many of its tickets. If Woods had played and been in contention on the weekend, ticket prices of $1,000 would have quintupled, according to many ticket agencies.
TV ratings are going to take a hit, too, as the casual sports fan who occasionally watches golf could be lost and the non-sports fan only interested in Woods will be clicking will click to another channel.
RJ Bell also notes that the gambling market has declined:
LVH's @GolfOdds tells me Masters betting down 20% since Tiger Woods withdrew.— RJ Bell (@RJinVegas) April 9, 2014
Casual fans all over the world will certainly lose interest in the upcoming event. The good news is that there are plenty of great players ready to compete to entertain the true golf fans.
McIlroy, Scott and Mickelson represent a quality group of favorites to go with golfers looking for their first title like Matt Kuchar, Sergio Garcia and Day. Woods will be missed, but this should be an exciting week of golf regardless.
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