Scheffler, Rahm and McIlroy eye history in Masters showdown

AUGUSTA: Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler, defending champion Jon Rahm and a host of the world's finest golfers arrive at Augusta National looking to make history in next week's 88th Masters.

Third-ranked Rahm, who jumped from the PGA Tour to Saudi-backed LIV Golf this season, could become only the fourth back-to-back green jacket winner, joining Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo.

"This could be my second-ever title defense," said Rahm, who also won the 2018 and 2019 Spanish Opens. "That would be quite incredible.

"That would be a dream come true. Not many back-to-back champions and that would be very unique to be able to put my name to that list."

World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, a four-time major winner seeking his first major crown since the 2014 PGA Championship, will make his 10th attempt to complete a career grand slam with a Masters victory.

"Good golf at Augusta feels lake boring golf and I think that's something that I've always struggled with because that's not my game," McIlroy said. "It's the biggest test of discipline and the biggest test of patience of the year for me."

Scheffler, the 2022 Masters winner, arrives on a hot streak after wins last month at the Arnold Palmer Championship and The Players Championship and a runner-up effort at the Houston Open.

He would join Woods (2001, 2002) as the only players in Masters history to win the event twice while atop the world rankings.

"I try not to place too much emphasis on results good or bad," Scheffler said. "I think you can take some positives in the momentum."

And 15-time major winner Woods, among 88 players in the field listed on the Masters website, could set a Masters record by making the cut for a 24th consecutive time.

Woods shares the record cut streak with Gary Player and Fred Couples but he withdrew after making last year's cut due to plantar fasciitis.

Woods, 48, underwent ankle surgery last April to repair injuries from a 2021 car crash. He last played in February at Riviera, withdrawing after one round with illness.

"We all idolise Tiger," Scheffler said. "Watching what he did in special moments over the years is crazy. I've learned a lot just from being around him. We're just very thankful he's still a part of our sport."

Rahm is among 13 LIV players in the Masters as merger talks continue between the PGA Tour and LIV's financiers, Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund.

"It's a decision I made and I'm comfortable with it," Rahm said. "I feel like my game is in really good position. I like where I'm at coming up to the Masters.

"So far, it has been great. Been playing good golf. But I'm definitely looking forward to joining with the rest of the best golfers in the world and teeing it up at the Masters with them."

Rahm isn't playing the same PGA events as Scheffler, but the Spaniard knows Scheffler is playing well.

"I'm fully aware of where Scottie is," Rahm said. "He's a great competitor. He's somebody that when you're under the gun and you've got to get it done, he has been able to get it done."

LIV has 13 players set to compete at the Masters, including three of the past five major winners in Rahm, Australia's Cameron Smith and 2023 PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka.

A lack of world ranking points for LIV events limits players' chances to qualify for majors, prompting 2023 LIV season champion Talor Gooch to claim McIlroy would need an "asterisk" by his career slam should he win this year's Masters.

McIlroy, a top-10 Masters finisher in seven of the past 10 years, said Augusta National will do whatever it takes to ensure the event always has a world-class field, noting a special invitation for LIV's Joaquin Niemann, a Chilean who won last December's Australian Open, shot a 59 to win LIV's opener in Mexico and played in Dubai and Oman.

"The asterisk – look, the Masters is an invitational and they'll invite whoever they think warrants an invite," McIlroy said.

"(Niemann) has been chasing his tail around the world to play his way into Augusta or show enough form to warrant an invite. I don't know if the same can be said for Talor." —AFP

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