Masters begins after delay as Scheffler, McIlroy chase history

golf11 April 2024 14:45| © Reuters
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The 88th Masters began on Thursday after rainy weather delayed the start by two and one-half hours.

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Morning showers fell at Augusta National but were well shy of the severe thunderstorms that had been predicted, which prompted officials to push back the start.

Brisk winds, however, kept tree limbs dancing across the famed layout.

Honourary starters Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson struck ceremonial tee shots 20 minutes before South African Erik van Rooyen began the competition at 10:30am local time with his opening shot at the first hole.

About 25 per cent of the 89-player field, including 15-time major winner Tiger Woods, was not expected to finish the opening round before sunset.

Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler, seeking his second title in three seasons, was in the feature group set to tee off at 1:12pm with four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, who would complete a career Grand Slam with a Masters triumph, and Tokyo Olympic champion Xander Schauffele, chasing his first major victory.

By taking the green jacket, McIlroy would join a select group including Woods, Nicklaus, Player, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan. McIlroy has not won a major in 10 years but has learned he needs patience at Augusta National.

"This golf course gets you to chase things a little more than other golf courses," he said. "It always tempts you to do something you think you can do and I'm pretty confident in my golf game. I think I can do most things.

"Sometimes you just have to take the conservative route and be a little more disciplined and patient."

Scheffler, who won twice and finished second last month in PGA Tour events, could join Woods as the only players to win the Masters twice while atop the rankings.

"The winds are going to be pretty high and it swirls like crazy around this place," he said. "You have to stay so patient and trust in all aspects of your game."

Schauffele hopes to lose his tag as one of the best current players without a major title.

"It's definitely what motivates me as a golfer and as a competitor just to keep pushing," Schauffele said of a major victory.

Going off 12 minutes ahead of that trio will be Spain's defending champion Jon Rahm, England's Matt Fitzpatrick and 20-year-old American Nick Dunlap.

Rahm could become only the fourth player to capture back-to-back Masters triumphs after Woods, Nicklaus and Nick Faldo.

"I do feel fresh and ready for it," Rahm said.

Reigning US Open champion Wyndham Clark, Norway's Viktor Hovland and Australian Cameron Smith, the 2022 British Open winner, are together behind Scheffler and McIlroy.


Woods, returning to major golf after right ankle surgery last April but still struggling to walk 72 holes, will try to make the Masters cut for a record 24th consecutive time to break to mark he shares with Player and Fred Couples.

But the five-time Masters winner talks about another record – the six career Masters victories by Nicklaus.

"If everything comes together, I think I can get one more," Woods said.

Woods will tee off at 3:54pm alongside fellow American Max Homa and Australian Jason Day.

A group behind them are 2023 British Open winner Brian Harman, 2023 PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka and South Korean Tom Kim.

Five-time major winner Koepka and Rahm are among 13 players from Saudi-backed LIV Golf in the Masters field, with LIV's Phil Mickelson and Koepka sharing second last year behind Rahm, who jumped from the PGA Tour to LIV in December.

Eyes will be on the LIV players' results as merger talks continue between the PGA Tour and LIV's backers, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund.

There are 20 first-time Masters starters hoping to become the first rookie winner since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, including Clark.

"Stats like that are meant to be broken," Clark said. "That would be an amazing accomplishment. And I like my chances."