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Masters Column: LIV, course changes and old favorites

(Disclaimer: Any opinions expressed in this column belong to its author.)

The eyes of the sporting world turn to Augusta this week as they have for nearly 100 years. However, even with so much history and tradition, there are new elements to discover.

The first full week of April plays host to golf’s first major of the year, and there are several reasons that make this year’s tournament special. Notably, this event will be the first time since the Open Championship, played in July of 2022, that many of the golfers who defected to the Saudi-funded LIV Golf league will face off once again with PGA Tour professionals. The winner of that event, Australian-born Cameron Smith, joined LIV Golf the month after being named the Champion Golfer of the Year. He joins recent Masters winners Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Sergio Garcia as some of the top LIV Golf talents returning to major championship competition. 

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The Augusta National. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

There have also been significant changes to Augusta National Golf Club in recent years. Since being established in 1932, the course has been renovated and tweaked multiple times. However, a sizable change was completed over the last year that will completely alter golfer’s approaches to one particular hole. The par-5 13th hole – which originally played at 480 yards in 1934 and 510 yards in 2022 –  now plays at a whopping 545 yards. The changes will force players to hit driver off the tee if they hope to have a feasible approach into the green with their second shot. Approaching the green with the second shot is vital for a risk-reward eagle opportunity as golfers approach Amen Corner, so a whole new strategy will have to be employed in order to still play this hole as aggressively as in past years.

In other, less golf-centric news, rumors of the classic Georgia peach ice cream sandwich’s demise were exaggerated, as the sweet treat can still be found at many of the golf club’s concessions stands. 

Frequent visitors to the Masters merchandise shop will know that the products for sale alter slightly from year to year. Some of this year’s new items include a hat with a design that rotates daily. The text on the hat may read “Amen Corner” one day and “Skip It” the next, the latter being a reference to golfer’s skipping their golf balls over the water during practice rounds. And shoppers looking for the hallowed Masters gnome will have to be the earliest of early birds, as the item often sells out before the sun has fully risen on the historic property.

The betting favorites for the event are last year’s champion, Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, who won five events from October 2022 to February 2023, and Rory McIlroy, who finished runner-up last year and needs a Green Jacket to complete a career grand slam, which is to win each of golf’s four majors at least once. With rainy weather and cool temperatures on tap for the tournament days, each of these golfers and about 85 others will be tested mentally and physically until a champion emerges and dons the coveted Green Jacket.

Augusta native Tyler Strong works in broadcast operations for the PGA Tour and CBS Sports. He’s freelanced golf coverage for several years.

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