PGA Tour Experts Dish Out Inside Info on Tiger, Rahm, Aberg, Rory at the Masters

Ah, yes. It’s April. The azaleas are blooming in Georgia, and predictions are flowing about who might win the Masters. But this year is different. After listening to a gaggle of golf experts discuss the potential winners, it doesn’t sound good for anyone except Scottie Scheffler, and he’s not a lock. 
Scottie Scheffler - The Masters
Scottie Scheffler - The Masters / Andrew Redington/GettyImages

Scheffler is the leader in the clubhouse in everyone’s mind, at least as far as Andy North, Curtis Strange, ESPN’s player experts, and Brandel Chamblee, Notah Begay, and Johnson Wagner, NBC/Golf Channel’s player experts, are concerned.

Their tone was somewhat wistful when talking about a possible future champion, as though longing for the days when it was Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods, and Tiger Woods. Back then, it seemed like he could capture the first three places by himself. He certainly was that big of a deal.  

Golf Channel’s Notah Begay gave some disheartening insight on Tiger Woods’ situation and explained the reason Woods didn’t enter The Players. 

“If he goes out and tees it up in THE PLAYERS a few weeks ago and something else happens and breaks down, then it jeopardizes the Masters,” Begay said.   

According to Begay, Woods has no mobility in his left ankle. But there’s another bad sign. Now he also has some additional low back issues. 

“When Charlie was playing in my junior golf event in Louisiana, and he said, ‘My ankle doesn’t move, so something is going to take the stress. The stress is going to transfer somewhere else,’ and he goes, ‘I don’t know where it’s going to be, but it might be my knee, it might be my hip,’ and it ended up being his low back.’” Begay explained.

Could that mean another back surgery? No one knows.

Now on to the rest of the field and the visitors from LIV.

“I think I look forward to seeing Jon Rahm and (Brooks) Koepka, some of these guys, see how they're playing,” Andy North said about the LIV players. “There's a lot of the name guys that haven't had great years so far this year.”

When asked his opinion of Ludvig Aberg, North said he thinks the Swede is the next golf superstar. 

“I'm so impressed with him. I love the way he plays the game. I love the way he attacks it. Doesn't fiddle around much. Just gets up and hits it and plays golf,” North noted adding that he had followed him for 18 holes in Hawaii.

Curtis Strange agreed. 

“He's my dark horse. In the last week, some of my researchers at ESPN said how can he be a dark horse? I said, well, he's never played in a major before,” Strange said. “He's come on the scene so quickly. He dominated the college scene. He's dominated whenever he's played.”

But another theme reared its ugly head again, and that’s LIV golf, a potential deal and the effect it might have on this year’s Masters.  

“Even if they agree upon it, I’m not convinced that the DOJ (U.S. Department of Justice) will allow it,” Brandel Chamblee said.

Should a LIV /PGA Tour deal be blocked, then those who sued the PGA Tour saying the Tour was anti-competitive, will have no one but themselves to blame if they find out they can’t come home again. Or at least not without penalty.  

All that aside, and we really would like to put it aside, there’s still the question of who will perform well at the Masters and who won’t.

Brandel Chamblee walked out on a nice LIV limb.

“It’s really hard to dive into these LIV events. It’s hard to take them seriously from a competitive standpoint,” Chamblee added. “Are they (LIV players) better or worse than when they left? Are they better or worse? By and large, they’re worse.”

Yet, he believes the PGA Tour players are also affected.  

“Most of the best players on the PGA TOUR are distracted, and they’re playing worse, too,” he added. 

As far as Chamblee is concerned, that means two things: 1. A lot of first-time winners are breaking through as evidenced by Matthieu Pavon, Grayson Murray, Jake Knapp, and Austin Eckroat, and 2. It opens the door for a first-time winner at the Masters.  

Others disagree and believe that Augusta National requires experience.

History shows that only three golfers have won the Masters when playing the tournament for the first time: Horton Smith in 1934, the first Masters, Gene Sarazen in 1935, and Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. 

Jon Rahm is defending champ, and while no one denies that he’s capable of winning the Masters again, no one really knows how he’s playing. 

Johnson Wagner thinks Rahm can still get it done.

‘From everything I’ve heard, he’s maybe missing the competitive golf, so I think he’s going to get back into the major environment, and he’s going to feel right at home quickly,” Wagner said. “I think he’s going to relish the opportunity to go back out there and be somewhat of a disruptor.”

The issue is, according to Begay, that the lack of real competition means the LIV players aren’t pushed. His view was that stiff competition makes the golfers better and that LIV doesn’t have that. He compared it to runners who enter events leading up to the Olympics, for instance, to test themselves against each other.

“They make each other better. They’re challenging each other. They’re pushing each other,” Begay explained. “That’s not happening on LIV. That happens on the PGA TOUR. It’s cutthroat. You’ve got players nobody has ever heard of that can beat you on a week-to-week basis as has been shown this first few months.” 

Begay thinks that lack of competition brings a deterioration in the level of play. 

Chamblee thinks some players have the added problem of chasing perfection or trying to change their games. He cites Viktor Hovland as being in the game-changing mode.

And then he threw in a group that he said is just not what they were last season, like Tommy Fleetwood, Patrick Cantlay, Matthew Fitzpatrick, and Max Homa.

Regarding Rory McIlroy’s chances for the Grand Slam, both Begay and Chamblee think McIlroy has trouble hitting certain kinds of shots. However, McIlroy’s been working with Butch Harmon of late in an effort to find the secret for winning the Masters.

“His golf swing is just so — it’s beautiful, no doubt, but it’s such an odd fit for Augusta,” Chamblee suggested. “He just swings too in to out, and he misses so many shots there off all those hook lies.”

He thought for McIlroy to make the necessary changes to his swing to have great success at Augusta National would be difficult. Perhaps he forgot about McIlroy’s final round 64 in 2022. So, McIlroy can do it. He just has to be in the right frame of mind and hit the shots that the course calls for at the time.

“If he drives it down 1 on the first day, and he’s got a huge hook lie, and he hits a soft cut 10 feet beneath the hole, I’ll go, game on,” Chamblee added. “But if he hits it 30 feet left of the hole, above the hole, I’m like, here we go again. So, I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Begay, who has seen many players work with Harmon, said he agreed with Chamblee especially regarding the shorter irons.

“He’s spot on with regard to Rory’s short iron performance at Palmer (Arnold Palmer Invitational), 17 times between 100 and 150 yards, he had a short iron in his hand and only managed to get two of those inside 15 feet,” Begay noted. “If we see a big high soft cut off a slightly above-the-feet lie, then I think we can reconsider, but until then I think it’s still a big question mark.”

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So, while some experts favor Scottie Scheffler’s chances to win his second Masters just as he recently won his second Players, there are 87 golfers who want to do the same thing. No one is giving up without a fight.