Masters week is always one of my favourites and I am really looking forward to watching the best players in the world, hopefully including Tiger Woods, grace Augusta National.
Five-time winner Woods is set to make a last-minute decision on whether to play in his first 72-hole tournament since almost losing his leg in a car crash last year.
With doubts over whether he will even tee off on Thursday, he is not among the bookies’ favourites for the green jacket, but he is such an extraordinary human being that you can’t help but get excited by the thought of him playing the Masters again.
I’m not sure anything can top Ben Hogan’s recovery from a near-fatal accident to win six more majors as the best comeback in golf, but Tiger’s victory at the 2019 Masters was beyond belief nonetheless. If he was to somehow do it again this year we might have to reopen the debate.
Woods didn’t look bad at all when playing the 36-hole PNC Championship with his son Charlie in December, even if he had to use a golf cart, and he has such a good head on his shoulders. I won’t be tipping him to win this week but I will be watching him at every opportunity.
Why Rahm tops my Masters shortlist
My favourite has to be Jon Rahm, based on the consistency of his results at the Masters, his tendency to raise his performance level for the majors and the overall quality of his game.
Rahm has finished in the top 10 on his last four appearances at Augusta and in his last five majors, including his success at the US Open last summer. He is due another one and can shape the ball both ways, so is well suited to this course.
He hasn’t won yet this year but has been playing fantastically well tee to green. The only ingredient missing has been his putting but at the Masters Rahm will be returning to greens that he knows very well and that can really help a player’s confidence.
A handful of other players are on my shortlist, including new world No1 Scottie Scheffler. The American has won three of his last five tournaments, is strong in every department and has a game well suited to Augusta.
He has only played the Masters twice before but finished in the top 20 on both occasions, which is very respectable. That was before his incredible purple patch of the last few months, and he should be considered a different player and man now.
Another in fantastic form and with a Masters record that inspires confidence is Cameron Smith. The Australian world No6 has won twice from five appearances already this year, including The Players Championship.
Smith was tied for second at the Masters when Dustin Johnson won in 2020, finished in the top five in 2018 and was in the top 10 a year ago. He is without doubt one to watch this week.
Justin Thomas has not got it quite right at any tournament yet this year but he has been playing very well, as four top 10 finishes show. Thomas, who walked the course with Woods last week, has also played consistently well at Augusta, finishing fourth in 2020.
The last man on my shortlist is another American, Xander Schauffele. The world No10 was just two shots off the lead with three holes to play before a double bogey at 16 ended his hopes of victory. He finished tied for third, to go with his share of second in 2019, and is a great player.
Hovland ready to win first major
Of the rest of the field, Viktor Hovland deserves a special mention. The Norwegian, 24, is so exciting and, like Rahm, can shape the ball left and right, which is a great asset at Augusta. He hasn’t won a major yet but he is definitely ready to take the next step.
Dustin Johnson has had a lot of time off over the last few months but looked very good on his last appearance at the WGC Match Play last month and is certainly a contender for a second Masters.
Open champion Collin Morikawa has not been at his own very high standards lately, while Rory McIlroy may end up benefiting from missing the cut on Friday at the Texas Open, where windy conditions were not the best preparation for this week.
Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama was a magnificent winner last year but has had a difficult build-up, pulling out of two recent events with back and neck injuries. Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau are similarly coming into this week under the radar.
This year Masters organisers have made a couple of changes to the famous course, including at 11, the magnificent start of Amen Corner and perhaps the second most difficult hole in golf. They very seldom make mistakes so I’m looking forward to seeing them.
In another change, two-time winner Tom Watson, 72, will join Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus as honorary starters. That’s another nice touch in what promises to be a magical week.
Sam Torrance OBE is a multiple Ryder Cup-winning golfer and media commentator. Follow him @torrancesam.