9 Biggest Storylines Ahead Of The 2023 Masters

There could be more fireworks than ever at the first men's Major of the year

Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, Gary Player and Scottie Scheffler
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The Masters is an event that transcends golf, and ahead of the 2023 showdown, there are arguably more storylines than ever as the two sides of the divide in the men’s game come together for the first Major of the year. 

But that’s not all there is to talk about ahead of the 86th edition. Amid the controversy and potential for tension, there are some fairly monumental and feel-good eventualities that could unfold during the week.

There is the small matter of Tiger Woods, whose appearance at any golf event makes it a box-office affair, while we are also set to bid farewell to one of the most likeable past champions who created one of the finest Masters memories of all time. So, here are some of the biggest storylines ahead of the 2023 Masters…

Rival Tours Collide

Let’s get the potential negative stuff out the way first. A lot has already been said about the LIV Golf drama that continues to rock the men’s game in the build-up to this year’s tournament. That members of the breakaway circuit would even be allowed to play wasn’t confirmed until December of last year.

In the statement issued, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said that although he was “disappointed in these developments, our focus is to honor the tradition of bringing together a pre-eminent field of golfers this coming April.”

Greg Norman at LIV Golf Orlando

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That decision means there will be 18 LIV players in the field this week, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Cameron Smith and Bryson DeChambeau, who recently revealed that Woods had cut him off for joining the Saudi-funded league. 

It remains to be seen whether any of the underlying angst that exists in some quarters will spill over into something more, or if we may even get a Sunday showdown between the main protagonists in each camp. There's even talk of the LIV golfers storming the final green if one of them wins. Should it happen, it would certainly make for a spectacle, even if for the wrong reasons.

However, one notable absentee from any LIV fanfare will be commissioner Greg Norman, who hasn't been invited

Gary Player

Gary Player during the 2022 PNC Championship

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Never shy of an opinion or two, three-time Masters champ Gary Player seemed to really put his foot in it with comments about the iconic event, course and club. The South African boldly ranked the tournament, at which he is an honorary starter, as the worst of the four Majors, before criticising the club for not granting him full membership. 

Player has honorary membership, meaning he can pitch up and play on his own, but should he wish to bring a guest or two on, he has to be accompanied by a pucker club member. Safe to say he isn’t happy about that arrangement. 

“After all I’ve contributed to the tournament and been an ambassador for them, I can’t go and have a practice round there with my three grandchildren without having to beg a member to play with us, and there’s always some excuse. It’s terribly, terribly sad,” he told The Times.

"That’s why I rate the Open No. 1. If it wasn’t for the players, (Augusta) would just be another golf course in Georgia.”


Champions Dinner Tension

Ben Crenshaw watching the 2017 WGC Dell Technologies Match Play final

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Speaking of awkward, that’s the atmosphere Ben Crenshaw is hoping to avoid at this year’s Champions Dinner. The 71-year-old is the de-facto host of proceedings at the traditional feast but admitted he is “a little concerned”, with six LIV past champions expected to be in attendance. 

Gentle Ben’s comments mirror those made by Woods in February, but the two-time Green Jacket winner hopes any ill will is left at the door so as not to take the shine off defending champion Scottie Scheffler’s achievement.

"I’m a little concerned to be honest," Crenshaw told Sports Illustrated. “I’m not sure what is going to happen. I’m expecting that cooler heads will prevail and everything will be fine. I hope the focus is on the champion and the tournament but I really just don’t know – I’ve been worried about it I’ll be honest.”

Fred Couples recently called Mickelson a “nutbag” and Sergio Garcia a “clown”, so that could make for some interesting small talk around the table. 

McIlroy’s Date With Destiny

Rory McIlroy during a practice round for the 2023 Masters

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Another year, another chance for Rory McIlroy to complete the career grand slam. However, it does feel slightly different this time. The Northern Irishman appears back to his best and has arguably never come into the week in better form and better prepared. 

He achieved his highest finish last year courtesy of a momentous final-round 64 but was never in contention to win. The last time he was he floundered on Sunday alongside Patrick Reed in 2018, and who could forget his 2011 meltdown. But perhaps all that has set him up to finally clear the hurdle this week. He even has a new putter in the bag which, he says, gives him more feel to better cope with the famous Augusta undulations. 

Should he slip into the Green Jacket in the Butler Cabin on Sunday evening, he will join Jack Nicklaus, Woods, Player, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan as one of the game's greats. No pressure.

Can Tiger Contend?

Tiger Woods during a practice round ahead of the 2023 Masters

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There’s probably only one golfer who would be a more popular winner than McIlroy, and that’s Tiger Woods. The 47-year-old has been through the mill physically during his career, culminating in a car crash in February 2021 that nearly cost him his right leg. It was saved but the damage caused means he will never again play a full schedule. 

He can still hit all the shots but walking 72 holes, especially at a venue as hilly as Augusta, is the real challenge. Woods remains convinced he can win whenever he pegs it up and should he pull off the impossible this week, it would be one of the greatest achievements in sports history.

But just how likely is it? Common sense would surely dictate that a sixth Green Jacket is a pipe dream, especially in an era of such strength in depth, but as he’s proved time and time again, write him off at your peril.

New 13th Tee

A look from the tee at the par-5 13th at Augusta National

(Image credit: The Masters)

Long rumored amid ever-increasing hitting distances, Augusta’s iconic par-5 13th has been lengthened for the 2023 Masters. No longer will players be able to cut the corner at will and reduce the second shot to nothing more than a short iron from the new back tee.

Measuring 545 yards - up 35 yards from last year - the game’s biggest names will stare down a narrow chute, a little reminiscent to the 18th, and then face a big decision should they get a good tee shot away.

"There's a great quote from Bobby Jones dealing specifically with the 13th hole, which has been lengthened over time, and he said that the decision to go for the green in two should be a momentous one," club chairman Ridley said.

McIlroy has already been to Augusta and thinks the changes will make the hole better. “I used to hit 8-iron from a flat lie into 13 and now I hit a 5-iron from the ball way above my feet,” he said. “Just makes you think a little bit more about the second shot which I think is good.” 

Lyle's Last Hurrah

Sandy Lyle celebrates after winning the 1988 Masters

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The 2023 Masters will be the last for 1988 champion Sandy Lyle. The Scot announced he would be retiring from professional golf at the scene of his most iconic moment in the sport. Seve Ballesteros famously described Lyle as “the greatest God-given talent in history” and he displayed that talent from the fairway bunker he found himself in on the 72nd hole 35 years ago.

Needing a birdie to win from 145 yards, Lyle’s seven-iron over the flag remains one of the great Masters shots, and he capped it off by coolly slotting the tricky downhill putt before breaking out into a little jig as exhaustion set in. 

Lyle’s success at Augusta was the first for a golfer from the UK and sparked a four-year run of dominance that saw Sir Nick Faldo win in 1989 and ‘90, before Ian Woosnam became the first Welsh Major champion in 1991. The 65-year-old Scot is now set to join his fellow Brits and bring the curtain down on a stellar career that included two Major victories and five Ryder Cup appearances, among a great many other things.

Scheffler’s Defence

Scottie Scheffler slipping on the Green Jacket after winning the 2023 Masters

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Barring his late four-putt, Scheffler turned in a dominant performance to win last year’s Masters, and will begin his defence as one of the favorites. The World No. 1 has already added The Players Championship to his roll of honour this year amid a string of top-15s. In fact, not since a T45 at the CJ Cup in October last year has he finished outside the top 12 at an event.  

Should he pull off a successful defence, he will create another slice of history. Only Nicklaus, Woods and Faldo have won The Masters back-to-back, while only Faldo has done it after clinching a maiden Green Jacket. He is the favorite with most bookies and you’d be brave to bet against him being in the mix come Sunday evening.

Is Koepka LIV's Great Hope?

Brooks Koepka celebrates after winning the 2023 LIV Golf League event in Orlando

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Perhaps one man who could halt Scheffler’s momentum is Brooks Koepka. The American was one of the most feared players on the planet less than five years ago, especially when it came to Majors, until injuries and a loss of form took their toll. His surprising struggles were laid bare in Netflix’s Full Swing.

The 32-year-old became the first player to win multiple LIV Golf events at last week’s Orlando event, holding off Sebastian Munoz and meaning he enters Masters week in better form. It’s still hard to know how to define a win on the breakaway circuit in the larger scale of men’s professional golf, but an on-song Koepka remains a match for anyone.

Major No. 5...?

Andrew Wright
Freelance News Writer

A lifelong golf fan, Andy graduated in 2019 with a degree in Sports Journalism and got his first role in the industry as the Instruction Editor for National Club Golfer. From there, he decided to go freelance and now covers a variety of topics for Golf Monthly. 

Andy took up the game at the age of seven and even harboured ambitions of a career in the professional ranks for a spell. That didn’t pan out, but he still enjoys his weekend golf at Royal Troon and holds a scratch handicap. As a side note, he's made five holes-in-one and could quite possibly be Retief Goosen’s biggest fan.

As well as the above, some of Andy's work has featured on websites such as goal.com, dailyrecord.co.uk, and theopen.com.

What's in Andy's bag?

Driver: Callaway Mavrik Sub-Zero (9°)

3-wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus (15°)

Driving iron: Titleist U500 (17°)

Irons: Mizuno mp32 (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM9 (50°, 54° and 58°)

Putter: Titleist Scotty Cameron Newport 2.5

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x