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US Masters 2024: Storylines to follow

 The first major of the year is almost upon us, with 89 golfers looking to write their name into the sport's history books.

Will Rory McIlroy complete the career Grand Slam? Will world #1 Scottie Scheffler win a second major? Will we see a first-time major winner?

We've taken a look at some of the most intriguing storylines to follow this week at the US Masters.

US Masters

The career Grand Slam, at last?

It will be one of the most-followed storylines every Masters until it happens: Will Rory McIlroy win at Augusta and complete the career Grand Slam?

He’s shown over the years he’s got the game to compete at Augusta with more than a dozen rounds in the 60s, but has too often thrown a 70+ in to rule himself out.

After a middling start to the season (T66-T24-T21-T21-T19 on the PGA TOUR), McIlroy visited instructor Butch Harmon for a golf lesson and responded with a third-place finish at the Valero Texas Open.

The Northern Irishman is still one of the longest hitters in the game, his putting is steady if unspectacular and his short game isn’t exactly problematic, but his iron play has been unusually loose this season.

There were signs he was coming back to his best in Texas last week, but was it a one-off or can McIlroy contend at Augusta once again?

A LIV winner?

Last year’s Masters was the first since LIV Golf had poached bona fide world stars. The initial batch were players well in their 40s whose best days were behind them plus Dustin Johnson, but last year saw the likes of Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Cameron Smith, Patrick Reed joining the breakaway league.

There’s still a lot of negative sentiment towards LIV and its players, and a rebel winning at Augusta would’ve left a sour taste in the mouth for many.

But with Koepka taking a two-shot lead into Sunday, it looked a very real possibility. An uncharacteristic Sunday saw Jon Rahm win, but LIV’s chances look better this year.

As well as Koepka, they have defending champion Rahm, special invitee Joaquin Niemann as well as major winners Smith, DeChambeau and Johnson.

World #1 to win major #2?

He’s been the runaway favourite for some time and is now as short as 7/2 to win the US Masters. Can Scottie Scheffler repeat his 2022 success in 2024?

2023 was an incredible year for Scheffler, winning THE PLAYERS Championship, the Phoenix Open and posting 16 consecutive top-12 finishes (of which 14 were top 10). Even at the majors, Scheffler was excellent, going T10-T2-3-T23 across the Masters, PGA Championship, US Open and The Open, but he’s now played in seven majors without winning one.

Scheffler has played in eight tournaments this season, finishing top-10 in seven, winning two Signature Events including another PLAYERS Championship. Majors aren’t handed out, but it’s how Scheffler’s greatness will be measured.

He’s the best golfer in the world for now – and clearly so – but needs to make hay while the sun shines.

A first-time major winner?

The top of the market is dominated by golf’s superstars, and of the top seven in the betting, only Xander Schauffele is a maiden.

Schauffele has contended at Augusta before being hunted down by Tiger Woods in 2019 and is by a distance the best player yet to win a major. The question isn’t his ability, it’s now his mental fortitude, and whether he really has what it takes to win one of the big four.

Next on the list is the best golfer in the world you hadn’t heard of a year ago. Ludvig Aberg had played a handful of PGA TOUR events as an amateur but his rise has been the most meteoric we’ve seen in the game since perhaps Woods.

The Swede’s first pro start came last June and he’s already a winner on the PGA TOUR, DP World Tour, a Ryder Cup winner, and we’ve yet to see him tee it up in a major. He’s a future winner for sure, and there’ll be plenty of eyes on the 24-year-old this week.

Joaquin Niemann was a fledgling pro on the PGA TOUR with a bright career ahead of him before making the switch to LIV Golf.

Still only 26, Niemann has one top-20 in four Masters starts to his name, but was given a special invite after winning LIV’s Mayakoba event in which he shot a 59 and made public his desire to play in majors. The Chilean followed that with a win in Jeddah in the third LIV event of the season and is a 25/1 shot.

Patrick Cantlay’s another golfer who’s achieved most of what there is to achieve outside of the majors. He’s a FedEx Cup winner, Ryder Cup winner and has eight PGA TOUR wins to his name, but his best stuff so often deserts him at majors. He’s posted top-10s in the Masters, PGA Championship and The Open, but has as many missed cuts as top-10s.

From someone whose best game leaves them in majors to someone who always seems to find his very best at majors in Will Zalatoris. Coming from out of nowhere, Zalatoris posted six top-10s in his first eight major starts before being felled by a back injury that ruled him out of the 2023 season.

The 27-year-old has shown signs of life again this season, and don’t be surprised to see him on major leaderboards again soon.

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