Hideki Matsuyama made history as the first Japanese man to win a Major with his emotional one-shot victory at last year’s Masters.
The defending champion arrives at Augusta National Golf Club with uncertainty over his fitness after he withdrew from the PGA TOUR’s Valero Texas Open last week midway through his second round, citing a neck injury.
Since his victory last year, Matsuyama, 30, has won twice on the PGA TOUR at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP and the Sony Open.
However, he has since faced back issues and missed last month’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play as a result, while he also withdrew from THE PLAYERS Championship.
If he can compete this week, Matsuyama will attempt to become just the fourth player in the tournament’s rich history to ever successfully defend their Masters title after Jack Nicklaus, Sir Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods.
Augusta will play to a record length of 7,510 yards at the 86th Masters Tournament after two back nine holes were extended in distance, meaning the course will be 35 yards longer than in 2021.
The 11th hole, already a long dogleg-right par four and statistically the second-hardest hole in Masters history, has been lengthened from 505 to 520 yards.
Incidentally, the change means it is now longer than the 510-yard par five 13th.
In addition, the par five 15th – the second-easiest hole in Tournament history – has increased from 530 to 550 yards, challenging those seeking to reach the shallow green, which is guarded by water at the front and back, in two.
The fairways on both holes have also been recontoured down the right side to reward good tee shots in that direction and offer a flatter lie and better view of the green.
A chance to move up the rankings
In addition to vying to win a Major Championship, players in this week’s Masters field can climb the Official World Golf Ranking and DP World Tour Rankings.
The battle for World Number One continues between a raft of players after Scottie Scheffler displaced Jon Rahm with his impressive victory at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin last month.
Depending on various scenarios, Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Patrick Cantlay and Cameron Smith, who needs to back up his victory at THE PLAYERS Championship by winning a Green Jacket, can all move to the top of the Ranking.
World Number Four Hovland, who was the low amateur at Augusta in 2019, also currently occupies the top spot in the DP World Tour Rankings after his fine start to the 2022 season.
But with Thomas Pieters, the other player to have won a Rolex Series event on Tour so far this season, also in the field, there is a lot at stake at the Georgia-based course.
Return of the Par 3
After a two-year absence due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Masters Tournament will once again be preceded by its traditional eve-of-tournament Par 3 Contest.
However, six-time Masters champion Nicklaus, 82, has revealed he will no longer continue to play in it.
England’s Matt Wallace beat Sandy Lyle in a play-off when it was last held ahead of the official tournament in 2019, which Tiger Woods memorably won to claim his 15th Major triumph.
The Par 3 course at Augusta measures just over 1,000 yards, with all nine holes ranging from 70 to 140 yards.
Many players use the Par 3 Contest as an opportunity to involve family members in experiencing the tournament week, with DP World Tour member and Masters rookie Min Woo Lee having older sister and Major winner Minjee Lee as her caddie.
Famously, no winner of the Par 3 Contest has gone on to win the Masters that same year. European Tour