Golf fans don't need any extra motivation to watch the Masters each April, but the hype surrounding this year's event has made it must-see television for even casual sports fans.
With Tiger Woods back in the fold, Phil Mickelson winning tournaments again, and the young guns of the game shining as brightly as ever, there are plenty of reasons why this is the most hyped Masters of all time.
Here are the eight most compelling players at this year's event.
"Finally, the Tiger has come back to Augusta National!" No, Woods won't be unleashing a Rock-esque announcement on the first tee Thursday, but the four-time champion's return deserves all the pomp and circumstance of the greatest wrestling promotion. Considering he was once so dominant on the course that they tried to "Tiger proof" the layout, it seems unfathomable that he hasn't won there since 2005, but here we are. It also seemed crazy just a couple of months ago to predict Woods would be among the favorites, but vintage Tiger performances over the past month have the sporting world buzzing.
With Woods on the shelf the past few years, most people looked to McIlroy as the man to carry golf to the next level. The Northern Irishman's already won four majors before hitting age 30, but hasn't captured one of golf's biggest trophies since the 2014 PGA Championship. After a rocky start to the season, critics began to wonder whether McIlroy had lost the magic touch. The 28-year-old quickly shut doubters down with an emphatic win at Bay Hill, blitzing the course for a remarkable 64 to announce that he's still the sport's alpha male when he wants to be. The Masters is the only major he hasn't captured, and with a win, McIlroy would become just the sixth man to complete the career grand slam in the Masters era.
As has been the case for much of his career, if Woods wasn't around, Mickelson would be the most talked-about golfer coming to Augusta. At the ripe age of 47, the three-time Masters champion enters the event on one of the best stretches of his career. Mickelson snapped a 101-tournament winless drought earlier this season at the WGC-Mexico, and enters with five top-10 finishes already this year. With a win this week, Mickelson would not only earn his fourth career Masters title, but he'd become the oldest champion ever at the storied event, besting Jack Nicklaus' 1986 victory at age 46.
Spieth's career at The Masters is off to a sensational start; the 24-year-old has played the event four times and finished outside the top two only once. That track record includes his win in 2015 and his ill-fated trip to the 12th hole in 2016, which saw him rinse two shots in the water and finish second behind Danny Willett. Spieth's ball striking has never been better - he descends on Augusta this week ranked third on Tour in strokes gained tee to green. The flatstick has been the Texan's problem this year, but he's shown in the past that he's more than comfortable on the slick Augusta greens. Don't be shocked if he's in contention yet again Sunday.
There hasn't been a hotter player in the world than Justin Thomas over the past nine months, as the 24-year-old has soared up the world rankings to sit second behind Dustin Johnson. He has three straight top-five finishes on the schedule, including his win at the Honda Classic, and is looking to win back-to-back majors after claiming the PGA Championship last August. He can also become the top-ranked player in the world this week if the results align.
It's probably not possible for the best player in the world to fly under the radar heading to Augusta, but Johnson is doing a darn good job of trying. He's only played once in the past month, and that resulted in a round-robin exit at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Other than that finish, Johnson has been his usual dominant self, posting a win and two second-place showings. He hasn't finished worse than 16th this season in a stroke-play event, and he's placed in the top six in his last two starts at Augusta. As long as he can avoid wet stairs in his rental house, don't be shocked if the only slipping the 33-year-old does this weekend involves the green jacket going on his broad shoulders.
The golf world came to Augusta last year operating under the assumption that Sergio Garcia's prolific career was destined to end without a major. The Spaniard shattered that narrative with an incredible Sunday performance to claim his first major in a playoff. He's returning to the hallowed grounds to defend his green jacket in fine form, having posted three straight top-10 finishes. His ball striking remains among the best in the world, and at 33-1, he's one of the best value bets on the board.
Watson was a disaster last year as he switched ball manufacturers from Titleist to Volvik, but now that he's back to his original, he's on fire. With two wins in his last four starts, it's hard to find someone hotter in the field, and his past success at Augusta should make him a favorite to contend. Only eight men have claimed at least three Masters titles in their career - an illustrious list including names like Mickelson, Woods, Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Arnold Palmer. It'd be pretty cool to see Watson join that list with a third green jacket.
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