With spring in the air, for golf fans, April can only mean one thing: The Masters.
As the 87th edition of arguably the most prestigious major on the calendar begins on Thursday, the arrival of major season is more highly anticipated than for some considerable time.
Not only will 2023 see both a Solheim Cup and Ryder Cup later in the year, but as the golfing fraternity roll into the Augusta National this week, amongst them present will be the exiled stars of LIVGolf.
Making a first appearance after leaving the PGA Tour last year, former winners drive up on Magnolia Lane looking to put the cat amongst the pigeons. And azaleas.
This year’s edition looks set to be epic.
For Scottie Scheffler, the Masters represents his first chance to defend a major title after claiming the Green Jacket 12 months ago.
And he could take some stopping.
Fresh from a five-stroke Players Championship victory at Sawgrass last month, the New Jersey native is once again world number one.
Runner-up to Matt Fitzpatrick in the US Open at Brookline last June, the 26-year-old finished T8 or better in all four majors last term.
This season, Scheffler has already added a second Tour crown by defending the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Not only that, the defending champ has no less than seven T7 finishes this term.
Top of the charts off the tee, from tee and green and for greens in reg, Scheffler is 7/1 for 8 places with William Hill.
Can McIlroy seal Grand Slam?
Or, could this year’s trip to the Peach State finally see the crowing glory for Rory McIlroy?
Now close to nine years since his last major win at Valhalla in 2014, the Northern Irishman’s game has perhaps returned to the same level.
With a new driver in the bag, McIlroy has been better off the tee than ever this term and despite again missing the cut at Sawgrass, was third in the WGC Matchplay a fortnight back.
In the past, the Briton has struggled with the pressure of sealing the career Grand Slam, but with his accuracy at a very high level right now, McIlroy looks poised.
Despite missing another high-profile cut in 2021, the four-time major champ has finished at least T5 or better in half his last eight appearances at Augusta.
Though his iconic bunker play at the 18th on Sunday last year proved in the end forlorn, McIlroy’s 64 proved he still can do it at Augusta.
So will 2023 be his time? McIlroy is favourite with some bookmakers and 13/2 for 8 places with BoyleSports.
LIV Golfers to add Masters spice
If the Masters itself wasn’t enough to fire up the cylinders for major season, the LIVGolf crew are in town.
After the Augusta National in December made the decision not to alter their qualifying criteria, that meant former major winners past and present would be on show; including those from Greg Norman’s rebel alliance.
The most recent major winner, Cam Smith will be front and centre after winning the Claret Jug at St. Andrews last summer.
There will also be five other former winners of the Green Jacket from LIV in attendance; Charl Schwartzel, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and most recent victor, Dustin Johnson.
All six look capable of throwing the iron of controversy into the fire but we’re looking a bet special with SBK in this case.
Indeed, you can claim your money back as a free bet, up to £10, if any of the breakaway LIV Golfers win.
The contenders; back Day to figure
Elsewhere, of the leading names that could figure, Jason Day looks a prime candidate.
Without a major or Tour victory in five years, the 2015 PGA Champion appears to have left his health issues behind.
Runner-up to Charl Schwartzel at Augusta 12 years ago after the South African’s remarkable 4-2-3-3 finish, Day has three T5 finishes in Georgia.
This season, recapturing his very best with six top 10 finishes, Day looks good value to feature at 25/1 with 888Sport.
Or, how about compatriot Min Woo Lee?
Having played just five majors, the 24-year-old from Perth is coming up on the rails.
T14 on his Masters debut last time out, the Australian was also T6 at Sawgrass and could be a real force here at 66/1 with BetVictor.
Another British challenge meanwhile, could come from Tyrrell Hatton.
Long talked up as a major winner in waiting, further success for the winner of the Arnold Palmer in 2020 has yet to materialise.
However, after carding a stunning final round 65 in the Players, claiming second place behind Scheffler was a fitting consolation.
In six Masters showings, Hatton’s best came in a T18 two years ago.
Looking to follow in the footsteps of messrs Faldo and more recently Danny Willett, Hatton, to be the third English winner of the Green Jacket can be had at 45/1 with Betfred.
Finally, another player of real consistency to note, Corey Conners may be in the perfect position after winning the Valero Texas Open for a second time last weekend.
Of the four majors, the Canadian has performed best at the Masters with a best of T6 last year.
It would be no surprise to see the putting maestro revelling on the greens at 45/1 with William Hill.