The first Major of the golfing season is upon us at Augusta National with the US Masters set to take place from Thursday to Sunday. The smallest field since 1997 gathers in Georgia with just 87 players competing for the coveted green jacket.This will be the 82nd playing of the famous tournament which is the only Major to take place every year over the same course.
So who are the favourites?
Jordan Spieth narrowly leads the betting as he goes in search of a second green jacket but the truth is that this is one of the most open Masters in history. Virtually all of the top players are coming into this week in form with Augusta specialists like Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson and of course Tiger Woods all playing good golf.
Rory McIlroy prepares once again to make an attempt at confirming himself in the annals of golfing history as he goes in search of a first Masters title to complete the career Grand Slam – a feat made up of winning all four Major championships which only Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have previously achieved.
If you’re looking to have a bet we have picked out some favourites, mid-rangers and long shots to have a look at.
When does it start?
It all kicks off on Thursday with the ceremonial tee shots from Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player at 1.15pm Irish time before Austin Cook, Ted Potter Jr and Wesley Bryan get the tournament underway at 8.30am local time, 1.30pm Irish time.
Rory McIlroy takes to the first tee at 6.38pm Irish time while Tiger Woods gets underway three hours earlier.
How can I follow it all?
The Masters is famous for its limited TV coverage and, although it has expanded over the years to now include the front nine, we still don’t get to watch half as much golf as you do at any other Major but that only helps to add the to the mystique. In this age of coverage saturation it’s nice to have a week where you appreciate every second you get.
Each day you can follow all of the action on our liveblogs which will get underway at 2pm on Thursday and Friday and take you through all of the day’s play.
At the weekend it will be a slightly later start as the field gets trimmed on Friday night.
In terms of TV coverage, you can follow featured groups and featured holes (Amen Corner and the 15th and 16th) on Sky Sports Red Button on Thursday and Friday from 2.15pm. Full coverage then gets underway on Sky Sports Main Event at 7pm but no live golf can be shown until 8pm.
BBC2 will show day one highlights at 5.45pm on Friday and day two highlights at 1.15pm on Saturday.
At the weekend, Sky Sports’ coverage gets underway at 7pm on Saturday and 6pm on Sunday.
BBC2 also has full live coverage of the weekend, starting at 7.30pm on Saturday and 6.30pm on Sunday.
You can also listen to all four days on BBC Five Live radio, starting at 9pm each day. If you’ve never listened to golf on radio you should give it a chance, it offers a different and very enjoyable perspective.
What’s the weather due to be like?
The Augusta Course Committee are famed for controlling virtually everything when it comes to the Masters and, although they can’t control the weather, they can control how it affects the course.
The sub-air system underneath the greens can suck all moisture out of them if the rain comes down heavy, meaning they will always run at their lightning fast speed and remain firm no matter what happens.
They shouldn’t have to worry too much about that this year though as the weather looks pretty good throughout, bar the possibility of rain and wind on Saturday which could make things very interesting.
Thursday: Sunny all day with highs of 21 degrees and light easterly winds at 10 to 15kmh.
Friday: Mostly sunny with highs of 27 degrees and light south-westerly winds of to to 15kmh.
Saturday: Showers with thunder possible. Highs of 26 degrees with south-westerly winds between 25 and 40kmh.
Sunday: Partly clouds with highs of 19 degrees and north-easterly winds of 15 to 25kmh.
Who are the Irish competitors?
For the first time since 2008 there is just one Irish player in the field with Rory McIlroy ploughing the lone furrow.
McIlroy comes into the week off the back of a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month and with a new Masters mindset having played more this year than he ever has prior to the start as well as playing 90 holes at Augusta before this week and cutting down on the number of friends and family he has brought along with him.
As Philip Reid writes from Augusta, there may only be one Irish raider, but only one is needed to win.
Can Tiger Woods win?
That’s the million dollar question. Some say he can, some say he can’t but either way there is a buzz around this Masters that is even greater than usual.
It’s partly because so many top players are in form and also because Tiger is back. No one is a bigger draw in the golfing world than the four-time Masters champion and, if he were to win this week, it would represent one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time.
From The Back Pages
There are numerous Masters moments to look back on down the years but one of the more interesting is the debacle that ensued after the 1968 tournament when Roberto De Vicenco threw away his chance of claiming a green jacket by signing for an incorrect score.
It was all played out to the backdrop of Martin Luther King’s assassination just days before and the ensuing Vietnam War which was claiming the lives of thousands of Americans.
Added Time Masters podcast
If all of that reading wasn't enough for you we also have a bonus Added Time podcast released today with Philip Reid speaking to Malachy Clerkin from Augusta while Colin Byrne – caddie for Rafa Cabrera-Bello – was also in studio last week to talk through some of the intricacies of the famous course.
If you really fancy testing your wits this week and for the rest of the golfing season you can sign up to The Irish Times Fantasy Golf sponsored by Allianz. Registration closes at 11am on Thursday with a first prize of €10,000 up for grabs.