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Jon Rahm looking to defend title at Augusta after leaving PGA Tour for LIV Golf

#1 Cochran Sports Showdown: Apr. 7th, 2024
#1 Cochran Sports Showdown: Apr. 7th, 2024 21:48

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- It's Masters week and all eyes in the golf world will be on Augusta National Golf Club. 

The 88th playing of The Masters will get underway on Thursday for what is dubbed 'A tradition unlike any other.' 

The golf world will be tuned into Augusta this week with so many storylines to follow, but perhaps none bigger than Jon Rahm looking to go back-to-back after shocking everyone this past offseason when he announced he was leaving the PGA Tour to join LIV Golf. 

Jon Rahm defending title after leaving PGA Tour for LIV

Every year, there is always discussion about whether or not we will see a repeat Masters champion for the first time since Tiger Woods went back-to-back in 2001 and 2002. 

Even more chatter is sure to take place given that defending champion Jon Rahm left the PGA Tour in the offseason, joining LIV Golf.

The Masters - Final Round
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 09: Jon Rahm of Spain celebrates holing the winning putt on the 18th green during the final round of the 2023 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 09, 2023 in Augusta, Georgia. / Getty Images

Rahm's Champions Dinner

The Masters tournament itself and everything surrounding Augusta National is tradition-riddled and the annual Champions Dinner is always good for commentary from the golf world and the former champions who get to attend the event. 

Last year, Scottie Scheffler's menu featured a lot of Texas classics, while the prior year, Hideki Matsuyama's menu offered some of the finest sashimi, Wagyu beef, and sushi. 

This year, the menu was revealed and the dinner served in honor Jon Rahm is going to be a Spanish feast for he and his fellow champions.

2020 Masters winner Dustin Johnson provided some classic commentary on the subject recently, saying that he's sure it's going to be fantastic, even if he doesn't understand a good majority of the menu. 

 "I don't know what a lot of it is," Johnson said.. I did know the [Ibericos] ham, obviously from playing in Spain last year. I ate a lot of the ham, so I know that's going to be great.   

Changes to the course this year

Every year ahead The Masters, Augusta National's course changes are always a hot topic.

Last year, the par 5 #13 named Azalea was pushed back into more of a chute, cutting down the angle players could draw the ball to the left.

This year, the par 5 #2 named Pink Dogwood is being pushed back 10 yards. 

The downhill hole is currently the easiest-rated hole on the course. Time will tell if the ten yards being pushed back will have an impact on scores in this year's tournament. 

How to watch The Masters

From cable to streaming services and online live streams, there a number of ways to tune into this year's Masters tournament. 

When it comes to cable, there will be Masters content on ESPN, CBS, and the CBS Sports Network.

For those with streaming services, you'll be able to find The Masters on Paramount+, Fubo, and ESPN+.

There is also a live stream on The Masters website and app, both completely free of charge, which will offer a live broadcast and several different select channels  and groups that focus on different holes, including:

  • Holes 5, 6, and 7
  • Featured groups, still to be determined
  • Amen Corner (holes 11, 12, and 13)
  • Holes 15 and 16
  • Main broadcast

The Masters Par 3 contest

Before the tournament gets underway on Thursday, the annual Par 3 contest at Augusta National will take place on Wednesday this week. 

Golfers will tee off at Noon on Wednesday. Tom Hoge won the contest a year ago. 

Rory McIlroy still looking for grand slam

Is this the year that Rory McIlroy completes the grand slam? It's the question that has been asked by the golf world for a decade now.

Masters Golf
Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, hits out of a bunker on the 16th hole during a practice for the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, Monday, April 3, 2023, in Augusta, Ga. Mark Baker / AP

It's been almost a full ten years since McIlroy won his last major, claiming both the PGA and Open Championships in 2014 with his best finish at The Masters just two years ago when he finished tied for second place.  

Tiger on the prowl? 

For just the second time this season, we will see Tiger Woods in the field at Augusta National.

Woods made his season debut earlier this year at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club, but withdrew from the tournament amid a battle with the flu. 

Tiger Woods his tee shot on the 1st hole during the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club on February 15, 2024 at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California. (Photo by Mel Blackmon/CBS)

Time will tell if Woods is able to contend in this year's Masters tournament. He was out on the course at Augusta on Sunday getting a practice round in, with his presence said to have led to a 'palbable buzz in the air.'

Last year, Woods made the cut and played into the weekend, but he withdrew prior to the resuming of play on Sunday. 

Woods has won the tournament five times in his career, one shy of Jack Nicklaus' record of six victories. 

Getting a 'Taste of the Masters' at home

If you've never been lucky enough to win the lottery to buy tickets to The Masters and attend Augusta National, the golf club has made it possible for you to experience some of their illustrious fare in the comfort of your own home.

With a 'Taste of the Masters' kit, you can have the club's famous pimento cheese, barbecue pork, and egg salad sandwiches along with their cookies, popcorn, and chips all without leaving the house. 

Masters' branded cups, wax paper, and coasters complete the set.  Kits are already sold out for this year and are expected to ship and arrive this week ahead of and during the tournament. 

The ceremonial tee shots

One of everyone's favorite moments that take place every year at Augusta National is the honorary tee shots that signify the start of the tournament. 

Thursday morning, three past champions who won a combined 11 Masters titles and a combined 35 major championships will hit tee shots down the fairway at the par 4 #1 Tea Olive, meaning that the tournament can officially get underway. 

The Masters - Round One
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 06: The Honorary Starters Tom Watson of The United States, Jack Nicklaus of The United States and Gary Player of South Africa pose with Fred Ridley the Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club on the first tee for the Honorary starters ceremony during the first round of the 2023 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 06, 2023 in Augusta, Georgia. / Getty Images

Jack Nicklaus (six-time winner), Gary Player (three-time winner), and Tom Watson (two-time winner) will be the participants for this year's ceremonial tee shots, a tradition that dates back to 1963. 

New caddies on the bag

Two prominent names in the field at The Masters this week will have new caddies.

Three-time Masters winner and six-time major winner Phil Mickelson will have a new caddie after his brother, Tim Mickelson, announced he was retiring last month.  Jon Yarbrough, longtime caddie for Scott Stallings, will be on the bag for Mickelson. 

Meanwhile, Justin Thomas, who had been playing with Mickelson's longtime caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay on the bag, announced last week that the two had parted ways.  

Matt Minister, who caddied for Patrick Cantlay when he won the Tour Championship in 2021, will be carrying the bag for Thomas, who struggled to find his form last year after winning the PGA Championship in 2022. 

One final entry into the field

Akshay Bathia has earned an entry into this year's Masters tournament and did so in dramatic fashion after winning the Valero Texas Open in a playoff.

Bathia allowed a six-shot lead to slip away to a charging Denny McCarthy before winning the tournament in a playoff on the 18th hole. 

Getting a glimpse of glory at Augusta

While this year's Masters tournament won't get underway until Thursday, amateur golf fans were able to get a glimpse of the course conditions at Augusta National over the weekend during the 5th playing of the Women's Amateur. 

Augusta National Women's Amateur - Final Round
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 06: Eila Galitsky of Thailand plays her tee shot on the 12th hole during the final round of the Augusta National Women's Amateur at Augusta National Golf Club on April 06, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. / Getty Images

Lottie Woad won the tournament with a late charge through the finishing holes at Augusta, making birdies on #17 and #18, winning the tournament by a single shot. 

Arnold Palmer achieved that feat in 1960 and so did Mark O'Meara in 1998. 

With the win at Augusta, Woad has earned exemptions into several LPGA tournaments. 

Amateur players in the field

Five amateurs will be playing in this year's Masters tournament. 

Santiago de la Fuente, Stewart Hagestad, Christo Lamprecht, Neal Shipley, and Jasper Stubbs have all qualified or earned exemptions through various routes.

Shipley was the runner-up at last year's U.S. Amateur and is from the Pittsburgh area. He attended Pittsburgh Central Catholic before attending James Madison University and Ohio State University.

U.S. Amateur finals
CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, CO - AUGUST 20: Neal Shipley, of Pittsburgh, PA tees off on Hole 4 as he competes against Nick Dunlap, of Huntsville, AL during the final match play at the 123rd U.S. Amateur Championship at the Cherry Hills Country Club in Cherry Hills Village, Colorado on August 20, 2023 in Cherry Hills Village Colorado. Dunlap beat Shipley 4 and 3 in the match up to take home the win. Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

All five amateurs will surely be hoping to catch lightning in a bottle at Augusta like Sam Bennett last year, who made a splash as the low amateur and was near the top of the leaderboard headed into the weekend. 

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