While 54 holes remain to be played at the 2023 Masters, the first 18 holes set up a lot of intrigue for the weekend in Augusta. Apr 6, 2023; Augusta, Georgia, USA; Patrons make their way onto the course to watch the honorary starters during the first round of The Masters golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Network Pga Masters Tournament First Round

One round is complete at Augusta National. And as we look ahead to the final three rounds, we can only imagine that any people involved with the Masters or CBS are smiling from ear to ear.

And if they’re not, they should be.

We of course don’t know how the final three rounds will play out. But if Thursday’s opening round is any indicator, the weekend sets up well for the Masters and anyone associated with the tournament.

There are several reasons why.

Tiger Woods

Granted, Tiger is way out of the mix. He’s two-over, tied for 54th place and nine back of the leaders. Even in his prime, it would have been tough for Tiger to get back into contention. There’s no way that’s a good thing for the Masters, right? If we’ve learned anything over the last 25-plus years, it’s that Tiger moves the needle like nobody else. Tournaments he plays in generate more interest than those he skips. Tournaments he’s contending do far better than when he’s out of the mix.

So, for Saturday and Sunday, the interest is definitely better with Tiger in the mix. But what about Friday? That will be an interesting round.

Tiger contending over the weekend would spike numbers. But even making the cut would be a big boost. To do that, he needs to have a good round on Friday. The top 50 and ties make the cut. Tiger is only one back of that. There will be a lot of eyeballs on him through the round on Friday to see if he can do that.

And no matter which way that goes, Tiger’s quest to make the cut will be a nice lead-in to Saturday and Sunday, which has several intriguing storylines.

Tight leaderboard

Brooks Koepka, Viktor Hovland and Jon Rahm sit in a three-way tie for the lead after Thursday’s round. But the tournament is far from a three-way race. Jason Day and Cameron Young are only two back of them. One shot behind Day and Young are Sam Bennett (hold that thought), Gary Woodland, Shane Lowry, Xander Schauffele, Adam Scott, Sam Burns and defending champion, Scottie Scheffler. Right behind them is the foursome of Justin Rose, Colin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth and Sepp Straka.

A lot of recognizable names are in that group. And with so many big names within four shots of the lead (and several others just behind), there’s a lot of potential for some fun Sunday battles. Even if they don’t materialize, the intrigue is there now and will be for most of the weekend.

Sam Bennett

Despite the rich amateur tradition inspired by Bobby Jones, the Masters has long been dominated by professionals. No amateur has ever won the Masters. Frank Stranahan, Ken Venturi and Charles Coe were runners-up in 1947, 1956 and 1961, respectively. Coe finished ninth place in 1962 and since then, no amateur has cracked the top 10.

Bennett can change that.

And even though Bennett is not a household name now, history tells us that changes quickly. The members of the 1980 USA Hockey Team were not celebrities before the Olympics. But well before the game against the USSR turned into the Miracle on Ice, they all were.

The David vs. Goliath story has always captivated people. Go back and look at the other names at or near the top of the leaderboard. Bennett, a fifth-year senior at Texas A&M, could be battling down the stretch on Sunday with any of them.

And as fascinating as Bennett — and all of the other aforementioned potential storylines — are, we’ve saved our best for last.

PGA Tour vs. LIV

We got a slight taste of this in 2022 during the majors. But while some big names crossed over to LIV, they didn’t really contend in the majors. Cam Smith, of course, won the Open Championship, but that came before he jumped ship.

That figures to be different this year.

Koepka is in a three-way tie for the lead. Smith, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson all broke par. Sitting only one shot behind that group is Rory McIlroy, perhaps the biggest critic of LIV Golf.

Regardless of what any one individual thinks of LIV, there’s a lot of drama that could materialize over the weekend with the budding rivalry between LIV and the PGA Tour.

That, like everything else we’ve covered, will only increase interest in the Masters. If nothing else, the weekend at Augusta figures to be lively.

About Michael Dixon

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