Major questions about Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka and more with Masters one month away

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It’s hard to believe it has nearly been 365 days since Tiger Woods stunned the golf world by winning his fifth green jacket at the Masters.

The 84th edition of the Masters, the first major championship of the PGA Tour season, is only one month away.

There’s much uncertainty, starting with the defending champion. Woods’ aching back, which was a question mark a year ago, is once again a concern. So is Brooks Koepka’s game after knee surgery, and the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.

Here’s everything you need to know 30 days from the 2020 Masters:

Uncertainty and Tiger Woods

The Masters is only one month away, and defending champion Tiger Woods hasn’t played competitive golf in nearly as long.

Woods, 44, will skip the Players Championship this week after missing the WGC-Mexico Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational, as well. He complained of back stiffness in mid-February at the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles, where he finished last among players who made the cut.

His agent, Mark Steinberg, told ESPN in a text message on Friday that Woods’ back is “not concerning long term, just not ready.”

In a Twitter post on Friday, Woods wrote: “I have to listen to my body and properly rest when needed. My back is simply just not ready for play next week. I’m sad to miss one of the best events of the season, OUR championship.”

So what’s next for the 15-time majors champion? Even if his back is ready, will his game be ready if he can’t play in the upcoming Valspar Championship or WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship?

It’s hard to imagine Woods not being back at Augusta National on April 9-12 to defend his Masters title. A year ago, he captivated the world when he came from behind to win there, after waiting 14 years to win his fifth green jacket. He became the second-oldest man to win the Masters, at 43 years, 3 months and 15 days old.

Another win at Augusta this year would tie him with Jack Nicklaus for the most Masters victories with six.

“It’s been incredible for myself and my family to be a part of this and for me to be the current Masters champion,” Woods told reporters in a teleconference last month. “It’s crazy that somehow it all came together for one week, one magical week.”

As magical as those 72 holes were a year ago, golf fans were also left wondering whether Sunday at Augusta in 2019 was a fitting end and the final crowning achievement to golf’s most legendary career.

After four back surgeries and another knee surgery in August, would Woods’ body allow him to continue contending at major championships? After winning the Masters, he missed cuts at the PGA Championship and Open Championship and withdrew from the Northern Trust.

After his fourth knee surgery, he unexpectedly won the Zozo Championship in Japan in October and went 3-0 at the Presidents Cup in December. He tied for ninth at the Farmers Insurance Open in his first event of 2020, and everything seemed fine until he suffered back stiffness at the Genesis.

While downplaying the injury at the Genesis, Woods said his plan was “to peak around Augusta time.”

Augusta time is almost here, and there are still plenty of questions when it comes to Woods.

Can Brooks Koepka find his game?

Woods isn’t the only golfer with big questions only a month from the Masters. Koepka, who only a year ago became the first player to hold back-to-back titles in two majors (PGA Championship and U.S. Open) simultaneously, all of the sudden can’t crack the top 40 at a tournament.

Koepka, who played with a painful knee injury for much of last season, hasn’t done much of anything since the end of the 2018-19 season. He missed the cut at the Shriners, withdrew from the CJ Cup, tied for 43rd at the Genesis and then missed the cut at the Honda Classic.

This past weekend, he carded a career-worst 9-over 81 in the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational (followed by a 71 on Sunday). He finished 9 over, good for a tie for 47th.

“Still s—. Still s—. Putting better,” Koepka told reporters on Sunday at Bay Hill.

Koepka said he feels better about his putting, but his swing is still too inconsistent.

Koepka, 29, plans to play five straight weeks, with upcoming starts at the Players Championship, Valspar Championship and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, before taking a week off before the Masters.

“To tell you the truth, I mean, I would never play more than three weeks in a row,” Koepka said. “But, obviously, sometimes things happen, and the only way I see getting through this is playing. That’s my way of trying to grind and work it out and figure it out.

“I mean, every year we have come — I don’t know how far back, to 2016 — all the way through the Match Play has been terrible. So I don’t know what it is about these first three months of the year, but I struggle quite a bit.”

Coronavirus status

Could you imagine a Masters without thousands of patrons surrounding the greens and lining the fairways of Augusta National Golf Club?

Hopefully, it won’t come to that, but Augusta National officials are monitoring the coronavirus outbreak and consulting the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, Georgia Department of Public Health and other local authorities.

In a memo released by Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley last week, the club said the “safety, health and well-being of everyone is our top priority.”

“As a result of this collaboration, and based upon our knowledge of the situation at this time, we are proceeding as scheduled for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals and the Masters Tournament,” the letter said. “We will continue to review the available facts and information with the experts and authorities, establish precautions and take appropriate action to ensure the safety of all involved.”

The Augusta National Women’s Amateur is scheduled for April 1-4, and the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals are set for April 5.

ESPN Senior Writer

Winning before the Masters is a great idea right?Wait, what?!

Michael Collins, ESPN Senior Writer10h ago

Top contenders

Patrick Cantlay
The 27-year-old former UCLA star has already won twice on the PGA Tour and has a pair of top-10s this season, including solo second at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in October. After back-to-back 73s in his third start at Augusta last year, he fired a bogey-free, 8-under 64 in the third round, which was 1 stroke shy of the course record. He followed that with a 68 on Sunday and finished tied for ninth.

Rickie Fowler
The 31-year-old is still the best player in the world to have never won a major championship, and he is coming off another close call at Augusta National. Fowler finished tied for ninth in 2019, three shots behind Woods, with four subpar rounds. He has three top-10s at the Masters, including a tie for fifth in 2014 and solo second in ’18, when he finished 1 stroke behind Patrick Reed. He has had an uneven start to 2020, with two top-10s and two missed cuts.

Dustin Johnson
The former world No. 1 has won only once since July 2018 (at the 2019 WGC-Mexico Championship) and is still seeking his second major championship victory and first at Augusta. DJ finished in the top 10 in each of his past four Masters appearances, including a tie for runner-up in 2019. He shot 68 in the final round last year, including 4-under on the second nine, to nearly chase down Woods. He has a pair of top-10s in four Tour starts this year.

Brooks Koepka
The four-time majors winner nearly broke through at Augusta last year, finishing tied for second, one shot behind Woods. Koepka might have won his first green jacket if his putter hadn’t gone cold over the final two holes. He played through much of last season with a left knee injury and had a stem-cell injection following the Tour Championship. He hasn’t played well since, but he has four majors, so he’s always a threat.

Rory McIlroy
The current world No. 1 is a green jacket away from becoming only the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam during the Masters era. The pressure of that achievement seemed to weigh on him the previous two years at Augusta. In 2018, McIlroy faltered in a Sunday final pairing with eventual champion Reed, shot 74 and finished tied for fifth. Last year, he was tied for 21st, his worst finish since 2013. McIlroy won the WGC-HSBC Champions in November and had top-fives in each of his first six PGA Tour starts this season.

Jon Rahm
The 25-year-old Spaniard has climbed to No. 2 in the world rankings after winning three times on the European Tour last year and finishing runner-up at the Farmers Insurance Open in January. He has back-to-back top-10s at the Masters, including a tie for ninth in 2019. In only three starts, Rahm has learned his way around Augusta National — and held his emotions in check — with sub-70 scores in five of his past eight rounds.

Patrick Reed
Love him or hate him, there’s a good chance the 29-year-old from Augusta is going to be back in the mix for a second green jacket. He backed up his 2018 victory with a tie for 36th last year. Last month, Reed won the WGC-Mexico Championship for his eighth Tour victory. One big concern is that he ranks 187th in driving accuracy, hitting only 55.7% of fairways.

Justin Rose
Rose, 39, has a great track record in majors with 16 career top-10s and has played particularly well at Augusta, where he was solo runner-up to Sergio Garcia in 2017 and tied for second behind Jordan Spieth in 2015. That’s what made last year’s collapse at the Masters so surprising. He shot 75-73 and missed the cut, becoming only the second sitting world No. 1 to fail to qualify for the weekend at Augusta in the past 20 years. The Englishman missed the cut in three of his first four Tour starts this year and tied for 56th at the Genesis.

Xander Schauffele
In only three-plus full seasons on Tour, the 26-year-old has already won four times and played his best on golf’s biggest stages. He finished tied for second at the Masters last year, after shooting a 65 on Friday and 68 on Sunday. He was third at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and second at the Tour Championship at East Lake (after winning there in 2017). He had five top-10 finishes in 11 majors during the previous three seasons.

Adam Scott
The 2013 Masters champion has climbed to No. 9 in the world rankings with two worldwide victories since December, including the Genesis. He has only one top-10 at Augusta National since his playoff win over Angel Cabrera seven years ago. Last year, the Australian was among five former major champions with a share of the 36-hole co-lead at the Masters, but then he shot 1-over on Sunday to finish tied for 18th.

Justin Thomas
After a right wrist injury derailed the start of his 2019 season, JT has played golf as well as anyone in the world over the past six months, with two Tour victories and three other top-10s since September. After an opening-round 73 at Augusta last year, he shot 9-under across the final 54 holes to finish tied for 12th, his best finish in four starts. He had a memorable ace on the 16th hole on Sunday.

Tiger Woods
Woods electrified the world at Augusta National last year when he came from behind for a 1-shot victory, which ended a 14-year drought at the Masters. He led the field in greens in regulation (58 of 72) and had 22 birdies, which was second-most. After struggling with his health over the next six months, Woods unexpectedly won again at the Zozo Championship in Japan in October for his 82nd career victory, which tied Sam Snead for most in PGA Tour history. But he hasn’t been seen in a while, missing tournaments he usually plays, citing a stiff back.

ESPN Senior Writer

Only 2 of the Top 5 in the OWGR have no need for concern, the other 3 better start checking their watches.

Michael Collins, ESPN Senior Writer10h ago

On the bubble

There are only three more weeks for players to qualify for the Masters via the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking; the cutoff comes after the WGC-Match Play on March 30. Players who haven’t qualified can also get in by winning one of the next four PGA Tour events.

Here are some the players currently on the bubble who haven’t yet qualified for the Masters:

Christian Bezuidenhout
The South African is currently inside the cut line — he’s No. 48 in the world. The 25-year-old has won twice on the European Tour since the start of the 2019 season. He finished tied for 18th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational this past weekend. He overcame stuttering, depression and anxiety, a result of accidentally drinking rat poison when he was 2.

Viktor Hovland
The promising PGA Tour rookie picked up his first victory at the Puerto Rico Open last month. But that opposite-field event doesn’t come with a Masters invitation, so Hovland will have to win again or move into the top 50 in world rankings. He is currently No. 58. He finished 32nd and was low amateur at the Masters last year.

Graeme McDowell
The 2010 U.S. Open champion sits right outside bubble — he’s ranked No. 51 in the world. He hasn’t had great success at Augusta National, missing the cut in six of his nine appearances.

Collin Morikawa
Morikawa won the Barracuda Championship in his eighth career Tour start in July, but that victory didn’t come with a Masters invitation, either. He has three top-10s in 11 starts this season and stands at No. 44 in the world thanks to a big jump this past week.

Scottie Scheffler
The PGA Tour rookie moved into the top 50 — he stands 47th — thanks to four top-10s in 12 Tour starts this season and a 15th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He tied for third at the Bermuda Championship and was solo third at the American Express. He would be making his first Masters appearance.

Hey, remember me?

Don’t sleep on these recognizable players (and a couple of not-so-known) who will be back at Augusta National in April:

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Byeong Hun An
The popular South Korean barely missed the field in 2019; he was No. 52 in the Official Golf World Ranking for the week prior to the Masters (the top 50 get in). He made the cut in one of his three Masters appearances, finishing tied for 33rd in 2017.

Lucas Glover
The 2009 U.S. Open champion hasn’t played at the Masters since 2014, when he finished tied for 42nd. He made the field this year by qualifying for last season’s Tour Championship. He has cooled off considerably with one top-10 since October.

Brendon Todd
Todd, who resurrected his career with back-to-back victories at the Bermuda Championship and Mayakoba Golf Classic in November, is back at the Masters for only the second time. He missed the cut in 2015. Todd, a University of Georgia graduate, lives about 100 miles from Augusta National.

Lee Westwood
After playing in 13 straight Masters, the Englishman missed the field in each of the past two seasons. He is back after finishing in a tie for fourth at The Open at Royal Portrush in July. He was runner-up to Phil Mickelson in 2010 and finished in a tie for second behind Danny Willett in 2016.

Bernd Wiesberger
The Austrian made the cut at Augusta in four straight seasons before missing the field last year. After winning three times on the European Tour in 2019, he is currently ranked No. 26 in the world. He has 10 international victories in his career.

Names to know

You have a month to learn these names, which might not be so familiar:

John Augenstein (amateur)
Augenstein, a Vanderbilt senior, finished runner-up at the 2019 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst. The Owensboro, Kentucky, native also secured the clinching point in the U.S. team’s victory at the Walker Cup last summer with a 4 and 3 win over Thomas Plumb.

Tyler Duncan
The 30-year-old from Columbus, Indiana, clinched a spot with his surprising sudden-death playoff victory over Webb Simpson at the RSM Classic in November. He lost his PGA Tour card after finishing 163rd in FedEx Cup points at the end of the 2018-19 season.

Abel Gallegos (amateur)
The 6-foot-3 Gallegos became the first Argentine to win the Latin America Amateur Championship with a 4-shot victory in Mexico in January. The 17-year-old grew up playing a nine-hole course in his hometown of Veinticinco De Mayo, Argentina.

Lanto Griffin
Griffin, 31, had never had a PGA Tour top-10 finish before winning the Houston Open in October. He has added two other top-10s – a tie for seventh at the Sony Open and tie for ninth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Sung Kang
The 32-year-old Korean won the AT&T Byron Nelson in May and finished seventh at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black the next week. After a few months of so-so play, he finished in a tie for second at the Genesis Invitational in February and tied for ninth at Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Yuxin Lin (amateur)
The USC freshman returned to his native China in September and won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship for the second time in three years. He shot 79-80 and missed the cut in his first Masters appearance in 2018.

Lukas Michel (amateur)
The Australian became the first foreign-born player to win the U.S. Mid-Amateur with a 2 and 1 victory in the 36-hole final at Colorado Golf Club in September. He’ll also play in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in June.

Sebastián Muñoz
The 27-year-old Colombian won the Sanderson Farms Championship in September for his first Tour victory. Muñoz, who played collegiately at North Texas, also finished tied for seventh at The Greenbrier and solo third at the RSM Classic.

Andy Ogletree (amateur)
The Georgia Tech senior, who won the U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst last summer, has been on the mend after tearing tendons in his left thumb while playing pickup basketball in November. He has played well for the Yellow Jackets since returning, finishing tied for third at the Amer Ari Invitational in Hawaii in February.

Victor Perez
The Frenchman qualified by finishing in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking last year, after winning the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and finishing tied for second in two other European Tour events. He’s currently ranked No. 41 in the world.

Source: espn.com

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