Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler collide at Masters after golf’s dizzying stretch led to different paths

It’s been a dizzying year since the last Masters.

When we last left Augusta National, Jon Rahm not only drove off the fabled property with his first career green jacket but as the most dominant player in golf.

Rahm has since become the best player to take his talents to LIV Golf for hundreds of millions of dollars, and it’s felt like he’s been in witness protection with LIV’s limited national TV profile.

While the 29-year-old Spaniard has been away, Scottie Scheffler has become the newest flavor of the moment, and has proven himself to be far and away the most dominant player in the sport — ranked No. 1 in the world and fresh off winning both the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship last month.

Jon Rahm celebrates after winning the Masters last year. REUTERS

Scheffler has been so good that he has drawn comparisons to Tiger Woods the way he’s separated himself from the pack.

So, what to expect from Rahm in his defense of his Masters title this week and from Scheffler, the 2022 Masters winner who slipped the green jacket over Rahm’s shoulders a year ago in the Butler Cabin?

It feels easier to predict Scheffler playing well and being in contention for another green jacket than it does for Rahm because of the players’ respective buildup to the week.

Scheffler not only has won twice in the eight tournaments in which he has played this season, he has finished in the top six in six of those events and never finished worse than 17th. He also leads the PGA Tour in every ball-striking category and has been ranked No. 1 for a total of 78 weeks.

Thus, the Woods comparisons.

“Anytime you can be compared to Tiger I think is really special,” Scheffler said. “But, I mean, the guy stands alone, I think, in our game.’’

Scottie Scheffler, pictured at the Texas Children’s Houston Open, won the Masters in 2021. Getty Images

Scheffler said jokingly after winning the Players that he’s at least tied Woods with the most Players Championship titles (two).

“Outside of that, I’ve got 14 more majors and 70-some PGA Tour events to catch up,” he said. “So, I think I’m going to stick to my routine and just continue to plod along, try and stay as even-keeled as I can.”

That, too, is the way Rahm goes about his business — quietly and with class.

Interestingly, Rahm entered last year’s Masters on a similar run of dominance that Scheffler does this year. Rahm had played eight PGA Tour events before the 2023 Masters and won three of them.

This year, Rahm will come to Augusta National having played in five LIV events with no wins, though he has played well — a third-place finish, one fifth-place and two eighth-places entering this weekend’s event at Doral.

Keep in minds, LIV tournaments are 54 holes, so this lessens his reps as well entering the Masters.

Jon Rahm hits a putt Friday during the LIV Miami event. Getty Images

“What I think is going to be interesting to observe is … this year his run-up to the Masters is going to be quite different,’’ CBS analyst and former Masters winner Trevor Immelman said. “He’s going to have played by the time he gets to Augusta National 17 less competitive rounds in his preparation. Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen. That’s one of the things that I’ll be keeping a close eye on.’’

Rahm, before the LIV Miami tournament, acknowledged the unknown that comes with the change of schedule and tours.

“Last year I didn’t play the week before the Masters, and this year I am,’’ he said. “It’s hard to say what’s better or not. Mentally I feel great. My game is trending in a really good direction. I have not played my best yet, but I can see it every tournament getting a little bit better and getting to a point where I like where I’m at coming up to the Masters.’’

Said Curtis Strange, a two-time U.S. Open winner who’s now an ESPN analyst: “I expect Rahm to be ready to go, because of what Rahm’s been through a little bit the last year, going over there [to LIV], he might feel that he has a little bit more to prove. There’s no reason why he couldn’t be champion there again this year.’’

But Scheffler is the odds-on favorite win his second Masters.

Scottie Scheffler celebrates after winning the Masters in 2022. AP

“I’m fully aware of where Scottie is,’’ Rahm said. “I’ve seen it the last two years. He’s a great competitor, and he is somebody that when you’re under the gun and you’ve got to get it done, he’s been able to get it done.

“I feel like I don’t need to be playing next to him to know what’s going on. Anytime you’re doing the history he’s been able to do, it’s quite impressive. That’s what’s making this Masters and many other majors going to be so much fun, not only for me and for players but for spectators, is for all of us to be able to play together again and showcase what we’re capable of.’’

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