It’s back to normal for the Masters at Augusta. Well, nearly.
We’re safely settled back in the traditional April, where the extra four months of growing and “nurturing” time has the place rock hard and running fast instead of last November’s soft, slow and splat.
There are even ‘Patrons’ on the premises, although not in the usual numbers. The treacly piano theme we’re usually spared in the UK coverage tinkles on regardless of pandemics.
Rain forecast for later in the week suggests it won’t be such an extreme change from November as it might have been, but the Green Jackets of the Augusta National membership will surely want revenge for Dustin Johnson’s record 20-under five months ago. Expect the winning score to revert to the usual ten to 12-under.
We’ve separated the contenders into nicely arranged groups for your consideration. Those in bold are getting my particular attention.
Been there, done that, likely to do it again: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott
Repeat winners at Augusta are common. Obviously, as the only major which has the same venue, the more you go the more you log the pin positions and fill up on the necessary strategic niceties. Bubba already has two and ay be done with that, but there’s always the possibility he could sneak a third because, well, he’s Bubba.
Jordan Spieth comes in renewed and went from nowhere to second favourite. Patrick Reed is quietly chugging along. Adam Scott plays well in at least one major a year, and invariably it’s here.
Dustin Johnson is defending, but back-to-backs are so rarely done: just Nicklaus (1966), Faldo (1990) and Woods (2002). DJ has also been pretty quiet since February.
Been there, done that, somewhat less likely: Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett, Zach Johnson, Phil Mickelson
Sergio’s form in all the majors – and particularly Augusta – since he finally broke through in 2017 has been utterly abysmal. Willett has recovered to be what he was prior to winning in 2016 – a solid, occasional contender, but not a repeat champion.
Zach Johnson’s win was in the toughest conditions of most recent times, and although five years hence of his equally surprising Open win, he’s quite not gone away yet. Phil? Not happening anymore, I feel.
They’re going to win this once, surely?: Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka
Nothing is a given – Greg Norman, Ernie Els and Lee Trevino will tell you that. DeChambeau comes with less hype than in November but his tendency to chronically overthink lands him in escapades here. Koepka is apparently in pain with his recently surgically repaired knee, so beware the injured golfer? Not if it’s a knee.
Rahm is playing the recently new Dad card (it worked for Bubba and for Willett) and averages a touch under 69 for his last 11 Masters rounds. He’s a definite each-way shot.
Other recently new Dad Rory McIlroy has been struggling, and although master coach Pete Cowen seems have convinced him (correctly) it’s the short clubs rather than the long one that is the issue, it’s early in that process.
Thomas, fresh off his Players’ win, is a sound pick here. Chock full of confidence, big hitting game, just needs to do decently on the greens.
The (somewhat colourless) new breed: Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa, Daniel Berger, Scottie Scheffler, Matthew Wolff, Cameron Champ
God bless American college golf, which continues to churn out these fresh-faced young men with picture perfect technique (well, not Wolff), sound temperament and only the slightest suggestion of a personality (well, not Morikawa).
So many of them are first-timers or barely through the gate and history suggests that doesn’t help win Green Jackets. Cantlay and Schauffele are the exceptions: they both quietly were about but unnoticed when Tiger won in `19 and have tasted the fire. Neither has doused it in the majors yet, though.
Morikawa has quietly had a better – or at least equal – 18 months than the much more advertised DeChambeau. Could he be the best player in the world we haven’t noticed?
Sons of Albion: Matthew Fitzpatrick, Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Wallace, Paul Casey
Some group. There are ten Englishmen in all in the field, and as a whole they’re probably the strongest-ever bearing the cross of St George.
Rose, who ditched all that he had when he was good and has spent two years regathering it again, maybe had his chance in 2017. Poulter and Casey you can see being up there for a bit, but maybe short of staying power.
I’d be impressed to see coming men Hatton, Wallace and Fitzpatrick make a serious impact in a major at last. But not betting on it.
The two Woods seem to me to be the smart bets. Westy is as solid and consistent as there is right now, and Tommy just needs to erase that one mediocre round a major that is holding him back.
All points of the compass: Sungjae Im, Viktor Hovland, Robert MacIntyre, Abraham Ancer, Victor Perez, Joaquin Niemann, Cameron Smith
Again, a flurry of first-timers in this continental smorgasbord which precludes them winning, you’d think. But Sungjae, Smith and Ancer all had a good run in November, and know a little more what they’re about.
The South Korean is the arch-sleeper in the field, I think. Dave Tondall, a patient soul spent a good few hours (one imagines) recounting all the variables for the whole field of 88 and at the end of it all was left with Im.
Here we go then – this year's Masters 10-year trends piece for @Betfair.
For maximum suspense, read slowly through it all and the selection is revealed at the bottom. Enjoy!https://t.co/ZpGVgw77rj
— Dave Tindall (@DaveTindallgolf) March 30, 2021
He led the putting stats in November, for some actually relevant number crunching.
Bob? Four rounds would be great, and a marker for future forays on a course which should suit creative lefties. He’s good enough to be around for a long while, folks.