Here we are in the 2nd week of November and the US Masters is about to get underway. What a fantastic way to round off the golfing year, with what most golf fans think of as the most exciting Major in the calendar.
In April we know pretty much what we are going to get. The weather is normally warming up. The fairways have some roll and the greens are lightning fast. The Azaleas are in full bloom and everything is picture perfect for viewers and patrons alike. What are we going to find different in this autumnal edition of the US Masters? The temperature for sure will be a few degrees colder than in April, especially first thing in the morning. The wind direction at this time of year is expected to be northerly, meaning the 1st and 11th holes will play exceptionally hard. The fairways will look green and lush as always, however last month the fairways were over seeded with rye so although they will look great, they will not roll out as they do in April. This will mean that there could be a lot of shots from positions the players are not used to. The greens have a sub air system so unless there is a tropical storm they will run as fast as ever. Add into the equation that there will be no fans in attendance and we have the potential for this to be something totally different from April. Overall, I am not expecting scoring to be quite as good usual, but I am anticipating an enthralling week of golf that should be captivating for us fans.
All eyes will be on Rory McIIroy (12/1) again as he chases that elusive career Grand Slam of Major championships. Before the pandemic and lockdown in March, Rory was in hot form and would have gone into the April Masters as favourite but since play resumed in June results have been steady without looking like winning. The birth of his first daughter in August may have caused a slight loss of focus. He also mentioned playing in front of no fans was not helping his game.
World #1 Dustin Johnson (9/1) has four top 10 finishes in his last four Masters and in August was playing some unbelievable golf during which he won the Northern Trust by an astonishing 11 shots. Returning from Covid-19 and quarantine three weeks ago, he played last week in Houston and had a good warm-up where he finished T2.
Jon Rahm (10/1) is also playing some incredible golf. He has two top 10s at the Masters in his last two starts plus also has 2 wins since play resumed in June and warmed up nicely with a T2 in the Zozo Championship two weeks ago.
World #3 Justin Thomas (12/1) has one win since June and a string of top 10s, however no top 10s in four Masters appearances is a slightly worrying trend for JT fans.
Brooks Koepka (16/1) got injured in mid-August and didn’t play until the Zozo Championship two weeks ago finishing T17. Last week though he bounced back with a good performance in Houston finishing T5. With four Major titles on his resume already no one should be underestimating Brooks and not forgetting he was 2nd here last year behind Tiger Woods.
The beautifully named Xander Schauffele (14/1) has won no trophies since January 2019 however is amazingly consistent especially in the Majors. He seems to have no weaknesses in his game and was 2nd here last year on only his 2nd visit.
Englishman Tyrrell Hatton (25/1) also deserves a mention. Hatton won the Arnold Palmer the week before lockdown and has continued in great form since with three more top 10 finishes since in the US. Plus he won the European PGA Championship at Wentworth and for me he goes into this year’s Masters as England’s best hope of slipping on the Green Jacket. Slightly worrying for the number 10 ranked player in the world though is a best finish of 44th in three attempts at the Masters, however it seems his game has gone up to a new level this year.
What of Tiger Woods? Very lightly raced since June and no encouraging performances for supporters of the GOAT, including finishing T72 out of 78 on his latest start two weeks ago on a course he previously had a stellar record on. He missed the cut in the US Open and was only T37 In the USPGA. But this is Tiger Woods, holder of 5 Green Jackets so to write him off would be foolhardy. My main concern would be the potential cold weather and how this affects his back. Personally, for me I would wait until the Masters in April next year before he has a chance to gain another major.
All eyes will be on Rory McIIroy (12/1) again as he chases that elusive career Grand Slam of Major championships.
Debutants at Augusta have a particularly bad record, the last debutant winner being Fuzzy Zoeller back in 1979. This year however with the course possibly playing differently and with no fans in attendance I think this stat is there to be beaten. This year’s debutants are an extremely talented bunch of the like we have not seen before. Take a line-up of Collin Morikawa (won the USPGA in August), Matthew Wolff (runner up in September’s US Open), Cameron Champ (two-time PGA Tour winner already), Abraham Ancer (climbed to World #22 but yet to win on tour), Sungjae Im (won the Honda in March and World #23), Scottie Scheffler (yet to win but up to 30th in the world). Add in also names like Homa, Lashley, Griffin, Bezuidenhout, Poston, Kokrak and Munoz and the chances are that come Sunday afternoon, a Masters first-timer may be hovering around the leaderboard trying to break that debutant curse.
This year’s debutants are an extremely talented bunch of the like we have not seen before.
To Win Only
Bryson DeChambeau is my first pick this week. Bryson won the US Open six weeks ago by six shots on a course that was not supposed to suit him. Since then he has taken six weeks off to work on hitting the ball further off the tee and reports are out of him playing Augusta last week driving the ball to places never seen before. Often Augusta is described as a 2nd shot golf course, meaning that you have to drive the ball into the right spots to afford the best position to attack the greens in which to leave yourself the easiest putt. DeChambeau could potentially be driving it to places where he will be attacking greens with short irons as opposed to mid/long irons which will make control so much easier. Add this to what he is expected to do to the four par 5s on the course and I personally think he could destroy the field as Tiger Woods did all those years ago in 1997, when the course was subsequently Tiger-proofed. This performance could possibly break golf and lead to wide ranging changes as to how far the ball is travelling in the modern game. It’s going to make for a very interesting week.
Next up is Matthew Wolff who hasn’t competed here before. As discussed, debutants have a bad record at Augusta, but I believe that won’t be such a big disadvantage this year. Wolff is now ranked World #14 and has one win on his record having only turned pro in July 2019. Since play resumed in June, he has had a string of impressive performances. In the Rocket Mortgage Classic he led by three shots after three rounds, only to be caught by DeChambeau. In the US Open six weeks ago, again he led by two after three rounds only to be caught by that man DeChambeau. Add to this a T4 in the USPGA in August (his first Major) and we are building a very impressive picture for this young man. Possessed with length off the tee (ranked top 10 in 2020) and impressive distance control with his irons, Augusta looks tailor-made for Wolff .
My final pick is Tony Finau, a player many punters have lost patience with Finau. Having won the Puerto Rican Open in 2016 it was widely expected that he would by now have won multiple times on the PGA Tour. On his two appearances here, he has recorded top 10s on both occasions and played alongside Tiger in the 2019 final round. For me Finau not winning is more mental than because of any lack of ability, and I feel that with eyes focusing elsewhere, Finau will be able to free wheel and come Sunday hopefully be in the mix. Finishing T4 in the USPGA in August and T8 in the US Open shows the level he’s playing at and with the course probably playing extra-long this week that will not hinder him in any way (ranked 13 last year on driving distance). Finishing T5 last year on top of the top 10s in this year’s Majors proves that he has the game to pick up silverware and at the price I am happy to be on each way.