The Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
TIGER WOODS produced one of the great sporting comebacks last year when he won The Masters to secure his 15th major. But he will not be repeating the feat this time.
The harsh reality is that Woods simply hasn’t played enough golf in 2020. No matter how much natural talent you may possess, you simply have to be in the mix on a regular basis - and Tiger’s body has not allowed him to compete often enough this year for him to head to Augusta with any realistic expectations. That is not to say that he will not find a way to compete. Woods adores Augusta and knows how to play the course. But all the evidence (and logic) dictates that there will be no 16th major for Woods.
While everybody else was chasing big bucks at tournaments such as the CJ Cup and Zozo Championship, US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau took himself away with the express purpose of finding a way of hitting that poor little golf ball even further, and claimed on social media that he had hit the ball 400 yards through the air. To put this in perspective, the guys who make their living from long-driving competitions don’t hit it that far, so maybe we can take this with a pinch of salt. What is beyond doubt is that DeChambeau will adopt the same approach at Augusta that he applied to his victory in the US Open at Winged Foot.
If he can avoid the trees and keep the ball in play he will be very difficult to beat. It is often overlooked that DeChambeau is a superb putter and, with every passing week, is becoming better with a wedge in his hands - and he hits the ball so far that he gets plenty of practice with his wedges. It will be fascinating to see how it all unfolds for him.
(He Couldn't, Could He?)
He has changed the face of professional golf in exactly the same way that Tiger Woods did more than 20 years ago. It is hard to believe that we were all looking on in astonishment when John Daly became the first man to average 300 yards from the tee. There was much talk back then about the need to do something to rein in the distance the ball was being hit. And here we are, all these years later, with the same debate still raging. Back then the answer was to lengthen courses to give them some defence, but the bunkers that were installed then simply don’t come into play any more.
There is talk about making the ball larger or restricting the degree of loft on drivers but surely the answer lies in making the rough more penal, making bunkers deeper and greens harder and faster.
Even world No 1 Dustin Johnson has admitted that he is now trying to find some extra yards - this from a man who routinely drives the ball 320 yards. Johnson has had an incredible 12 months, capped by his victory in the FedEx Cup, but his progress was brought to a stuttering halt when he failed a Covid-19 test. He is now fit and well again and will be looking to secure his second major, knowing it is long overdue.
For many people, Justin Thomas is the man to beat. Like the Dustinator, he still only has one major to his name but there are surely more to come. When he is in the groove h his arguably the best player on the planet. He is sneaky long but he also finds a lot of fairways. He is a wonderful iron player and has a glorious short game. But perhaps his greatest asset is his temperament. When disaster strikes, JT simply shrugs his shoulders, moves to the next hole and gets on with it.
(The World Number One is Ready to Go)
If you are looking for a shoo-in each way bet for The Masters then Xander Schauffele is your man. It was a huge surprise that he struggled during the third round of the CJ Cup, but everybody is entitled to an off-day and he stormed back into contention in the final round. Schaufelle goes about his business quietly and with the minimum of fuss. He is not the longest hitter but he strikes it plenty far enough - and he finds lots of fairways. He is a superb iron player, a genius with a wedge in his hands. And a great putter. He is also a golfer who tends to produce his best in the sport’s biggest tournaments. It is only a matter of time before he lands his first major, and it might well come at Augusta.
Traditionally, golfers playing in their first Masters tend to struggle, but there are three rookies who will definitely arrive at Augusta believing that they can win - Scottie Scheffler, Cameron Champ and Matthew Wolff have all taken the game by storm.
Wolff does things his own way and, like Scheffler and Champ, hits the ball a country mile. He may only be 21 years of age but he has an old head on young shoulders. Wolfe has a victory to his name but, more important, he finished in a tie for fourth at the US PGA Championship and gave DeChambeau a run for his money when finishing runner-up at the US Open. He has a lot of moving parts and is probably destined to a career of highs and lows but when he has his eye in he is a formidable young man. Scheffler is still looking for his first victory but he already has a 59 to his credit and grinds out the results week after week. It is generally accepted that when his first victory arrives, the floodgates will open for him.
Everybody is obsessed with the distance that DeChambeau hits the ball, but Champ is not far behind him - and his power is effortless. He is a magnificent driver of the golf ball, averaging 324 yards off the tee, and has already won twice.
Many people fancy Jon Rahm, and the Spaniard will still be smarting at finishing second at the Zozo championship, where he missed a putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Patrick Cantlay. The most impressive thing about Rahm is his ability to score well when not at his best - and he would be the first to admit that he wasn’t at his best at the Zozo, but still came within a whisker of winning. The only thing missing from his resume is a major, and he loves Augusta.
(What About Tyrrell?)
Tyrrell Hatton will fly the flag for Europe. Full of confidence after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational and BMW PGA Championship, the Englishman is now a world-class golfer who finally seems to have discovered a way to control his temper. He is now fun to watch and lives every single shot. When he walks off the 18th green you certainly know if he has fired a 67 or an 87. He now has not a single weakness in his game and will fancy his chances of winning at Augusta.
The jury is out on Tommy Fleetwood, whose form since the lockdown ended has been patchy. There have been flashes of brilliance but he has developed an unfortunate habit of throwing in a bad round - and that is not the Fleetwood we know and love. He has no shortage of belief but he needs to get off to a good start.
And then there is Cantlay. The American is one of the most underrated players on the PGA Tour but nobody swings club better than Cantlay, and he has a fantastic temperament. He is back in the winners’ circle and is determined to start living up to his huge potential. Make no mistake about it - he is every bit as good as Thomas.
Rory McIlroy makes this latest attempt to complete the career grand slam but there is nothing suggest that he will achieve it. Or even come close. Quite frankly, his form and demeanour since the lockdown ended have been miserable. There are times when he looks like he would rather be anywhere other than on a golf course - never more so than at the Zozo Championship when he deliberately broke a club after yet another disappointing shot.
The Masters was won in 2015 by Jordan Spieth, in 2016 by Danny Willett, in 2017 by Sergio Garcia, in 2018 by Patrick Reed and last year by Woods
Justin Thomas. Simply world class
Xander Schauffele. Ready to win his first major
Patrick Cantlay. Loves Augusta
Justin Thomas. Possesses no weaknesses
Xander Schauffele. A big-time player
Patrick Cantlay. Wonderful technique, fabulous temperament
Jon Rahm. Came close last year
Tyrrell Hatton. On the crest of a wave
Dustin Johnson. Player of the year in 2020 but wants another major
Bryson DeChambeau. Could bring Augusta to its knees
Scottie Scheffler. So impressive
Justin Rose. Has a great record here
Tony Finau. Must break through some time
Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography
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