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Reflecting on the 2020 Masters

By: | Mon 16 Nov 2020

SO Dustin Johnson finally won his second major title - and didn’t he do it in style?

Before the 84th Masters, all the talk was about Bryson DeChambeau and the massive distances he hits the ball. It didn’t quite work out for the Mad Scientist. But he will have learnt one painful lesson, namely not to sit in front of the world’s media and tell that them that, for him, Augusta is a par 67. Funnily enough, had he managed four 67s he would have finished the week on 20 under par, which just happened to be the new record score set by Johnson.

Before a shot had been hit in anger there was much talk of the need to do something about the distance that DeChambeau and others are now hitting the ball. It may well be that because the American struggled so badly that this topic will be put on the back burner, but it hasn’t gone away, and there will be weeks when DeChambeau gets it right - as he did in winning the US Open at Winged Foot, supposedly the most ferocious of all major venues.

Let’s not forget either that Johnson also hits the ball prodigious distances - it’s just that he doesn’t try to swing himself off his feet in the process. And his misses were less severe than those experienced by DeChambeau. Bryson will remain the hottest subject in town but maybe he needs to rethink his strategy. You cannot win majors from the trees. Period.

Johnson is an uncomplicated soul who doesn’t let himself get in his own way. And that is probably his biggest asset. Like everybody else in the field, he made mistakes over the course of four days. But he simply shrugs his shoulders, moves on to the next shot and plays it like nothing has happened. He would be the first to admit that he is no Einstein. So what? He is the world number one for good reason. Yes, he routinely smashes the ball in excess of 320 yards but he is also a wonderful wedge player, and nobody reaches 20 under par at Augusta unless they can putt.

It was also heartwarming to see Bernhard Langer prove that he remains competitive at the very highest level at the age of 63, and this despite the fact that DeChambeau hits the ball 70 yards further than the German. Langer said that he has never seen Augusta National playing so long but he found a way.

Jon Rahm came unstuck once again. It all started when he topped a fairway wood into the trees. It was one of those moments when you do a double take. This is Rahm, the world’s second best player. And he stone-cold topped a fairway wood into the trees. And it went from bad to worse when his recovery hit a tree trunk and the ball ended up in a bush. In one hole, in one moment, his hopes and his challenge were gone. He tried to battle back but he had given himself too much to do, especially with Johnson in the form of his life.

Mind you, that was as nothing when compared with what happened to Tiger Woods at the 12th hole in the final round. This was the hole where Francesco Molinari came to grief in 2019 and gave Woods genuine hope that he could actually go ahead and win his 15th major. It is also the hole that cost Jordan Spieth The Masters in 2016 when he twice found the water and ran up a seven, handing the Green Jacket to a grateful Danny Willett. Woods went better - he found Rae’s Creek three times on his way to a scarcely believable 10. He wasn’t in contention anyway but this doesn’t happen to Woods. All credit to him though - he picked up five birdies thereafter and somehow finished with a 76. It wasn’t pretty but there were actually some hopeful signs during the week. Don’t write hime off when we reconvene at Augusta in April.

I continue to despair of Rory McIlroy. For three days he looked like the best player on the planet, finding the middle of fairways, hitting majestic irons to the right parts of these magnificent greens and holing putts for fun. Sadly, it was all to no avail as he had begun the week with a dreadful 75. He actually did well to make the cut. McIlroy needs to find a way of eliminating these destructive opening rounds - there are far too many of them in majors. Who can ever forget the way he started The Open at Royal Portrush in 2019? He went into that week as favourite, but saw his hopes go up in smoke at the very first hole, running up an eight, and going on to miss the cut despite a fabulous second round.

McIlroy is the polar opposite of Johnson - he quite clearly does get in his own way, time and time again. Everybody has a theory as to what he needs to do to put this right. And yes, I have one too. Harry Diamond may be a close friend but you need an experienced caddie on the bag Rory, somebody who knows what to say and when to say it, somebody who will have the courage to stop you playing the shots that destroy rounds.

The British challenge was pretty disappointing. In fact, Langer finished ahead of most of them. Tommy Fleetwood flattered to deceive for a while but ended up going backwards. Paul Casey opened with a 65. He won’t want to remember much of what followed.

The course looked different without its spring colours but it was still magnificent. However, I have to take issue with the men in green jackets for refusing to allow preferred lies during a week when drives were landing in fairways and often stopping dead, covered in mud. Augusta National is a tough enough challenge without throwing mud balls into the equation.

And without the patrons, quite obviously there was an important ingredient missing. During the last round in particular there was simply no atmosphere. Mind you, that may well have had something to do with how easily DJ won the tournament. But The Masters is all about the roars that echo around the trees. With a vaccine now seemingly having been found to tackle Covid-19, it is to be hoped that the patrons will be back in April.

In saying that, there did seem to be an awful lot of people milling around the tees, fairways and greens. Augusta, as always, makes up its own rules.

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