The Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
RORY McILROY begins his annual quest to complete the career Grand Slam when he tees it up at The Masters. Augusta National is a course that is made for the Northern Irishman’s towering iron shots and he does have a decent record. But his recent form has been dismal and he will not be heading down Magnolia Lane with any degree of confidence.
He has turned to swing coach Pete Cowen for help but these things can take time so don’t expect an immediate transformation. On the other hand, Cowen may take one look at McIlroy and immediately find the key. We are, after all, talking about the golfer most of us still believe is the most naturally gifted player on the planet. And it is not as if this is the first time that he has struggled. It has to be said, however, that the early evidence is not encouraging, and his woes continued at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas.
McIlroy has admitted that he got “sucked into that stuff” of trying increase his swing speed after watching how Bryson DeChambeau attacked Winged Foot in the U.S. Open. “After Winged Foot I had a few weeks before we went to the West Coast and I started to try to hit the ball a bit harder, hit a lot of drivers, get a bit more speed, and I felt like that was sort of the infancy of where these swing problems have come from,” McIlroy said. “So it’s just a matter of trying to get back out of it.”
The Masters is always one of the most anticipated events on the sporting calendar and 2021 will be no exception. With last year’s tournament having been staged in November, fans will be delighted to see the 85th edition return to its rightful position in the schedule. There are even going to be some “patrons' on the property. The powers-that-be at Augusta don’t like to talk about these things but the winner will walk away with a cheque for more than $2m, as well as the Green Jacket.
Dustin Johnson won the delayed 2020 Masters by five shots and will be aiming to become one of just a handful of players to retain the green jacket. The last player to go back-to-back was Tiger Woods back in 2001 and 2002, and the Dustinator will be keen to write himself into sporting history by winning in Augusta for the second time in the space of six months. It was his second career major, and after setting a tournament scoring record of 20-under 268, he will be in confident mood. The world number one has been in solid enough form in 2021.
Momentum tends to be a common theme among Masters winners. Johnson was coming off a runner-up finish when he won last year. Tiger Woods was one putt away from the semi-finals at Match Play in the last event before he won a fifth green jacket. Patrick Reed was coming off three straight top-10s when he won. Sergio Garcia and Danny Willett had each won in the Middle East the year of their Masters victories. Jordan Spieth had won, finished second and lost in a playoff in the three events before he went wire-to-wire at Augusta.
Johnson says he’s close to his best again, and there’s reason to believe him. He finished well down the field at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass but he made 17 birdies and an eagle in finishing one under par for the week.“I just made a lot of mistakes, a lot of mental mistakes, just a little bit of everything,” Johnson said. “Just kind of throwing shots away, which is uncharacteristic. But we’ll get it worked out.” And you know he will.
Derek's 5 Players To Follow
Produced a true masterclass when he won his first Green Jacket last year but has not been at his very best in recent weeks. However, he will return to Augusta with great memories.
The young Norwegian is a certain starter for Europe in the Ryder Cup. He has already won twice on the PGA Tour and seems to be there or thereabouts almost every week.
The US PGA champion is arguably the best iron player on the PGA Tour and needs to be as his putting can be suspect. But he gives himself bucketloads of birdie shouts.
Will probably try to overpower Augusta again. His performance will depend almost entirely upon what happens when he reaches for the driver. Make no mistake - DeChambeau is the real deal.
Back to his very best with a wonderful victory at The Players Championship. Will arrive at Augusta full of confidence. Ready to add another major to go with his US PGA title.
There was plenty of hype surrounding Bryson DeChambeau last year after he declared that, for him, Augusta National was a par 68. But the course got its own back on him as he endured a disappointing four days on the greens. He ended the week tied 34th, later claiming that he had suffered dizzy spells and stomach pains. As the longest driver on the PGA tour, Augusta should suit him, especially because the rough is not penal. He won the US Open in sensational style last year and, having been humbled by the course last autumn, you get the feeling that he will have learnt his lesson this time around.
With six of the past 10 winners having previously posted a top-10 finish at this event, and seven of the past 10 having managed to finish inside the top 20, it’s easy to see why Spaniard Jon Rahm is prominent in the betting for the 2021 Masters. He was tied seventh last year, and tied ninth in 2019. He also finished in fourth place three years ago, and with two of the three majors last season having been won by first-time winners, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the 26-year old grab his first major success this April.
And Rahm will be in a positive frame of mind, after he and wife Kelley welcomed a baby boy into the world at the weekend.
The man to beat, however, is surely Justin Thomas. 2017 was a breakthrough year for him when he won the US PGA Championship, and he is desperate to add a second major to his impressive CV. He won’t forget the early part of 2021 in a hurry. First of all he was caught on air making a homophobic remark - it led to him being dropped by one of his sponsors. And then his beloved grandfather passed away. Unsurprisingly, his form suffered, but he bounced back in style at The Players Championship, beating Lee Westwood by a shot at TPC Sawgrass. His record at Augusta is patchy but he finished fourth last year and will head back believing he can win.
Last year, Matthew Fitzpatrick criticised DeChambeau’s body transformation as he went in search of routinely being able to hit 400-yard drives. Fitzpatrick, who has achieved a huge amount of success despite being one of the shortest hitters in the game, said: “It’s not a skill to hit the ball a long way in my opinion. I could put on 40 pounds. I could go and see a biomechanist, and I could gain 40 yards; that’s actually a fact. I could put another two inches on my driver. I could gain that. But the skill in my opinion is to hit the ball straight.”
He added that DeChambeau was "making a mockery" of the game, arguing, "Some of the places he hit it, and he’s cutting corners — when he’s on, there’s no point. ... It doesn’t matter if I play my best.” But, lo and behold, Fitzpatrick has kissed and made up with the American and now insists that his comments were taken out of context and that he is intrigued by much of what DeChambeau has accomplished.
He has no plans to put on 40 pounds but he has been speaking to DeChambeau. “I was asked him about his clubs and his speed training and stuff, and I've been doing something similar and looking into it anyways before my comments that I made last year,” Fitzpatrick said. “It's nothing too new to me, it's just quite interesting just to hear his thoughts and how he's going about things to improve his swing speed and get longer.“ Fitzpatrick is a hugely underrated player with an astonishing short game, and he loves Augusta so don’t be surprised to see him contend.
And, finally, Jordan Spieth comes back into the equation after his dramatic victory at the Valero Texas Open. It was his first triumph since the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale and was the culmination of a terrific return of form that has seen the 27-year-old return to his best after almost four years in the wilderness. He loves Augusta and has a great record here. It would be a true fairytale ending if he were to claim his second Green Jacket. And stranger things have happened.
The Masters was won in 2015 by Jordan Spieth, in 2016 by Danny Willett, in 2017 by Sergio Garcia, in 2018 by Patrick Reed, in 2019 by Tiger Woods and last year by Dustin Johnson.
Justin Thomas. Second major long over due
Jordan Spieth. Loves this place
Jon Rahm. Has a brilliant record here
Justin Thomas. Back to his brilliant best
Jordan Spieth. What a story it would be...
Jon Rahm. A certain major champion at some point
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Has played well here before
Tommy Fleetwood. Difficult to imagine that he won’t contend
Bryson DeChambeau. Can win anywhere
Sungjae Im. Just keeps grinding out top 10s
Scottie Scheffler. Has no weaknesses
Collin Morikawa. His iron-play is made for Augusta
Xander Schauffele. Looking to find his best
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