The Masters has a permanent April spot in the sporting calendar, but like so many other events, that changed this year. The call to postpone was made relatively early on March 13th and then it was a case of waiting. With The Open Championship cancelled for the year, there were some fears that the same may happen with The Masters, but in the middle of August, the announcement came that the event would indeed happen in November 2020, albeit without patrons (spectators) or guests. Suddenly, that time is upon us. Here are a selection of the players to watch over the next four days.
The golfing story of the year. Having added more that 20 kilograms of body mass and consistently driving the ball around 350 yards (he registered a 403.1 yard drive at home last month) DeChambeau won the US Open by 6 stokes at Winged Foot two months ago – he only hit 23 fairways out of 56 in doing that. But can he repeat that at Augusta? With the change from April to November, the course will be softer than it usually is and lower temperatures mean a shorter ball flight. But that doesn’t rule him out. Yes, he has distance in his repertoire but you don’t win on the PGA Tour without having variety in your game. The bookies favourite, this week will be very interesting for DeChambeau.
The man who has made all the highlights this week following his astonishing hole in one during a practice round. The 26 year old has been tied for ninth and tied for fourth in his last two appearances at the Masters. He’s had top ten finishes in two of other three majors and has won five times in total on the PGA Tour, including twice this year at the Memorial Tournament in July and the BMW Championship in August, where he beat Dustin Johnson in one of the most memorable sudden death playoffs you’ll ever see. He’s confident, playing well and has experience at the top level, so will this be the Major breakthrough week?
Nineteen months ago, after an eagle at the par-5 15th during his final round, Patrick Cantlay briefly led the Masters. He’d played 33 good holes over the weekend, but bogeys at 16 and 17 saw him tie for ninth. In his last year before turning professional in 2012 he finished as the best amateur at Augusta, but didn’t play there again until 2018 when he missed the cut. His best finish in a Major was in last year’s USA PGA Championship, when he finished in a tie for third, so he’s not prolific at this level, but he’s certainly capable. He’s got good recent form, having won the Zozo Championship ahead of Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm a little over two weeks ago, so he’s in with an outside chance this weekend if he can be consistent.
Will third time be a charm at Augusta for the World Number 8? He finished fiftieth out of fifty-three players that made the cut at his first appearance in 2018 before finishing in a three way tie behind Tiger Woods last year. He tied for tenth at the PGA Championship in August, before coming fifth at the US Open the following month. He has won big tournaments outside of the Majors, with a victory at the 2017 Tour Championship as well as the World Gold Championship tournament in Shanghai in 2018. Last year at Augusta, he was the best player over the final 54 holes, being 13 under for the last three rounds after an opening 73. They say you can’t win a tournament after your first round, but you can lose one and although that might be an exaggeration given a 1 over par opening round is hardly a disaster, it does show that a good start can be the key.
It’s been a long wait between drinks for the Northern Irishman. Without a Major victory since 2014, he still needs a Green Jacket to complete his career Grand Slam. The World Number 5 was going well pre-Covid, but since the PGA’s Tour’s resumption in June, he has only posted two top 10 finishes. Rory and his wife Erica had their first child at the end of August, so suddenly golf isn’t quite as important as it was; but might that actually be a positive? The pressure that he has put himself under over the years has been stifling at times. If he’s in contention in the final round, a more relaxed mindset might make the difference.
The World Number 17 has finished in the top ten in seven of the last ten Majors he’s competed in, including his only two appearances at Augusta, where he tied for tenth in 2018 and tied for fifth last year. He’s had an interesting last five weeks, testing positive for Covid-19 on October 6th, before tying for eleventh at the Zozo Championship won by Patrick Cantlay. A top ten finish looks very possible once again.
The 38 year old South African has the distinction of having finished runner up in all four Majors, but he also has a victory in 2010’s Open Championship on his CV. He has finished in the top thirty at Augusta in five of the last six years. He finished third at this year’s US Open at Winged Foot and is one of those players who often seems to make an impact on the leaderboard during the Majors. One to watch.
How could you do a preview without mentioning the defending champion – now 44 years old, his form hasn’t been great since golf returned in June, with a tie for thirty-seventh being his best result in six starts, but he can never be ruled out completely. On the balance of probability, I can’t see him doing the business again, but then who predicted his win last time?
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