Much has happened in the upper level of professional golf in less than five months since the 2020 Masters Tournament delayed by COVID-19 in November.
Jordan Spieth is back in the green jacket conversation. Same goes for 48-year-old Lee Westwood as 85th Masters begins Thursday at a firm and fast Augusta national golf club.
There is no change, however, in the role of the favorite – Dustin Johnson’s record around Augusta National Golf Club 144 days ago is still fresh on everyone’s mind.
Johnson, the world No. 1 ranked player, has the rare chance to win what you might call a “Dustin Double”. Since the Masters 2020 was the last major championship of this year and it is the first of 2021, Johnson can win the same major championship consecutively.
The last time this opportunity even presented itself was in February 1971, when the PGA Championship was that year’s first major after being the last in 1970. Dave Stockton won the 1970 event and Jack Nicklaus won the 1971 event six months later.
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Due to the Masters 2020’s rapid turnaround, Johnson may also become the first Masters champion to win consecutively at the same age. Her 37th birthday is not until June 22.
Only three players have won the Masters in consecutive years, and Johnson is well aware of that.
“It’s just really hard to win, I mean, to win once, and especially multiple times,” said Johnson, who is paired with Westwood and US amateur champion Tyler Strafaci in the first round on Thursday, starting at 10:30 am .
Johnson is the only player on the pitch to have finished in the top 10 in his last six Masters starts. He is also on an 11-round under par streak at Augusta National.
“I’m ready,” Johnson said.
After Johnson won the 2020 Masters, the first chances for 2021 had Johnson as the favorite, followed by Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlory, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas. The top two in most betting services are now Johnson, followed by Spieth. DeChambeau or Thomas, after scoring a players’ championship victory, is the third choice in most services.
Spieth, who has been in tears since February 7 and won last week for the first time since 2017, is the rare Masters contender who doesn’t even make the top 50. He’s 53rd in the world because of his crisis. had been so strong. extended.
Westwood, 47, may become the oldest Masters champion, breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record set 35 years ago when he was 46. Westwood tapped into the fountain of youth in the pre-Masters Florida Swing, finished second in consecutive tournaments. He jumped in the world rankings from 47th before the November Masters to 20th.
The starting field of 88 players will face a course that will ask very different questions than in November. The firmness of the fairways, and in particular the greens, will make the answers more difficult to find.
“You’re going to have to put together four good laps together, especially with the conditions, like normal conditions,” Johnson said. “You have to do everything right. And with its firmness and speed, it’s just a very hard golf course because obviously any hole at any time can jump and catch you.
How fast are the greens? Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champion, saw the firmness with his own eyes on Wednesday in a nine-hole practice round with McIlroy.
“Rory asked me five times, ‘Have you ever seen greens like this on a Wednesday?’ and five times in a row I said no, ”Couples said. “He laughed. He’s been here a bunch. If it stays that way, even Friday 70 or 71 will be a heckuva score. If it’s raining and getting milder, these guys are the biggest players and the golf course is there. But the Greens are difficult to approach.
“This is how it should be, it should be hard,” Couples said. “I appreciate it. I want to see these guys play as hard as they can. They’re not concrete yet, but they’re brown and they’re going to get there quickly.
In the November Masters, Westwood said, “You could miss it in places where you were terrified when making your plan, and you could be aggressive towards certain flags. He was not, as everyone would say somehow, a real master. This week we get back to how the golf course should play, fast and firm, and this is how it is most difficult. You will see, I think, people with a lot of experience here come back to the top of the table. “
This would include Westwood, who is playing in his 20th Masters. And although Spieth is only playing in his eighth Masters, he has a 70.46 stroke average for 28 rounds. Tiger Woods has the record at 70.87, for between 75 and 99 laps. Woods played 90 rounds.
A firm course should play in the hands of the longest hitter on the circuit, DeChambeau, who is making his fifth Masters start. He was the presumed favorite in November and still led the field at 324.4 yards per measured practice, but mistakes and overly aggressive play resulted in a tie for 34th.
He’s averaging 320.8 yards on the start of the PGA Tour this season and just picked up a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.
“I’ve never seen him so fast, so fast, so early, but I definitely love the challenge,” said DeChambeau, who plans to take out a driver who has a 4.5 degree drop for the first time.
“I just felt like wet conditions and the landing and stopping and the wet golf ball played me a bit, not really knowing what the golf ball is going to do,” said DeChambeau, referring to the November Masters. “So whenever the conditions are firmer and faster, whether it’s the Shriners, whether it’s Bay Hill, the US Open, or various golf courses I’ve won on, they’ve generally always been firm. So I think it plays well in my hand for what I’m comfortable with.
When DeChambeau won the September US Open at Winged Foot, he combined his length with skillful short play. It’s part of a Masters winning combination.
“The length is as good as you can hit your next shot, that’s what I always say,” DeChambeau said. “And that’s the most important thing about Augusta National is that it doesn’t just test drive. He tests your second shots, he tests the third, he tests – you do the par, your 4-footer you try to do for the par. I think what’s so special here is that you have to make every facet of your game work really great.
This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Masters 2021: Dustin Johnson Has Another Chance to Set More Records