1. Can Tiger Woods Defend?
My heart says yes but my head says “fat chance”. When Tiger Woods stepped foot on Augusta National a year ago, he had four top-10s and a victory in his prior eight events going in. He was brimming with confidence and all facets of his game were clicking. This time, it’s a completely different story. Since his 2020 season started at Torrey Pines in February, he’s teed it up seven times, his best finish being a T37 at the PGA Championship. He also disappointed with a T72 two weeks ago in defense of his ZOZO Championship title.
But Augusta National is different than other venues where Tiger plays. He has come in before with no expectations and poor play yet found ways to compete. He’s accumulated five green jackets, just one away from tying Jack Nicklaus, and since turning pro 24 years ago, his worst finish at the Masters is a T40. If you look at his career at Augusta, it’s littered with wins, runner-ups, and top-5s. So to discount him completely would be a colossal mistake.
In order to get to major championship no. 16, Tiger will have to convert putts, something that has seemingly haunted him in most tournaments since his return from back surgery. He’s experimented with different putters, different stances, and has worked hard on trying to turn what now is a weakness into a strength again.
2. Can Bryson DeChambeau “bomb” his way to victory?
All eyes are on the U.S. Open champion who continues to add distance to what was already a powerful game. Just two weeks ago, DeChambeau posted a stunning video and story on Instagram that detailed just how strong he’s become: A 211 mph ball speed with 403.1 yards of carry.” Let me repeat that: Over 400 yards of carry! Many par-4s that players tee off on aren’t even 400 yards in length. There are concerns by Augusta National officials that DeChambeau will try and overpower their hallowed grounds, particularly the par-5s, all which are reachable in two. If Bryson is on his game this week, 20-under par could be shattered.
It’s similar to what happened in 1997 when Tiger Woods overpowered the course, prompting officials to lengthen it and “Tiger proof” it. There really is no rough at Augusta National. Instead, there are trees and fast greens, although weather could slow down those greens this week (more on this later). The media will be fixated on DeChambeau’s performance and is anxious to see how his strategy of trying to conquer Augusta National with power will unfold. Look for him to be hitting drivers and perhaps pitching wedges into two of the par-5s on the back-9, 13 and 15.
3. How will the Weather Impact The Masters?
The major concern when officials moved the championship to November was the increase in cold fronts and frigid temperatures. But it’s been an unusually balmy November, and instead of cold temperatures, officials are bracing for thunderstorms and rain, something you’d typically see in April, not November. Thursday’s forecast is already calling for heavy thunderstorms that could impact play and rain is scheduled to continue on throughout the week with temperatures in the low-to-mid 70s. However, Friday through Sunday are calling for just steady rain, not thunderstorms.
The rain will undoubtedly soften up Augusta National and play to the strength of the big hitters like DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, and Rory McIlroy who can play more precision and target golf. There’s also the unusual tee times and finish times because of Daylight Savings Time. Players will begin going out at 6 a.m. and will be finishing up prior to 5 p.m. so they can get in before sunset. In April, players are usually still playing golf past 8 p.m. Television networks have had to adjust their normal Masters television schedule to make up for the lack of daylight with coverage ending well before dinner time.
4. Can Rory Complete the Slam?
It will be the sixth time Rory McIlroy will go to Augusta National for a chance to join the biggest legends of the game and achieve the career grand slam. Rory has not won a major since 2014 and increasing pressure has mounted on the shoulders of McIlroy to win a green jacket. McIlroy has not won a tournament in over a year now and has not been able to over and played poorly at The Masters a year ago, finishing T21, one of his worst finishes at Augusta. His best chance perhaps came in 2011 when he took a four-shot lead into the final round at 12-under, then subsequently collapsed and shot an 80 on the final day. He has struggled to rebound since, although he went into the back 9 two years ago just a shot behind Patrick Reed before dropping back on the final nine.
5. What is Going to Feel the Most Strange About this Masters?
No patrons. No roars. Just birds chirping. The decision to not let patrons in to The Masters was an obvious one given the state of the country. The players have gotten used to it since restarting back in June, but it will feel so strange at Augusta National compared to those other venues. They call it “a tradition unlike any other for a reason.” The back 9 roars on Sunday are something that every golfer takes in when they are in the hunt at The Masters. A year ago, you always knew what Tiger was doing just by listening to the crowd. Brooks Koepka admitted he knew every time Tiger hit a good shot. How could you not?
Unfortunately, golf cannot instill fake crowd noise like football stadiums do on Sundays. It may impact some of the celebrations you see from players. Tiger may not have his traditional fist pumps that usually result from the roar of the crowd. Instead, a back 9 charge will be met with silence. One may say that will ruin some of The Masters. I say, well, just be glad they are playing.