5 Things to Know before the Masters begins
April 07, 2021
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
- The drive up Magnolia Lane to the club house at Augusta National Golf Club. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The opening round of the Masters is almost upon us, and, per usual, there’s no lack of storylines to keep track of come Thursday.
To get you prepared for the opening round, here are 5 Things to Know about this year’s Masters.
1. A HISTORIC START:
The honorary starters are a beloved tradition at the Masters, allowing the tournament to embrace its history before more is made over the next four days.
This year, the ceremony will honor an important Masters milestone. Lee Elder, the first Black man to compete at Augusta National, will join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player on the first tee at 7:45 a.m. Thursday.
Elder, who made his Masters debut in 1975, is the first honorary starter added to the ceremony since Player in 2012. Nicklaus hit his first honorary tee shot in 2010 and Arnold Palmer took part until his passing in 2016.
2. THE FIRM:
The course conditions this week are a stark contrast to what we saw in November, when Johnson tied the lowest 72-hole score in relation to par in a major championship (20 under par).
It’s been several years since players have seen the course this firm in the days leading up to the event. Jose Maria Olazabal, a two-time Masters champion, said, “If the weather stays like this, we're going to see Augusta as good as ever.” Another former champion, Fred Couples, said the course could play as difficult as it has in a “long, long time.”
A firm and fast Augusta National accentuates the genius behind Alister Mackenzie’s masterpiece and often draws the best players to the top of the leaderboard. When Augusta plays fast, the extreme slopes on the course’s famed putting surfaces can funnel good shots toward the hole while increasing the penalty for mishits.
This could be the first time since 2017 that the winning score is single digits under par. The average winning score in the last three Masters is 16 under par.
The weather is the one thing Augusta National can’t control (we think). There is a chance of precipitation this week, which could dramatically alter how the course plays but the rain is far from guaranteed to fall.
As of noon Wednesday, there was a 20% chance of rain Thursday evening and 70% chance of scattered thunderstorms Friday afternoon. There’s also a 60% chance of late-afternoon thunderstorms Saturday. Temperatures are expected to be in the high 70s and low 80s every day this week, which should help the course stay firm.A wet 12th green at Augusta National Golf Club during the 2020 Masters. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
4. QUESTION TIME:
Many years, it feels like a handful of players establish themselves as Masters favorites. This year, it feels like there are more questions than answers. Here’s a few to ponder:
- Despite three consecutive finishes outside the top 25, can Johnson become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2001-02 to go back-to-back at Augusta? Johnson has finished in the top 10 in five straight Masters.
- How will new father Jon Rahm fare after arriving at Augusta on Wednesday? “My concern is that … from Thursday to Monday I didn't sleep much, didn't hit a single golf shot,” he said Wednesday. Rahm’s three consecutive top-10s at Augusta National is the second-longest active streak.
- Can Rory McIlroy’s new swing coach help him win his first Masters and complete the career Grand Slam? “I think being a little bit more in control of what I do, … that's the sort of golfer that I want to be going forward,” he said. That could be helpful here. The big number has plagued him several times at this tournament. He had a round of 77 or higher in six Masters appearances in a seven-year span (2010-14, ’16). A decade ago, he famously shot a final-round 80 after taking a four-shot lead into the final round.
- Is Brooks Koepka’s surgically-repaired knee strong enough for him to contend at Augusta National? He’s one of just four players to finish in the top 10 in the past two Masters.
- What will a bigger Bryson DeChambeau’s second crack at the Masters look like? He finished T34 here last year while struggling with physical issues. DeChambeau said Tuesday that low oxygen was the culprit. “The brain was stressed … and wasn't feeling that great. And they were like, well, let's check out your oxygen levels. … And immediately from after changing the way I was breathing, the way I was feeling that day from breathing, it took it out. It literally just went away.”
- Can Jordan Spieth win again after last week’s victory at the Valero Texas Open, his first since 2017. Spieth, has four top-3 finishes in seven Masters, including his win in 2015, and the lowest career scoring average (70.46) at Augusta National among players with at least 25 rounds.
5. EXPERIENCE MATTERS:
There have been just three Masters rookies to win the Green Jacket, and two of them were in the first two Masters (Horton Smith, 1934; Gene Sarazen, 1935). No rookie has won since Fuzzzy Zoeller in 1979. There’s a good chance that streak continues this year.
There are just six first-timers in this year’s field, including just three professionals who are making their Masters debut (Will Zalatoris, Carlos Ortiz and Bob MacIntyre). The three amateurs in this year’s field tie a tournament low; there were also just three amateurs in the 2008 and 1942 Masters.
Several big names – including Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff, Sungjae Im, Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Champ – are playing their first April Masters this week. Considering the severe contrast in course conditions, there is some limit to what can be learned from last year’s Masters. The course was much softer in November, and there were no patrons last year. A limited number of patrons will be on the grounds this week.