By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) – The Masters returns to its conventional date this week as the 12 months’s first main at Augusta National and Dustin Johnson is the person to beat on a structure that, whereas acquainted, will play and look a lot completely different than the one he triumphed on 5 months in the past.
Colorful, blooming azaleas set towards emerald fairways and greens will likely be again on full show in stark distinction to the autumn foliage that created a fairly distinctive setting final 12 months when COVID-19 compelled the Masters to be performed in November.
And not like the delicate situations that an in-form Johnson took full benefit of with blistered drives, laser-like approaches and stable placing en route to his record-setting efficiency, course situations may show a lot completely different this time round.
“If it’s soft again, yeah, you’d be able to shoot some low scores,” stated Johnson. “But if it’s firm and fast like I have a feeling it’s going to be, the golf course plays way different and way more difficult.”
A win for Johnson, whose 20-under whole final 12 months broke the Masters file shared by Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, would put him in elite firm. Only Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Woods have efficiently defended Masters victories.
But world primary Johnson could have his work lower out for him, particularly if you issue within the compelling video games of his fellow opponents – notably Justin Thomas, new father Jon Rahm and reigning U.S. Open winner Bryson DeChambeau.
Thomas has improved in every of his 5 Masters begins, most just lately a fourth-place end in November, and he has heated up since, together with a win final month at The Players Championship, golf’s unofficial fifth main.
Rahm, who completed contained in the top-10 on the Masters in every of the final three years and even held a share of the halfway lead final November, beforehand stated would go away Augusta National at a second’s discover to be current for the start of his baby.
Thankfully for the Spaniard, his spouse delivered their child boy on Saturday.
‘DECHAMBEAU TAKE TWO’
DeChambeau will likely be keen for one more crack on the Masters after his try to overpower Augusta National along with his brute pressure in November when he was the pre-tournament favorite became a dud.
DeChambeau, who stated he skilled bouts of dizziness and abdomen pains throughout final 12 months’s Masters, barely made the lower however has since picked up his eighth PGA Tour title along with his win on the Arnold Palmer Invitational adopted by a share of third every week later at The Players.
“He’s going to come into Augusta more sinewy than the last time we saw him, less bulked up and hopefully feeling better,” Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee stated of DeChambeau.
“And Bryson DeChambeau take two at the 2021 Masters, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gave us all the excitement that we were expecting in 2020.”
Former champion Spieth, who completed third or higher in 4 of his first 5 Masters begins from 2014, comes into the week driving excessive after a positive run of type and recent off a triumph on the Texas Open that snapped a virtually four-year winless drought.
Rory McIlroy, who bounced again from a gap 75 final 12 months to end tied for fifth, is battling swing points however will likely be half of the dialog heading into Thursday’s first spherical as this marks his seventh try to full the profession Grand Slam of golf’s 4 majors.
“The golf course fits Rory’s game so well. If he can figure out something, he’s got a great chance there, even if he’s not coming in the year playing great,” stated ESPN golf analyst Andy North.
Notably absent from this 12 months’s Masters will likely be five-times champion Woods who’s recovering at residence after struggling career-threatening leg accidents throughout a one-vehicle crash in February that resulted in a three-week hospital keep.
Unlike final 12 months’s Masters which was solely performed in entrance of membership members, media, household and shut mates of the gamers, Augusta National has stated it would welcome a restricted quantity of spectators this week.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, modifying by Pritha Sarkar)