An excited and obligatory “Hello, Friends” to all for Masters week!
It’s been a long road for players and fans alike to finally reach this week, which normally kicks off the Major season in golf. Instead, the golf world has it’s eyes on Augusta, Georgia in November of 2020, playing the second Major Championship of a new season. In fact, Augusta National will host back-to-back majors now and in it’s traditional early April date in 2021.
It’s not just the time of year that will make this year’s tournament different, as the patrons were sent a link to order a platter of pimento cheese sandwiches to eat from the comfort of the couch during the week, rather than from outside of the ropes at Augusta National. The lack of fans and the signature weekend roars that echo throughout the course will make for a different experience for viewers and players alike.
We’ve got a lot to unravel this week, so let’s get that process started. One announcement made this morning was a change to the cut. This week, only the Top 50 and ties will make it through to the weekend, eliminating the prior rule which also allowed through any players within 10 shots of the lead.
The Course, Weather and Field
Augusta National Golf Club will host the 84th edition of The Masters this week, playing to a 7,425 yard Par 72. The field will include 92 of the best players in the world, through varying qualifications, including nine players in solely based on being a past champion.
Unfortunately, another past champion, Sergio Garcia, was forced to withdraw on Monday morning following a positive test for COVID-19. He joins young star Joaquin Niemann with the unfortunate distinction of qualifying for The Masters, but being unable to compete due to the virus.
As for the course, the weather is shaping up to be an even bigger factor than anticipated as Tropical Storm Eta could push into the area Tuesday night and remain there through Thursday’s first round. Potential heavy rains and cooler temperatures than we are used to around this course is likely to have it playing softer and longer without the typical roll in fairways this weekend.
It may, however, make the greens more receptive, allowing for shorter hitters to hold the greens even when approaching with long irons or hybrids. The time of year will also effect the weekend play as in order to beat daylight, players will go off in threesomes off of both tees throughout the tournament.
The leaders will start their Sunday round off of the Par 4 1st hole, which annually plays as one of the toughest holes on the course. It’s a 445-yard dogleg right which plays uphill and requires length and precision off the tee. Once in position, the approach is to the first of eighteen undulating bentgrass greens, where a two-putt is certainly no guarantee.
Just ask Ernie Els who notably, six (6!!) putted on his opening hole in 2016 with all of them coming from inside of three feet. The first is certainly no friendly handshake to open the round, and it will be one that players will be happy to play at even par over the four days.
While the Par 5s on the back nine at Augusta National get the notoriety, the two on the front are equally important as it comes to scoring throughout the week. The 2nd hole plays 575 yards, and annually as one of the three easiest holes on the course. It shapes the opposite direction of the first, as a dogleg left, which can be reachable in two with the most importance on avoiding the deep greenside bunkers. Pink Dogwood as it is named, has yielded birdies nearly 36% of the time in recent years, with some eagles and even an albatross from Louis Oosthuizen in 2012.
The 8th is a similar distanced Par 5 meandering a bit to the players right off of the back tee. Known as Yellow Jasmine, it has a unique putting green with no surrounding bunkers, but instead mounding to the left side of the green. Eagles and birdies are a bit tougher to come by compared to the 2nd, though it still plays more than a quarter stroke under par on average and will be a hole players will look to attack.
The Bryson factor is likely to first come into play on the Par 4 3rd hole, which is just 350 yards and the green will be in play off the tee for the U.S. Open Champion. The hole is a classic design and is one that has remained mostly unchanged through the years, which will have many purists rolling their eyes as the most extreme modern day golfer likely makes a mockery of Flowering Peach.
The 4th and 5th provide the toughest two-hole stretch outward nine as they each play over par annually. Flowering Crab Apple is the first of four Par 3s, and it is a doozie as the wind plays mind games with players on the tee. It’s a long iron or even fairway metal from 240 yards into an odd shaped putting surface protected by large, deep bunkers front and left. Similar to the first, players will be excited to head to the next tee with a three.
Although, that next tee box won’t relinquish any pressure as the 495 yard Par 4 5th is a stiff test in it’s own right. Players will look to avoid well positioned fairway bunkers off the tee, or by length which requires a 315 yard carry. Par will be a fine score on the back to front sloping green at Magnolia, as bogey or worse is the result more than 27% of the time.
Amen Corner is the most notable three-hole stretch in all of golf and it provides an intense turning point at many Masters. I’m getting there, but don’t forget about the 10th either as it has played as one of the four toughest holes on the course as well. In fact, it has done it’s own deciding of Masters Tournaments with the famous Bubba shot from the pinestraw during the playoff when he won in 2012 or the triple-bogey collapse of Rory to start the back nine in 2011. While the next three get most of the attention, the final round of the Masters tournament really gains steam on the 10th. The leaders will leave the 10th green to the tee box of White Dogwood with a nervous feeling, knowing what is ahead in Amen Corner.
The 505 yard Par 4 11th has yielded bogeys or worse more than 36% of the time, with uncertain winds making it a brutal test. The large pond to the left of the green has swallowed up a number of shots over the years, and will have players bailing out right in order to try to avoid the big number. Once they escape that hole, they’ll have a short walk to a simple 155 yard Par 3. It sounds like an easy hole for the best players in the world as just a short iron is required on approach, but Golden Bell with Rae’s Creek running in front of the green, has ruined the green jacket chances for a large number of players over the years.
Most recently and perhaps most prominently eliminated a chance for Jordan Spieth to go back to back in 2016 following a quadruple-bogey 7 on Sunday afternoon.
The last leg of Amen Corner is the first of Augusta National’s two signature Par 5s on the back nine. The 13th, Azaela, requires a draw off the tee for right handed players but they must also be wary of Rae’s Creek which runs down the left edge of the hole and around in front of the putting surface. It plays annually as the easiest hole on the course, but make no mistake, both eagle and double bogey are in play on this 510 yard hole. Phil Mickelson’s epic shot from behind a tree in the pinestraw to the right of the fairway at 13 on his way to victory in 2010, is one of many all time signature shots from The Masters.
Following the Par 4 14th, golfers will tee it up with another Par 5 birdie or even eagle opportunity at the 530 yard 15th. Many will remember this hole as the one that really made it feel like Tiger would get it done in 2019, as his tap in birdie gave him the outright lead. Francesco Molinari will certainly have a different remembrance of Firethorn as it cemented his drop down the leaderboard that Sunday, but that wasn’t anything compared to Sergio’s 13 on the hole in 2018.
The final three holes at the Masters begin with the Par 3 16th which has yielded the most hole-in-ones at Augusta National, with many of them coming with the traditional Sunday hole location which positions the hole at the bottom of a large slope to it’s right. The 170 yard Redbud creates some of the greatest drama every year, even when players miss the green, as Tiger proved with his remarkable “In your life, have you seen anything like that” hole out from behind the green on his way to the green jacket in 2005.
The 18th is a classic finishing hole, and it seems to provide fantastic drama every year at The Masters. The tee shot on Holly must seem extremely narrow to the leaders, knowing what they need to do to win golf’s ultimate prize. A missed fairway right is often full of pinestraw and trees blocking way to the green, but left is no better as two deep bunkers gather tee shots. One interesting tidbit on 18 is that there is concern if some players can even reach the fairway bunkers with their drives in the soft and cooler conditions. They will certainly be happy if they keep it in the short grass, but a long approach is tough into undulating green protected on each side by sand bunkers. This is the green where most players are crowned Masters Champion, and no recent putt has been more impactful to that history than Tiger Woods in 2019.
As I mentioned there are 92 players in the field this year, with 26 players making their Masters debut. While I wouldn’t put anything past this class of young studs, there have been just three players to win in their first start at Augusta National, and none since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
Our focus will certainly be on those that have history at this illustrious event, and this week I will provide a five year history from the last five years in chart form, rather than running through the entire elite field. I have removed those that have not played the last 5 years (debutants and Lucas Glover), and assigned a 100th place finish for missed cuts to allow for the averaging field.