What perfect timing! The Masters is next weekend (Nov. 12 -15) and that is the bye weekend for “my” KC Chiefs. I may do a little channel flipping on Saturday and Sunday to keep up with a few college and pro games, but my primary focus will be on the 84th Masters. Honestly, I can’t wait. I may not be little-boy-on-Christmas-Eve excited, but I am eagerly counting the days.
It only seems fitting that in this insanely nutty year that the 2020 Masters has become the year’s last Major instead of the year’s first. The grounds of Augusta National may not be April colorful, but I have no doubt that the golf will be brilliant. And it is just as much fun trying to figure out who to put a nickel or two on in November as it is in April.
It is going to be tough to match last year’s excitement of Tiger winning his 15th Major -- and his first in 11 years -- but given the current circumstances, it may end up being the All-Time Most Appreciated Masters ever.
Before I reveal to you this year’s winner and contenders, here some of the facts and figures that will go into my research folder.
Augusta National was founded by Bobby Jones and Wall Street stock broker Clifford Roberts. Jones (1902 to 1971) won 13 Majors, including the Grand Slam in 1930. At that time, the four Majors were: The British Amateur, The British Open, U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur. They took a $70,000 option on a 365-acre property called Fruitland Nurseries in Augusta, GA. Jones and Alistair Mackenzie designed the course. Construction began in 1931. The course opened in 1932 with limited play. The formal opening was January 1933.*
(*The Augusta Chronicle)
This year, Augusta’s par-72 course will play to 7,475 yards. At the 1997 tournament, Tiger Woods won his first Major, defeating Tom Kite by 12 strokes. That year the course was 6,925 yards.
The average age of a Masters winner is 32.55: Notables in the field this week who are between 30 to 36 are: Dustin Johnson (World Ranking 1 – Age 36), Rory McIlroy (WR 5 - 30), Web Simpson (WR 8 - 35), Patrick Reed (WR 11 - 30), Brooks Koepka (WR 12 - 30), Tony Finau (WR 17 - 31), Gary Woodland (WR 31 - 36), Harris English (WR 31 - 31).
Seven Masters winners have been 40 and over: Ben Hogan, 40 years, 7 months, 30 days, 1953; Mark O’Meara, 41 yrs., 3 months, 1998; Sam Snead, 41 yrs., 10 months, 17 days, 1954; Gary Player, 42 yrs., 5 months, 9 days, 1978; Ben Crenshaw, 43 yrs., 2 months, 30 days, 1995; Tiger Woods, 43 yrs., 3 months, 15 days, 2019; Jack Nicklaus, 46 yrs., 2 months, 24 days, 1986.
Past Masters Champions in the 2020 field: Bernhard Langer (1985, 1993), Larry Mize (1987), Sandy Lyle (1988), Fred Couples (1992), José María Olazábal (1994, 1999), Tiger Woods (1997, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2019), Vijay Singh (2000), Mike Weir (2003), Phil Mickelson (2004, 2006, 2010), Zach Johnson (2007), Trevor Immelman (2008),Charl Schwartzel (2011), Bubba Watson (2012, 2014), Adam Scott (2013), Sergio García (2017), Jordan Spieth (2015), Danny Willett (2016), Patrick Reed (2018). The men in boldface are 40 or over.
Betting Odds for the last five Masters winners: 2019 -- Tiger Woods (14-1); 2018 -- Patrick Reed (50-1); 2017 -- Sergio Garcia (30-1); 2016 -- Danny Willett (50-1); 2015 -- Jordan Spieth (8-1)
“The last 10 winners were all in the Top 30 of the World Rankings heading into the tournament, and the last six were all ranked inside the top 11 of the PGA Tour’s scoring average statistic during their year of victory. In fact, the trend of cream rising to the top at Augusta dates back even further. There have been 34 winners of the Masters since the World Rankings were created, and only two of them – Zach Johnson in 2007 and Angel Cabrera in 2009 – were outside the top 40 in the world at the time of their victory.” -- Rob McGarr and Michael Catling (Golfer’s Today)
“The experts” seem to be zeroing in on three men:
GolfWorld’s Alex Myers ranks his 12 favorites in order: 1. Dustin Johnson. 2. Jon Rahm. 3. Bryson DeChambeau. 4. Patrick Reed. 5. Webb Simpson. 6. Justin Thomas. 7. Patrick Cantlay. 8. Xander Schauffele. 9. Tyrrell Hatton. 10. Rory McIlroy. 11.Tiger Woods. 12. Collin Morikawa. 13. Brooks Koepka.
Myers’ reason to pick Johnson: “DJ put together one of the great stretches in recent memory, culminating with his Tour Championship/FedEx Cup victory at East Lake. He finished runner-up at Augusta National in 2019 and has finished in the top 10 in each of his past four starts there.” (FYI: Johnson did withdraw from the CJ Cup and the Zozo Championship due to a positive COVID-19 test.)
Rob McGarr and Michael Catling of Golfer’s Today are going with Justin Thomas: “JT has improved with every year he has played the Masters. In his last two visits, he has ranked second for greens in regulation and only poor putting displays have stopped him from troubling the top of the leaderboard. He made just 11 birdies last year, 14 fewer than tournament leader (Xander) Schauffele, though he says he plans to adopt a more aggressive approach this year. So he should too, considering he’s one of, if not the best ball-striker in the game right now … Lest we forget he’s had 14 Top 10s, including four wins, in his last 22 starts.
Mike Pruitt of Golf favors Bryson DeChambeau: “Formerly known as Bryson Slo-Mo DeChambeau not because he plays his shots that much quicker than he did in the past but more so because he put on about 135 pounds of solid muscle during the quarantine. … He is driving the ball 344 yards off the tee! On average!
Stephen Campbell of Odds Shark likes Justin Thomas: “The 2017 PGA Championship winner already has a Major title under his belt and is in a prime position to notch more wins in the coming years. A three-time winner last season when he paced the tour in strokes gained/approach, Thomas is in excellent form right now. JT hasn’t recorded a top-10 at the Masters but has improved his finish position each of the last four years (T-39 in 2016, T-22 in 2017, T-17 in 2018, T-12 in 2019). He’s clearly getting more comfortable at the world-famous venue.
Last, but not least, Gary Player is going with DeChambeau: “They all said, ‘Here comes the kook, here comes the scientist,’ but he’s been more brilliant than all of them and there’s nothing worse than when you think you have a superior attitude to others, and they actually have a superior knowledge to you. He is a step above them all, and he has a phenomenally good golf swing. They all say … he has a strange swing. It might look strange, but basically in pieces, it’s one of the best swings a human being could have. This man, there’s no telling how well he can do.”
So who is going to win the Masters? My homework tells me that this is Justin Thomas’ year. The world’s No. 3-ranked player is plenty long. He knows the course. He understands Major pressure. And he is patient.
The Contenders in order:
Rory McIlroy – He desperately wants to complete the career Grand Slam.
Xander Schauffele – The man can putt – and he is due, having been a consistent contender in recent Majors – 2019 Masters T2; 2020 PGA T10; 2020 U.S. Open T3, and 2018 British Open T2.
Brooks Koepka -- I know he is coming off a knee injury, but the 4-time Major winner always brings his ‘A’ game to the big events.
Dustin Johnson – This 36-year-old, who won the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, needs a second Major.
I will be rooting for Jordan Spieth, who won the Masters in 2015, but I won’t be holding my breath. He has 11 PGA Tour wins, including three Majors, but he hasn’t had a win since 2017.
Next week can’t come soon enough!