Everything seems right now when it comes to the Masters, which begins Thursday at Augusta National.
Having the Masters in November last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t feel right. No spectators were present as well, taking away the famous Sunday Augusta roars.
But now we are back to the traditional spring tournament and there will be spectators, or as Augusta refers to them, patrons. The number allowed each day will be limited, but if you have seen other tournaments this year, even 20 percent of normal still affords for plenty of noise.
And on Sunday afternoon, count on the vibe returning.
Dustin Johnson won the November event and now is back to defend just five months later as the Masters has the distinction of being the last major of 2020 and the first of 2021.
One thing missing is Tiger Woods as he is still recovering from his auto accident in February. Listening to the players early in the week, to a person, they miss having Tiger in the Masters and so do golf fans.
I have written many times the Masters is my favorite tournament to watch each year and the reason remains the same.
When watching, you know all the holes, you know where the players need to be off the tee, and you always have the anticipation the back 9 on Sunday – where it’s said the Masters begins.
The 11th hole begins Amen Corner, a three-hole stretch named by Sports Illustrated writer Herbert Warren in 1958.
The fun starts at the 12th, the 155-yard par 3, front by Rae’s Creek, that on paper looks simple but has been the end of many hopes to win the tournament. In 2019 when Woods won his fifth Masters, four players in the last two groups found the water.
In 1990 Rick Reilly wrote in Sports Illustrated that “More green jackets have been lost at the 12th than at the Augusta City Dry Cleaners.”
Next up is the 13th, the first of two par 5’s over the next three holes, and a hole where if your score par, you are losing a stroke to the field.
After the No. 14 is the next par 5, the 15th, a 530-yard hole where the approach must clear a pond to reach the narrow green. Then hole can jump start a closing kick and can send a message to the group on the nearby 16th tee that you are charging.
The 16th is a 170-yard, par 3 where the water on the left rarely comes into play, but the Sunday pin placement makes for high drama as well-hit shots can funnel down to the hole, building the crowd noise as the ball gets closer to the hole.
After the par 4, 17th, the closing hole – a 465-yard, par 4, demands an accurate tee shot from the chute that leads from the tee box to the fairway on the 18th.
Too far right and the trees may hinder your approach, with too far left bringing the fairway bunkers into play. The green features two tiers and there is much work to do if your approach doesn’t find the right tier.
Knowing the holes and the Sunday pin placements adds to the suspense and excitement watching the final round.
So, who is going to wear the Green Jacket Sunday night?
Spieth is an obvious favorite coming off his win last week in Texas and that he is a former winner of the Masters. His touch with the putter is well documented and a must at Augusta.
Justin Thomas, a friend of Spieth’s since they were junior golfers, has improved every year he’s played at Augusta, and brings the total package of a game to the course.
Johnson brings his swagger to the tournament, but also knows Augusta is a different course in April than he faced in November.
Bryson DeChambeau, who overpowered the 2020 U.S. Open, finished 34th in November when he tried to do the same to August.
Brooks Koepka, who would normally be among the favorites in any major, is playing this week, but it is his first start since having knee surgery and it’s tough to figure the toll the hilly course will take on the knee over four days.
Rory McIlroy has been inconsistent and I’m just not sure which Rory will show up.
Players like Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, Tommy Fleetwood, and Cameron Smith can all be right there come Sunday late afternoon.
The tournament also gives the golf fan a chance to watch legendary former Masters champions show their skills once again.
Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Larry Mize, Jose Maria Olazabal, Mike Weir, and Ian Woosnam are all in the field by virtue of a lifetime exemption given to past champions.
I will go with a dream final group of Spieth and Thomas, with Spieth pulling out the win over his good friend.
Here are my favorite groupings for the first two rounds, with the start times for Thursday being Pacific Daylight Time.
7:06 a.m.: Bubba Watson, Brooks Koepka, Viktor Hovland; 7:30 a.m.: Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood, Tyler Strafaci (A); 7:42 a.m.: Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy; 7:54 a.m.: Patrick Reed, Daniel Berger, Paul Casey; 9:24 a.m.: Fred Couples, Francesco Molinari, Charles Osborne (A); 10:12 a.m.: Phil Mickelson, Tommy Fleetwood, Scottie Scheffler; 10:36 a.m.: Adam Scott, Bryson DeChambeau, Max Homa; 10:48 a.m.: Tony Fanau, Louis Oosthuizen, Justin Thomas; 11:00 a.m.: Jordan Spieth, Cameron Smith, Collin Morikawa.
By Dennis Miller