The Masters: 2020 Edition
Kyle Sorgi, Staff Writer
“A tradition unlike any other,” says sports broadcasting icon Jim Nantz, is one way to describe the annual Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. Its rich history, dreamy foliage on Magnolia Lane and the course, and the one-of-a-kind green jacket bestowed upon the winner set the Masters apart from every other PGA Golf event. One more factor that makes this year’s Masters Tournament especially unique is that, for the first time, it is not happening in April. Instead, thanks to the pandemic, it is slated for November 12-15 as the first major event of the revised 2020-21 PGA Tour season. Although, unprecedented scheduling and layout of the tournament will not deter from the elite caliber of talent and passionate drive for a green jacket that will truly be unlike any other.
The timing of the Masters is not the only new aspect of the tournament. Like other sports throughout 2020, Augusta National will not host fans during the weekend. To date, 13 players and two caddies on the PGA Tour have, at some point, tested positive for COVID-19. The golf world is very fortunate that the PGA did not cancel the tournament outright, but rather postpone it from April to November (The Open Championship was the only major completely erased from the calendar). Nonetheless, the Masters is happening, and this is your one-stop shop for what you need to know with important storylines, questions, and who might just stand apart from the pack on the evening of November 15.
First, let’s start with the golfer that always seems to usher his way into the conversation: Tiger Woods. He is the defending Masters champion after defeating Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele, and Brooks Koepka by one stroke in 2019—all of whom are legitimate contenders to win this year. The victory propelled a comeback in golf that won the hearts of many during its pursuit and at its finish. In fact, he even won a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Donald Trump, illustrating his respectability as a golfer and a man both inside and outside of golf. It is no secret that Tiger has struggled lately, part of which is due to lingering back issues. Not many top-ten finishes have come his way in a while, yet he is a top-ten favorite according to the odds to win this weekend. Will he have enough in the tank to don another green jacket? It took a magical performance to muscle out a victory last year, and with mounting adversity since then—even as unpredictable as 2020 has been—I do not expect the same result this year.
After hearing Tiger’s name, you might also be thinking: Hey, what about Phil Mickelson? Another old timer in the hunt this November, Mickelson has made a splash on the PGA Champions Tour this season, but he is among the youngest in that group at the age of 50 since that is the minimum age of eligibility to be on the Champions Tour. Phil won the Masters in 2004, 2006, and 2010, though with an uninspiring 2020 resume, I do not anticipate him making a serious run to win. He can make the cut into Saturday and Sunday, but in the face of an up-and-coming wave of younger players asserting their place in the sport, Phil—like Tiger—is just out of his league in Augusta.
Several golfers among the rest of the 96-man field have realistic chances to win. The odds-on favorite is Bryson DeChambeau, winner of the 2020 US Open and Rocket Mortgage Classic. He built up tons of muscle during the PGA Tour’s pandemic hiatus and has transformed into a different type of golfer since then; he can now smack the driver farther on average than anyone on the Tour. Also, DeChambeau is the first golfer to wear the logo of a sports betting or fantasy sports company during the Masters with a DraftKings logo on his hat. Recent history shows that DeChambeau has developed into a well-rounded player and has what it takes to vie for his first green jacket. But for the Hulk of the Tour to finally show some green, he has to fight off some exceptional competition from the rest of the roster.
Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm, the current top two golfers in the Official World Golf Rankings, are other contenders riding momentum entering the Masters. Johnson won the 2020 FedEx Cup Playoffs in convincing fashion, while Rahm won the BMW Championship after an entertaining one-hole playoff with Johnson. Neither have come to Augusta and left victorious, but by no means can either golfer be counted out of the race entering the tournament. The Masters has not had a repeat winner since (guess who) Tiger Woods in 2002; so, unless Tiger defies the odds once again, it’s anyone’s game. More top prospects include Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, and Xander Schauffele, none of whom are strangers to the big stage by now. However, golf can be a wildly unpredictable sport, meaning that, sometimes, the best pick to win is the one that fewer people make. That is where these dark horse candidates enter the equation.
Collin Morikawa is one young gun that has set the PGA Tour ablaze this year. Winning the 2020 PGA Championship in August added to an already prolific resume and continued a stretch of more major victories than missed cuts. Morikawa is only 23 years old, and his performance is just beginning to take off. This will be his Masters debut but keep the California kid in mind if you’re looking for a shot in the dark with as good of a chance as any.
Webb Simpson is another name on the leaderboard to monitor. A well-seasoned player with much experience, Simpson recorded his best Masters finish in 2019 after tying for fifth (right behind the Woods-Johnson-Schauffele-Koepka group mentioned earlier). He knows how to give himself a chance to compete, as he has finished no worse than tied for thirteenth in his last five starts. Whether or not he breaks the seam for his first green jacket, it would be no surprise to see him make the cut and contend in rounds three and four.
There are other under-the-radar names that might make some noise if you are looking for a good bang for your buck, too, such as Patrick Cantlay, Patrick Reed, or Matthew Wolff (among others). But you might be more likely to find a winner somewhere near the top of the rankings. I am not saying that the favorite will necessarily win—if anything, golf might be the sport where you see the listed favorite win the least often—but don’t let the odds tell the whole story. After all, no edition of the tournament has had a stranger feel than this one.
I will refrain from making any specific winner predictions since I am writing this article one week before the Masters, but one thing I do know for sure is that the Masters is still the Masters. The weekend will have been just as meaningful—if not more appreciated given the circumstances—and the ultimate winner will have rightfully earned the green jacket, whether it be a first one or an addition to his collection.