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84th US Masters Preview

Nov 11, 2020

It's here at last, the 84th staging of the US MASTERS. Usually the first major, in this crazy COVID affected year it is the last. Five Australians tee up at the famed Augusta Golf Course in the hope of wearing the green jacket at the end of 72 holes.
Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Adam Scott and Cameron Smith hold the hopes of an Australian victory, however there’s a fifth Aussie teeing up that you might not know - Lukas Michel. Lukas enters the event as an amateur, courtesy of his win at the 2019 U.S. Mid-Amateur. What a special week it will be for him and we wish him all the best!
Of course this is not “just another golf tournament”, its considered golf’s holiest of holies! The added drama and excitement at Augusta, even without the crowds this year, always attracts a huge TV audience from Australia.
Here’s a quick preview of the action in the “Peach State” – Georgia.

The Tournament
Usually the first of the four golf Majors held each year, the Masters is the only one of the quartet to be held at the same venue each year – which is the Augusta National. The tournament was first held in 1934 and has become famous for its various unique traditions like the Green Jacket given to each winner (which started in 1948), the pre-tournament Champions Dinner (first held back in 1952), the curtain-raising Par 3 event, played on the eve of the Masters (staged for the first time in 1960) and the ongoing practice of all the caddies wearing identical white “overalls” with the name of their golfer on the back (players could only bring their own caddies to Augusta since 1983).
Unlike the other Majors the field here is classed as an entirely invitational line-up, with no pre-qualification, and the numbers are limited to less than 100 players – the exact number varies slightly depending on how many former champions and exempt players attend. There have been 83 winners to date… 61 USA, 5 Spain & South Africa, 4 England, 2 Germany and 1 from each of Scotland, Wales, Fiji, Canada, Argentina & Australia (who could forget Adam Scott in 2013!)
Jack Nicklaus leads the way with 6 career wins, Tiger Woods has 5 wins after his success last year, and Arnold Palmer (4) comes next on the list.

The Course
The permanent base for the US Masters is Augusta National GC, Augusta in Georgia. Founded back in the 1930’s the course was built on the site of a nursery (hence all the holes are named after a flower, tree or shrub). The original design was by Rees Jones but the layout has been tinkered with over the years – mainly in terms of length – the latest by Tom Fazio in 2002. The 18 holes now stretch out to 7,435 yards with a host of signature holes and areas (e.g. Amen Corner), water hazards (e.g. Rae’s Creek) and strategically placed bunkers. The set-up of the course year-on-year tends to put more emphasis on driving distance than accuracy off the tee, but what is tested on every hole is the ability of the players on their approach to, and their play around, the lightning fast greens – good putting and scrambling are key ingredients to success at Augusta.

72-Hole Record – 270, Tiger Woods (1997), Jordan Spieth (2015)
18-Hole Record – 63, Nick Price (1986), Greg Norman (1996)

Last 10 Winners (and Top 5 places) –
(2019) Tiger Woods (Johnson, Koepka, Schauffele – Day, Finau, Molinari, Simpson)
(2018) Patrick Reed (Fowler-Spieth-Rahm-McIlroy, Stenson, Smith & Watson)
(2017) Sergio Garcia (Rose – Schwartzel – Kuchar & Pieters)
(2016) Danny Willett (Spieth & Westwood – Casey, Holmes & Johnson)
(2015) Jordan Spieth (Mickelson & Rose – McIlroy – Matsuyama)
(2014) Bubba Watson (Blixt & Spieth – Jiminez – Fowler & Kuchar)
(2013) Adam Scott (Cabrera – Day – Leishman & Woods)
(2012) Bubba Watson (Oosthuizen – Hanson, Kuchar, Mickelson & Westwood)
(2011) Charl Schwartzel (Day & Scott – Donald, Ogilvy & Woods)
(2010) Phil Mickelson (Westwood – Kim – Choi & Woods)

The Field
A standard field for the US Masters, which means around 90 players will go to post (89 are in the field at the moment). Bryson DeChambeau is the favourite.

The Weather
Now we see why the Masters is played in April! The chance of rain on the four days reads 80%-40%-50%-40%, but of these it’s Thursday which looks by far the worst, with patchy rain for most of the day. The other three days, it’s more hit-and-miss. The good news is that temperatures will be seasonally good, reaching the low-to-mid 70s, and the wind will be barely a factor at sub-10mph all week. So some rain aside (which will soften up the greens), perfectly fine for this time of year.

Here are the tips from our Golf Insider

BROOKS KOEPKA – “Typically at the Masters, the cream rises to the top. Good players, with good course form, feature time and time again. So unlike most other tournaments, and given the smaller and less-competitive field at this Major, and the way the bookmakers frame the market, concentrating towards the top of the lists is the sensible play. There are not too many surprises at Augusta! And you could easily make a case out for almost all the markets leaders – the beefed-up DeChambeau could make mincemeat of the course, Johnson played well last week, Rahm is a Major winner-in-waiting, Thomas is rock-solid, McIlroy is coming back into form. My preference is Koepka. Simply put, he’s a multiple Major champion, has an ever-improving Masters record (4 starts, 33-21-11-2) and proved his tournament fitness with closing rounds of 65-65 in Houston last week to finish tied 5th. He’s a single-minded competitor, and his recent Major record is the pick of the field. He won a Major in 2017, two in 2018, and one last year. Possibly his form in 2020 hasn’t been at that same stellar level, but he has been injured. Any of the names mentioned above could easily put on the Green Jacket on Sunday, but in terms of value in the win market, Koepka ticks more boxes than most. I see no reason why last year’s runner-up can’t go one better this year.”

HIDEKI MATSUYAMA – “Matsuyama is hard to predict, despite being one of the most consistent ball-strikers in world golf. Just when you think he’s primed to go well after impressive displays, he often puts in a rank performance out of the blue! However, last week he looked back to his imperious best, flushing his way around in Texas, and closing with a weekend 66-63. Not only was his long game on fire, but he was finally rolling in his fair share of putts – which bodes well for this week. Matsuyama has a decent Masters record with two Top 10’s to his name in the last five years, making all five cuts. Matsuyama definitely thrives in the biggest events, and although 19th place at the US Open looks solid, if unspectacular, if you look closer you’ll see that he ranked 4th in Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green. Matsuyama looks like he’s played himself into great form just at the right time as he goes in search of his first Major title.”

TONY FINAU – “With this year’s Masters being played in November the course will be a lot softer than we’re used to. Long-hitters (“bombers”) have historically always faired best at Augusta, and this year with wider, wetter fairways this theme will continue, and perhaps there is an even greater emphasis on distance this time around. Finau is no slouch off the tee, and he’ll be looking to add to his already impressive Masters record this week. Finau finished 10th on debut in 2018, and this came after he dislocated his ankle during the par 3 competition the day before the event! Last year he finished 5th, and it’s clear to see he likes the Augusta layout. His form since lockdown has been very impressive, finishing in the Top 10 on five occasions from just 10 starts. Two of these Top 10’s came at this year’s two other Majors, the USPGA and the US Open, which goes to show Finau’s power game is definitely best suited to long, tough golf courses. Finau has the game, the form and the course history to compete for the title this week.”

BUBBA WATSON – “We’re backing our good old friend Bubba again, but this time at Bubba’s playground! I know I’ve told you a million times already this season, but Bubba is playing some of the best tee-to-green golf of his life right now, he’s just not putting well enough to capitalise. This week he returns to Augusta where he has won twice, and finished 12th and 5th the last two years. Watson loves this place because it helps to shape the ball both ways and play with imagination. His length off the tee is also a big factor in his success, and I’d argue that this year he comes here in as good a form as he ever has in the past. Watson has finished 7th and 4th on his last two starts, and has gained an unbelievable 30 strokes from tee-to-green on the field from his last three starts. He’s hitting the ball as good as ever, and now he returns to a place which he loves and where he knows the greens like the back of his hand. I’ve said in the past that Watson often plays well at the same courses, and has multiple wins in the same events, because he either loves a track or hates it… and boy does he love this one! Simply put, there are no negatives for Bubba this week, apart from the fact he’s up against the best in the world. He’s playing the golf of his life and is about to play on the course he loves the most.”

SI WOO KIM – “The last man on my list is South Korean Kim, who has had an excellent season without quite getting that elusive win. His game has been in great shape for a while and, excluding his last event, his ball-striking has been incredibly good. Kim finished 13th at the USPGA Championship earlier in the year, and ranked 8th that week for Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green, so he knows how to play well in the big events. Kim has gained a whopping 42 strokes on the field since the USPGA, which averages out at nearly five strokes an event – which is world class. He also knows how to handle the pressure in the biggest events which he demonstrated when winning the Players Championship in 2017, which is considered the 5th Major. Another positive for Kim this week is that he has progressive course form at the Masters finishing 24th and 21st the last two years. There seems very little downside to me in adding Kim to the staking plan to continue his great play this year, and he definitely has the game to surprise a few this week.”