Associate Opinion Editor
When 93 of the world’s best tee it up this Thursday, November 12.; it will have been 578 days since the final day at Augusta National in April 2019. 578 days ago, Tiger Woods would go on to win his fifth Masters title and his 82nd PGA Tour victory; tying Sam Snead for the most victories of all time. Woods is looking to defend his title and become the outright leader for the most wins. The conditions this week in Augusta will be wet and soft, with thunderstorms in the forecast all day Thursday it could possibly be a Monday finish at The Masters. Going into this week the talk of the golf world has been U.S. Open Champion Bryson DeChambeau. DeChambeau is looking out to ‘destroy’ Augusta National this week. Comments from Bryson’s has him declaring that par this week for him isn’t the official par 72 but to him, he said he is playing it as a “par 67”. There is no reason to doubt DeChambeau’s ability. He is the betting favorite and is the ideal player to win at a ‘soft’ Masters Tournament. The blueprint for Augusta National aligns itself with players who are long off the tee, that can fly the golf ball right to left and have to putt well. In the 2020 season, DeChambeau ranked first in strokes gained off the tee and fifth in strokes gained putting. This could be a historic weekend for DeChambeau as he is setting himself up for a second straight major victory and looking to break Tiger Woods’ Masters scoring record. If DeChambeau were not to claim the “green jacket” this Sunday my guess is that it could be anyone from the list below who takes it from him.
Players to Watch
The number two ranked golfer in the world is looking to secure his first-ever major championship win this week at Augusta National. Jon Rahm has five career wins (two this year) on the PGA Tour and six on the European Tour. Since turning pro in 2016 Rahm has been nothing short of spectacular. Rahm has just 93 professional starts on tour, and he has finished inside the top 10 in 40 of those starts. Rahm is one of the most prolific ball strikers in the world and has a strong history at Augusta National, where he placed t9 in 2019, and a solo 4th in 2018. Rahm had a strong showing in his last start at the Zozo Championship at Sherwood Country Club with a t2 finish, just one-stroke shy of forcing a playoff with Patrick Cantlay. The question for Rahm isn’t if he will win a major, it is a matter of when he will win it and I like his odds to get it done this week.
Augusta National already favors left-handed golfers, so it isn’t all that bold to assume that a two-time Masters winner has a chance to grab his third green jacket. Bubba Watson shouldn’t be overlooked; Watson is notorious for being an excellent and creative driver of the golf ball but his iron play has been outstanding. Statistics in the past few months have shown he’s been the best iron player on the PGA Tour. Watson ranks third in strokes gained on approach in the last month. Unfortunately, Watson has also been one of the worst putters in the world. In the 2020 season Watson ranked 230th in strokes gained putting; that type of putting will not get it done unless he does what he did in the third round at the CJ Cup; where he gained 7 strokes on approach to the green and lost 5.5 strokes putting and still managed to shoot a 65. Bubba just needs to putt on tour average levels to contend this week.
Tyrrell Hatton has been one of the hottest players in both the European and PGA Tours. Hatton had six top 10’s in the 2020 season including his first win on the PGA circuit. In the last month, Hatton has two top 10s and a win at The BMW Championship in Europe. The strengths of Hatton’s game comes from strong iron play and a hot putter to go with it. This combination of play is what made Hatton rank 2nd in the 2020 season in birdie percentage. If the course plays as soft as it ever has before and birdies are to be made, expect Tyrell Hatton’s name to be at the top of the leaderboard.
Okay, so this one might be a homer pick. Tony Finau is one of, if not my favorite(s) golfer. I’ve followed almost all of his rounds since the restart back in June. And believe me when I say this. Finau is the most frustrating golfer to watch. It doesn’t make sense to see someone with as much talent as Finau, someone who contends almost weekly, to only have one PGA win. From a statistical standpoint, Finau rates inside the top 30 in almost every ball-striking metric and ranks 12th in strokes gained total. There are two glaring flaws in his game. One of them being the flat stick, where Finau currently ranks 98th in strokes gained putting, and I’m shocked it is that high. The second flaw is the mental aspect. Finau is a name you see at the top of leaderboards in most tournaments, but Finau cannot find a way to put a solid weekend together to finish as the sole name on top. Why would I mention Finau as a player to watch if he doesn’t ever win? It is because he is simply too talented of a player and in his two Masters tournament appearance Finau finished T5th in 2019, and T10 in 2018. Hopefully Tony can enter Sunday two-to-three shots back so he doesn’t feel the nerves of being the leader on Sunday at The Masters.
Jason Day is the type of player that should be the blueprint for what a winner at Augusta should be. A great driver of the golf ball that works it right to left and one of the best putters in the field. Though it all depends on which Day we see. Do we see the flashes of brilliance of Day that made him a former number one player in the world? Or, do we see the injured Day? Day has had problems with back spasms, vertigo and recently had to withdraw from the CJ Cup with a pinched nerve in his neck while he was T4 heading into the final round. Day has had moments this past year that showed the greatness of Day in his prime. The Australian hasn’t won on tour since 2018 but he did have a T4 at The PGA Championship at Harding Park, and had a T7 last week at The Houston Open. It also is worth noting that Day hasn’t done worse than 28th at The Masters in every one of his starts there. Day has three T10s at Augusta National, with a T5 in 2019. Day also has a solo third finish back in 2013; on an interview with Golf Channel’s Feherty, Day revealed that he had thoughts about giving up on golf until he took third that weekend in Augusta. So here is to hoping Day has a strong week at a place he looks at fondly.
Dark Horse This Week
This is a really tall order. Expecting someone to win at The Masters on their Augusta National debut is nearly impossible; impossible because it has never happened before. Yet I feel Jason Kokrak could be up to the task. Kokrak has had a meteoric rise up the official world golf ranking this past season as he now sits at 24th best player in the world. With the conditions being soft this week, I feel this gives Kokrak an advantage over most of the players in the field. Simply because Kokrak can hit a little white ball, very, very, far. Kokrak ranks 8th in strokes gained off the tee in his last 50 rounds, and in the 2020 season, he finished 7th in driving distance with an average drive of 312.4 yards. Although we are only a little over 2 months in this year’s super season, Kokrak managed to get his first win at The CJ Cup in Las Vegas, just over a month ago. While the season is still young Kokrak currently sits 3rd in strokes gained putting. Not known for being a good putter he finished just outside the top 150 in strokes gained putting on tour last season, if Kokrak can keep up the excellent driving and putting he has a great chance at shocking the world.