It’s good to be back in Augusta … in April. The last Masters was just five months ago, a rare sensation. Flowers have never been so pretty. The fairways never looked greener. Greens have never looked so hard and fast. If it is just perception, or is it a reality, we will see it from Thursday.
You don’t have to be an expert in this place to assume that defending champion Dustin Johnson’s -20, beyond the extraordinary golf he played in November, was not comfortable for the organizers. Fall is wet and there was no way in 2020 to dry the greens sufficiently, even with the heating at “full power” working underneath. Augusta National was left defenseless and the winner took advantage of it very well. Johnson hit the drive beautifully, he was an artist with the pitching wedge, but he didn’t drop too many hard putts on those slow, responsive greens. He won by five strokes and stole the court record from Tiger Woods (1997) and Jordan Spieth (2015) by two strokes.
But April is April, and spring is usually hot and dry in these places. This Monday afternoon, at around five o’clock, four good players arrived on the green of the 18th hole finishing their practice round. They were the Norwegian Viktor Hovland, the American Brendon Todd and the English Lee Westwood and Danny Willett (champion in 2016). The flag was long and slightly on the right side. All four tried to get the ball close from the edge of the green, passed. The one who left her closest was Hovland … at 4 meters. They tried all the shots, with the putt and with the wedges. There was no case. Speed is on the verge of legality.
Jordan Spieth won last week at the Valero Texas Open. With his track record here in Augusta, he is regarded as one of the favorites for this year. “When I play the ball well on these greens I always feel that it is going to end inside the hole. And it has a lot to do with the control of the ball. distance, both in the medium distance putts and in the long ones, the touch is more important here than on any other court, ”Spieth said at his press conference on Monday.
Founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts must be in heaven ordering the weather to stay warm and dry for the entire week. They will thus see their creation defend itself against the daring long hitters. Those in the know say that this year the winning score will not be below -10.
Speaking of long and daring punchers, this Monday at the last minute, when there was hardly anyone left on the driving range, Bryson De Chambeau was doing a curious exercise with his driver. Without rest and without stopping to move he hit about thirty balls. One after another in a kind of furious dance. The only apparent goal of such a display seemed to be an aerobic interval exercise to achieve the maximum possible speed. To his right, very close, was the Swede Henrik Stenson practicing. He quit his practice and went to see de Chambeau. Another who abandoned his practice to come to observe the “scientist” was Vijay Singh.
Two partners in their green jackets, their coach Chris Como and another assistant, who was monitoring the information provided by the radar, completed the group of witnesses. Every so often Bruyson snorted loudly with his blows, as if he were a tennis player executing a passing shot. His caddy, Tim Tucker, successfully threw the ball into his hands to maintain the routine of one hit every 10 seconds or less. A delusion …
Hole 4, “Flowering Apple Crab”, which was possibly so named because of how difficult it is to digest crab apples, perhaps as much or more as the 240 yards of this huge par 3. It was always a difficult hole to see from the court, Not even standing in the tribune that is usually installed on the left side, it was possible to observe everything that was happening. This time the grandstand is not there and recently an elevated area was built at the bottom of the green from where you can see absolutely everything.
This year there will be three Latin American players in Augusta. The young Chilean Joaquín Niemann, only 22 years old, will play his first Masters as a professional this year, remember that in 2019 he did it as an amateur after his triumph at the LAAC (Latin American Amateur Championship) in 2018. Last year in November he had to have played, but tested positive for Covid 19 and was left out. “Today I look at it in perspective and I think that having played last year, on such a different court, would not have helped me much,” he declared after his practice round on Monday. His game has taken hold and he has earned a privileged place on the PGA Tour. He is currently 26th in the world rankings and is no less than 11th in the FedEx Cup. Augusta should be a very suitable court for his game. He is powerful on the drive and his short game and putting are well tuned. It would not be unusual to see him in good position during the tournament.
Mexico’s Abraham Ancer finished tied for 13th last year, in his first Masters, and had the honor of sharing the last outing with Dustin Johnson. Without a doubt, his game adapts very well to this field. He is in a great moment and his confidence, which always seems infinite, will be very important in this edition, in conditions very different from those he had last year. Ancer is today ranked 31st in the World Ranking and 37th in the FedEx Cup.
Colombian Sebastián Muñoz will play his second consecutive Masters. Last year in November he did three laps under par in the tournament and finished tied for 19th place. Muñoz won his first PGA Tour tournament in 2019, The Sanderson Farms Championship and is 63rd in the World Ranking and 64th in FedEx Cup. Arrives in Augusta quite toned after a very good showing in Texas last week. It finished tied for 9th place.
The weather is promising to be very good and it is possible to expect a typical April Masters. With a court that does not want to be dominated as it was last November.