The 2021 Masters Tournament begins Thursday, April 8. Golf’s “tradition unlike any other” will look more like its usual self this time around, and it comes just five months after the pandemic moved the 2020 tournament to November for the first time ever. However, the quick turnaround between the two events shouldn’t do anything to dampen another exciting week at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, the event’s home since its inception in 1934.
The November Masters didn’t have spectators—or “patrons,” as the tournament insists on calling them—in attendance. But this time, there’ll be a limited number of audience members on the course to watch the world’s best players tee it up. As for the rest of us, we’ll have to settle for watching all the action on a screen. But there should be plenty to see: Here are four storylines that will shape the first major championship of the golfing year.
Will Dustin Johnson or Bryson DeChambeau overpower the course?
Johnson won the November event for his second career major title. DeChambeau notched his first major win in the U.S. Open last fall at Winged Foot. They’re the two favorites this week.
The two Americans are the most fearsome big hitters on the PGA Tour, and they’re playing better than anyone else in the world right now. They’re the only players with two tour victories this season, while advanced statistics like strokes gained (which estimates how many shots a player gains on the field with each stroke) put them far ahead of everybody else.
DeChambeau has hit some stunning tee shots lately, like this 370-yard rocket over water at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March:
As Johnson highlighted at Augusta in November, the course favors long hitters who can putt. With short rough that’s easy to hit out of, it’s somewhat forgiving to players who miss the fairway off the tee. Both Johnson and DeChambeau can hit the ball a mile and sink their putts, and if DeChambeau in particular has any weakness, it’s that he misses fairways frequently. If the course stays true to form and rewards pure distance, one of these two could easily win.
Does the 2021 Masters belong to the next generation of young talent?
Golf has undergone something of a shift over the last few years: A handful of players in their early- to mid-20s have emerged among the best in the world. In fact, seven of the current top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are under 30 years old: Justin Thomas (27), Jon Rahm (26), Collin Morikawa (24), DeChambeau (27), Xander Schauffele (27), Tyrrell Hatton (29), and Patrick Cantlay (29).
The Masters has not quite embraced that youth movement. Since 2009, just four players under 30 have won the green jacket, and three of the last four champions—Sergio Garcia, Tiger Woods, and Dustin Johnson—have been stars for well over a decade each. The Masters rewards experience. We’ll see if that stays true in 2021.
Could Jordan Spieth make it back to the mountaintop?
At just 27 years old, Spieth is another young gun. But that’s easy to forget because it feels like he has already lived several lives in professional golf. He made his Masters debut in 2014, when he was just 20, and finished tied for second behind champion Bubba Watson after holding a two-stroke lead in the final round. In 2015, Spieth won The Masters and soon achieved a No. 1 in the world ranking. He added a U.S. Open win that same year and an Open Championship title in 2017.
Then he faded. He fell to 82nd in the world by the end of 2020 and appeared to be a shell of his former self.
But Spieth has pulled it together lately. Over the opening months of the season, he regularly placed in the top 15 on the leaderboard and had a real chance in several events, including the Players Championship in March. This past weekend, he won the Valero Texas Open in his home state. Now he’s playing his best golf in years.
Spieth has built a solid track record at the Masters—he finished in the top 11 five years in a row before sliding to 21st in 2019 and 46th in 2020. His game appears to have recovered considerably from his recent lows, and it’d be a storybook moment if he could ascend again at Augusta.
Who will provide the electricity without Tiger Woods?
The world’s most iconic golfer continues to recover from a serious car crash and will not be at The Masters. Any tournament without Woods has a little less buzz in the air than one with him. That especially true at Augusta, where he has won five times and formed a close bond with the course and the people who show up to watch his rounds. His victory in 2019 will go down as one of the most thrilling moments in the history of the sport:
His absence means that if the galleries at Augusta are going to lose their minds for a player this year, it’ll have to be someone else. Plenty of players have a chance to capture hearts and minds, even if nobody can do it quite like Tiger Woods.
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