It was a November to remember last year at Augusta National, but golfers expect course knowledge to pay more dividends this year as spectators return to the Masters.
The green jacket battle off Magnolia Lane wasn’t the same last autumn after Covid-19 postponed the Masters from April to November and kept spectators from attending, with Dustin Johnson winning in record fashion over a rain-soaked course.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be lightning fast, really firm like it can get in April,” second-ranked Justin Thomas said. “Just a lot of little things here and there I had a hard time getting used to.
“Everyone knew what the golf course was. It just was about execution. But you had to go about it differently than you do in April.”
Many of the world’s top players will attack the famed layout as they have in past years, seeing last year as a one-off where knowledge accumulated over years at Augusta National had little value.
“Experience is always going to help with certain areas you can or can’t be, but very few years when we play in April where it plays close to those conditions,” Spain’s third-ranked Jon Rahm said.
“When it comes to the greens, it played extremely different to what I’m used to. You had to be very precise with the shots into the green. It was much easier off the tee because the ball was just plugging in the fairway.
“Chipping around the greens and putting, it was just slower, a little softer. It wasn’t the same, not even close.”
Those formidable, undulating greens are back with teeth bared. Hard-learned lessons on where to land the ball are back in style this spring.
“I feel like we’re back in the routine,” said former British Open runner-up Matt Kuchar. “This kind of has the sense of ‘This is real, this is Masters again when it should be.’
“I certainly was awfully glad to play it in the fall. Any chance to play the Masters tournament whenever they tell us, we’ll show up, but this feels more like Masters is truly here and going to be much more normal than it was last year.”
Adding to that feel will be a limited number of spectators allowed each day.
‘EERIE AND QUIET’
“It was just kind of eerie and quiet,” 2015 Masters winner Jordan Spieth said. “Without them, without the roars, the golf course certainly played very different, but there’s really nothing you could do about it.”
Even without the full numbers of a usual Masters, Spieth is counting on those lucky enough to attend to be in full throat when spectacular shotmaking inspires them to shout.
“This year should feel a lot more normal,” he said. “Whatever percentage it will be, the patrons that are there will make it feel like normal even if it’s not at full capacity.”
Spieth figures to see a tighter premium on landing zones this year.
“It was still a phenomenal golf course in unbelievable shape with its own unique set of challenges,” he said. “But all in all, you kind of got a little bit away with more.
“I’ve heard already it’s already firm and fast. I think it’ll play significantly different and I’m looking forward to that challenge.”
Thomas said no one would have beaten Johnson on his 2020 form, no matter when the event was played.
“He played far and away better than everybody else,” Thomas said. “But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some first-timers or younger guys played well.”
Among the newcomers who did well was Mexico’s Abraham Ancer, who shared 13th in his Masters debut.
Canada’s Corey Conners produced his best major result by sharing 10th last November. “I’m really excited to get back,” Conners said. “I feel like I have a great plan for the golf course and feel like my game sets up pretty well.”*AFP