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Biggest surprises, impact of patrons and all the other big questions heading into the 2021 Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Solely 5 months for the reason that final Masters Tournament one other is right here, again in its acquainted April spot. Tiger Woods will not be right here as he continues to get better from accidents he suffered throughout a single-car crash in Los Angeles in February. However the patrons will return, in restricted numbers. The gamers will discover a completely different golf course than the gentle one they skilled in November.

We undergo the massive storylines because the week of the eighty fifth Masters begins.

The patrons are again. The Masters will not say what number of will really be on web site this week. What is the largest impression of getting patrons again on property after having so few in November?

Bob Harig: The power and ambiance that spectators current, particularly at Augusta Nationwide. As cool because it was to get to see all of the holes virtually unobstructed in November — bear in mind, there have been no gallery ropes — that bought previous after a few day. By Friday/Saturday, the event felt like a member-guest. It simply wasn’t the identical. Even restricted spectators will make a very good little bit of noise that was sorely lacking 5 months in the past.

Michael Collins: Former ESPN colleague and present FOX Sports activities reporter Tom Rinaldi stated it greatest to me after I requested him final yr to explain the texture of Augusta Nationwide with no patrons. “The patrons are the soul of this place.” That is all that wanted to be stated. In fact, it will be simply as straightforward to explain it the best way Paul Casey did: “It sucked.” The hope is there will likely be sufficient folks on property that some roars echo all through the grounds.

Mark Schlabach: It’s a must to give Augusta Nationwide credit score for making the November event nearly as good because it probably may very well be in such uncommon circumstances. However I agree with Bob that it did really feel like Dustin Johnson and his brother, Austin, have been strolling up the 18th fairway en path to successful a member-guest with such a small gallery. Patrons and their roars are what make the Masters so particular, together with its custom and surroundings. Not having the total allotment of patrons there for a second straight yr is deflating, however at the least there will likely be greater than have been there 5 months in the past. We’re making progress in getting again to regular.

Nick Pietruszkiewicz: It’s going to make an enormous distinction, particularly on the weekend. Even when the quantity is small, the noise will likely be heard. When gamers make a transfer on Saturday and Sunday, everybody will know. The stress builds when the entire subject is aware of an eagle was made at 15 or somebody stuffed their tee shot on the par-3 sixteenth. Going round in silence in November might need made it a bit simpler on the nerves, particularly for these chasing a primary inexperienced jacket. Effectively, that is gone. The heightened consciousness, of not simply your self however the complete subject and a specific second within the event, will once more play a major position after a break within the fall.

Augusta Nationwide yielded low numbers in November. Will the course — and the event committee — get even now that the occasion is again in its typical spot in April?

Harig: If the hope is to have scores return to extra regular ranges — Johnson set the event scoring document at 268 — the Masters people may not have to do a factor. As we’ve realized, getting the course agency and quick in November was troublesome from an agronomical standpoint. Now we are going to see a course that has had the advantage of a full rising season. Search for the greens to be considerably firmer. In fact, rain is the good equalizer. If we will get a dry week, look out.

Collins: There usually are not many locations on the earth that would go toe-to-toe with Mom Nature. Augusta Nationwide Golf Membership is among the few. April in Augusta just isn’t like November in Augusta. I anticipate a harder course than we noticed 5 months in the past. We’ll maintain our fingers crossed for no rain and a low pollen depend. That means even when we solely hit half the ask, we nonetheless win.

Schlabach: Good luck with the pollen, Collins. I might advise you to put on footwear that you do not wish to take dwelling, given how yellow the air has been the previous couple of weeks in Georgia. You’ll be able to’t diminish what DJ did in November, as a result of I believe he would have received his first inexperienced jacket in any circumstances given how effectively he performed. However the world’s best gamers have been having goal follow at Augusta Nationwide’s greens final yr, which we had by no means seen earlier than. Greens that historically maintain little or no have been holding virtually every thing. They have been as gentle as Jerry Rice‘s palms. The fairways have been understandably slower given the cooler temperatures and rain, whereas the juicy second lower offered some protection. I might anticipate a a lot completely different course this time.

Pietruszkiewicz: Pay attention, the Masters Event committee just isn’t the USGA. For certain, the inexperienced jackets most likely did not like seeing Dustin Johnson cling 20 below on the place. Nevertheless it will not go all U.S. Open and trick the place out or flip off the sprinkler system. It isn’t who the committee members are, it isn’t what this event is. These caretakers know drama is a giant a part of the attract. They needs birdies and eagles round Amen Nook. However in addition they would not thoughts some balls taking a shower in Rae’s Creek. Drama, folks, drama. If the rain stays away — sick of us speaking in regards to the climate but? — Augusta Nationwide will likely be tougher than it was in November. However this event has by no means been about inflicting ache.

A whole lot of gamers want to do what Dustin Johnson did in November and get their palms on their first inexperienced jacket. Who has the perfect likelihood to do it?

Harig: Jon Rahm. In 4 appearances on the Masters, he already has three top-10s, together with a tie for seventh final yr. Ranked third on the earth, he contends, usually, with seven top-7 finishes on the PGA Tour, courting to his victory on the BMW Championship final September. The large query was whether or not he may skip, as his spouse, Kelly, was due with the couple’s first baby subsequent weekend. That was resolved on Saturday, as Rahm introduced that his son was born simply after midnight.

Collins: Justin Thomas. The perfect factor that would’ve occurred to JT after successful the Gamers Championship was for him to get thumped within the first two matches of the WGC-Dell Applied sciences Match Play. Why? As a result of Thomas is a man who performs nice when he is form of indignant. And he left the Match Play indignant and able to grind. His recreation will likely be primed for the Masters and his first inexperienced jacket.

Schlabach: Am I going to chew on the Xander Schauffele bait once more? He has been runner-up eight occasions since successful the Sentry Event of Champions in January 2019. That features a tie for second on the 2019 Masters, when he led the sphere with 25 birdies. Schauffele has found out Augusta Nationwide; six of his previous eight rounds have been below par. He all the time reveals up on the sport’s largest levels, with seven profession top-10s in majors. It is only a matter of closing the door and getting it accomplished.

Pietruszkiewicz: There are such a lot of decisions, which speaks to the depth proper now in golf. There may be, as talked about, Rahm and Thomas. Throw in Rory McIlroy and, if he’s wholesome sufficient, Brooks Koepka. There are younger guys, like Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland. And, after all, you can not have any dialog about this sport with out Bryson DeChambeau. However I am moving into a distinct path and saying possibly, simply possibly, after so many shut calls recently, Lee Westwood will get that huge win he is been ready his total skilled life to get. At age 47, with fiancée Helen Storey on the bag, he is pleased. (Storey, although, is off this week with Westwood’s son, Sam, alongside.) Westwood posted a pair of runners-up finishes on the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Gamers. He is aware of his means across the place; that is his twentieth begin. He is been shut a couple of occasions, ending second in 2010 and 2016. So … why not now?

Which previous champion are you anticipating a giant week from this week?

Harig: Dustin Johnson. There is no motive why he cannot decide up proper up the place he left off in November. DJ, after a rocky begin in his first 5 tries at Augusta Nationwide, has figured the place out and has been within the high 10 in every of his previous 5 appearances, with a tie for second and a win. He is had a minor blip in his recreation in his previous few tournaments, however anticipate him to be there once more.

Collins: Jordan Spieth. It has been a journey, however now we all know why — a bone chip in his left hand. Except you are a Jordan Spieth hater, and I’ve but to satisfy one, nobody will likely be stunned when his title finds its means on or close to the highest of the leaderboard heading into the weekend. I additionally suppose when that occurs, Spieth will bear in mind methods to end at Augusta Nationwide

Schlabach: Jordan Spieth. He’s placing the ball in addition to anybody on the earth proper now. He simply must proceed to remain regular off the tee and play higher on Sunday.

Pietruszkiewicz: I can’t stress how a lot I hate to agree with America’s Caddie and with Schlabach. It simply hurts. However … Jordan Spieth looks like an actual chance right here. He has to outlive 4 swings. That is it. 4 swings. The one on No. 12 on Thursday. The one on No. 12 on Friday. The one on No. 12 on Saturday. The one on No. 12 on Sunday. Hit the ball anyplace however Rae’s Creek, and I believe we’ve Jordan Spieth within the dialog a few inexperienced jacket.

What’s the largest shock of the week?

Harig: No person goes to offer Rory McIlroy an opportunity. A whole lot of irritating outcomes recently. Hasn’t received for the reason that fall of 2019. And only a few weeks earlier than the Masters, he modifies coaches? McIlroy brought respected instructor Pete Cowen onto his “efficiency workforce” the week of the Match Play, a transfer that means a extra long-term strategy. However McIlroy just isn’t that far off. He nonetheless drives it nice. Whereas his wedge play has given him suits, it additionally looks as if one thing that may be sorted out with Cowen’s assist. Too quickly? Perhaps. Nevertheless it’s not like Rory has been terrible. Sometimes, placing would be the huge challenge for him.

Collins: Ian Poulter has by no means completed inside the highest 5. The truth is, in 15 appearances, the flashy Brit has solely had three top-10s. This yr will likely be completely different. There is a new laid-back, enjoyable enchantment to Poults. Perhaps it is his social media. Perhaps it is as a result of it is a Ryder Cup yr. Regardless, Ian Poulter could have an opportunity to win going to the second 9 on Sunday and can end inside the highest 5 for the primary time in his profession.

Schlabach: DeChambeau says he’s going to play Augusta Nationwide as a par-74 course. That is the one means he can probably get even with the golf gods after final yr’s shenanigans, when he stated it was a par 67 for him. Hopefully, he’ll spend much less time working with 48-inch drivers on the vary and extra time on attempting to determine methods to hit the fairways and greens.

Pietruszkiewicz: Once more, I am agreeing with somebody. I can’t stand when that occurs. DeChambeau will not be an element — once more. Who is aware of, I may very well be colossally incorrect, as I used to be after I stated his swing-for-the-fences strategy could not probably work at Winged Foot. (Editor’s be aware, from myself: Whoops!). However one doesn’t drive its will on Augusta Nationwide. Gamers have to choose and select their spots, when to take dangers and when to play protected. DeChambeau, it appears, continues to be pushing ahead. Previously, he is referenced himself as being a on line casino. He is all-in once more, refusing to change the strategy that went sideways right here in November. It simply looks like that is the place the place it will not work.

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