The Masters is back to where it belongs in its traditional month of April. After having been pushed to November in 2020 because of the pandemic, the Masters interestingly is one of the three tournaments to be played twice in the 2020-21 PGA Tour season. The other two will be Corales Puntacana Resort, which has already been staged in 2021, too, and the US Open, which comes later.
Everyone knows Tiger Woods is not here. He would have been ‘defending April-champion at the Masters’ – because when he won in 2019 it was in April and in 2020, when he did not it was in November. But Dustin Johnson, who after collecting his second Major at the Masters in November, wants a repeat in less than six months. Who can blame him for such is the lure of the Masters.
Also back in Brooks Koepka, who had a knee surgery in mid-March and has not played since the WGC-Workday in early March. Koepka announced his engagement to Jena Sims last week.
Also back is Sergio Garcia, the 2017 winner, had his Major streak of 80-plus wrenched away by Covid and he could not play in November.
Among others back, though in a slightly manner is Jordan Spieth, the 2015 winner, who was also runner-up in 2014, 2016 and third in 2018. But he had not won anything since 2017 Open and he ended that drought last week in Texas.
Since he first played at Augusta as an amateur in 1995, Woods has only missed only three stagings before now– 2014, 2016 and 2017. The year 2021 will be the fourth one he will miss.
Post his accident, it is uncertain when he will return to competition, though his recent comments on feeling ‘bummed’ at missing the Masters and not being at Dustin Johnson’s Champions Dinner show his spirits are high. As for the return to the tee box, it may not be surprising if he gives it a go at his own event in December at the Hero World Challenge. Many of the past comebacks have come at HWC.
This century is two decades old. In the decade between 2000 and 2009, Tiger Woods won the Masters three times (2001, 2004 and 2005) and Phil Mickelson won twice (2004 and 2006), while Vijay Singh (2000), Mike Weir (2003), Zach Johnson (2007), Trevor Immelman (2008) and Angel Cabrera (2009) won once each.
Then in the decade from 2010 to 2019, when Woods was in-and-out of courses, Bubba Watson won more than once – in 2012 and 2014, as Woods closed the decade with a win in 2019.
Now Dustin Johnson has one from 2020, but the man who could well find his mojo back is Jordan Spieth, who last week ended a long drought. Spieth is one of the few current players with an amazing record at Augusta – he had four Top-3 finishes in first five starts and the worst was T-11 in 2017. But in 2019 and 2020, when he struggled he was T-21 and T-46. The question now is can re-kindle his affair with Augusta once again.
Spieth was the last player to win successive Majors – the 2015 Masters Tournament and the 2015 US Open, while DJ was the first World No. 1 since Woods in 2002 to win the Masters.
Johnson returns in search of his 25th PGA TOUR victory and a third a Major. After failing to finish in the top 10 in any of his first five starts at Augusta National he now has five consecutive top-10s at the Masters (T6/2015, T4/2016, T10/2018, T2/2019, Won/2020). Talking of consistency, Johnson has at least one win in each of his 14 PGA TOUR seasons, tying Woods for the third-longest streak to begin a career in TOUR history. The longest is 17 for both Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
If you are searching for one of the strongest fields of recent times, go no further. As many as 29 of the top 30 in the FedExCup standings are here and each one in top 50 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are at Augusta – the first such event since the 2019 Masters
The field includes eight FedExCup champions: Vijay Singh (2008), Henrik Stenson (2013), Billy Horschel (2014), Jordan Spieth (2015), Justin Thomas (2017), Justin Rose (2018), Rory McIlroy (2016, 2019), Dustin Johnson (2020).
A win for Koepka would tie him with Phil Mickelson for second-most Majors among active players at five – the highest being Woods’ 15.
A win for Rory McIlroy would make him only the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam and first to do so since Tiger Woods completed it at the 2000 Open Championship. The others are Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus. A fifth Major would also tie him with Mickelson for second-most Majors.