2021 Masters Tournament Preview

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Josh Culp
·10 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

They say the Masters doesn't start until the back nine on Sunday but gamers and bettors will need to make their decisions much sooner. Let's dive into the details to see if some of those decisions can become a bit easier.

The 2020 edition of the Masters was just played five months ago but the tank of storylines has quickly refilled. Jordan Spieth is in peak form again. Jon Rahm is a new dad. Rory McIlroy is still searching for the career grand slam. Dustin Johnson is attempting to go back-to-back. Bryson DeChambeau continues his quest to destroy golf courses with the hulk-smash approach. Brooks Koepka is attempting to play less than a month after knee surgery. It's going to be a great week.

As usual, the Masters Tournament hosts a light field. As of Monday morning, just 88 golfers are lining up to start the week.

After 36 holes the field is trimmed to the top 50 and ties. Historically they had also included anyone within 10 shots of the lead but they removed that rule in the fall and there is currently no indication of them bringing it back. I will update here if I hear otherwise.

The Course

Augusta National needs no introduction. It's one of the most famous courses in the world and sits on the bucket list of courses to play for most amateur golfers. It's always nice to get a refresher though, so let's take a look.

The course is a par 72 that sets up at 7,475 yards on the scorecard.

If you take a traffic-light approach to the course, there are 13 red-light holes where the field boasts a bogey-or-worse over 20 percent. On the flip side, there are just four green-light holes where the field has a birdie-or-better rate over 20 percent. It's no surprise to see those are all the par 5s.

As you can tell from that 13-to-4 ratio, this really is a tough course where you need to stay patient and then feast on the par 5s. If you are looking to catch fire, the obvious spot for that is from 13 thru 16 as you play two par 5s in that stretch as well as the easiest par 3 on the course (the 16th).

Distance is a nice tool to have in your bag this week but it's not required. Distance helps because the rough, which is known as the second cut here at Augusta National, is very light and not too difficult to play from. Of course, if you are missing too far offline you will be trying to recover from the pine straw which is a bit of a tougher task.

Length is fun to have but many golfers still describe this as a second-shot course. The targets to land approach shots are much smaller than they appear at first glance, due to all of the undulations on the greens. Poor iron shots are often funneled off the greens and sometimes even above-average shots get a bit of bad luck and land far from the hole.

That is where short-game specialists come into play at Augusta National. Even the best ball-strikers are going to find themselves with a handful of tricky around-the-green shots this week. There are so many routes to success at ANGC, finding a well-rounded golfer is the top priority.

Last but not least, the greens are Augusta National provide another tough test. Lag putting is crucial because so many pins force you to play conservatively which leaves you plenty of mid-to-long range putts. They are known to be some of the fastest green speeds the TOUR pros see all year, typically running 13+ feet on the stimp.

For turf, the golfers will see overseeded bermuda from tee-to-green and then bentgrass on the putting surfaces.

Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.

Bubba Watson: "The lies in the fairway, you got all kind of different angles and slopes and things, so the lies above your feet, below your feet, uphill, downhill, rumor is they cut the grass towards us, so it’s into the grain when you hit, so the quality of iron shots, you got to be pinpoint or you’re going to look pretty bad on the iron shots because it’s hard to get a crisp hit on it."

Justin Thomas: "I work on my lag putting a decent bit because there’s going to be times maybe you can’t get close to a pin or you get out of position, you have to hit it to the fat of the green and you have 40, 50, 60-footers where you need to lag it up there and try to 2-putt."

Justin Rose: "things change just suddenly throughout the week. So you can have it dialed in, you feel like, on Thursday, maybe, and then by Sunday, it can be a different golf course. You can never really learn the read on a putt because, you know, if the greens roll a foot quicker on the weekend, the break is double on occasion."

Patrick Reed: "It truly is a course knowledge golf course. You need to know where to put the ball on certain pins and if you miss you need to miss it in certain spots because there’s some areas around here that it’s literally impossible, unless you make a 15, 18-footer. "

Francesco Molinari: "it’s a second-shot golf course. Tee shots are important, but not key, probably. Obviously you can play from the rough. I think off the tee, it’s important to miss on the good side. Every hole there’s a side where most of the time you have a shot to the green, even if you are out of position."

Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:

Quail Hollow Club
Riviera CC
TPC Sawgrass
Sheshan International
TPC Boston

A major theme of these courses is the rate of bogeys recorded by the field. Most of these courses force you to take your medicine, stay patient, and then take advantage of the scoring holes when they fall your way.

The Weather

Thursday: Cloudy with afternoon showers possible (40%), high of 85 degrees. Winds at 10 to 15 MPH.

Friday: Partly Cloudy with a high of 80 degrees. 40% chance of scattered t-storms. Winds at 5 to 10 MPH.

The early-week forecast does not look ideal with at least a chance of rain on all four days. Let's hope that changes in the lead-up to the event or else we may be in for some start-and-stop action this week at Augusta National.

Golfers to Watch

Jordan Spieth
Many were waiting for him to reach the winner's circle before declaring an end to his slump. With a win last week at the Valero, even the strongest of haters can't ignore his run of good form in the lead-up. The Texan has posted top 15s in six of his last seven stroke-play events and he played well at the WGC-Match Play, as well. Now he heads to a course that he plays better than about anyone, historically. He's been inside of the top 10 after 17 of his 28 rounds played here and more impressively he's been the leader or co-leader after nine of those rounds.

Dustin Johnson
The only knock against him heading into the November Masters was his bout with COVID-19 shortly before the event. That proved to be a non-issue as he lapped the field to win his first green jacket. This time around he arrives with two finishes outside of the top 50 and then failed to escape group play at the WGC-Match Play. His game is not firing on all cylinders over the last six weeks but he's bettered the field by at least 9 shots in each of his last five Masters appearances.

Jon Rahm
The Spaniard kindly alerted fans a few weeks ago that he may have to leave early from the Masters as his wife was pregnant. That is no longer a concern as he became a new dad over the weekend. Rahm posted a T7 here in November and he's turned a weakness into a strength when it comes to his performance in majors. Early in his career, he underperformed in the big events but more recently he arrives with top 25s in seven of his last eight majors played with four of those doubling as top 10s.

Bryson DeChambeau
He claimed Augusta National was a "par 67" for him with his new current power assets. He played well over-par then in November when he tossed together rounds of 70-74-69-73 to settle for a T34 finish. DeChambeau was getting a lot of pre-tournament hype that week so perhaps he'll benefit this week from some of the other storylines that have started to brew. He's certainly not under the radar but no longer the main story this week.

Rory McIlroy
The Ulsterman recently admitted that he got caught chasing distance and his game has suffered as a byproduct. He's recently added Pete Cowen to his coaching stable in hopes of getting his game tuned back up. His chase for the career grand slam is still ongoing but it becomes less and less of the main story. That would obviously change if he shook off the poor form and found himself in contention this week. McIlroy has top 10s in six of his last seven trips to Augusta National and the course is tailormade for his game.

Justin Thomas
It was a slow start to 2021 for JT who found himself alternating missed cuts before take home the trophy at TPC Sawgrass. Anyone looking to nitpick will cite his no-show at the WGC-Match Play while supporters will claim that was just a different format and shouldn't be factored at all. Historically, there aren't many who consistently talk about loving Augusta National more than Thomas. He'll likely win at least one green jacket before his career is over but he's still fine-tuning his approach to course management here with his solo 4th in November being his first top 10 in five tries.

Brooks Koepka
He's attempting to play this week, less than a month after knee surgery. That seems like a very aggressive approach, especially for someone that recently snapped out of a lengthy slump that was largely due to playing through pain. He was finally finding his wings before the knee flared up again. If he's fully healthy I'd peg him somewhere between 5th and 15th in the rankings below but given the timeline on this recovery, I'm very skeptical that he'll actually play this week and if he does I don't think we see his best stuff. Of course, Koepka has made a career out of proving people wrong so I could look very foolish come Sunday.

Ranking the Field

1. Jon Rahm
2. Justin Thomas
3. Bryson DeChambeau
4. Jordan Spieth
5. Dustin Johnson
6. Xander Schauffele
7. Patrick Cantlay
8. Rory McIlroy
9. Webb Simpson
10. Daniel Berger
11. Viktor Hovland
12. Tony Finau
13. Patrick Reed
14. Paul Casey
15. Cameron Smith
16. Sungjae Im
17. Tyrrell Hatton
18. Matthew Fitzpatrick
19. Collin Morikawa
20. Hideki Matsuyama