Thanks to extended forecasts there is some clarity when it comes to next week’s Masters. Following months of speculation, temperatures are expected to linger in the mid- to high-70s for the week with elevated chances of rain on Tuesday and Wednesday.
For many that’s a welcome reprieve from what could have been for the first fall Masters. Much of the speculation heading into the year’s final major fixated on the potential for much colder conditions in November.
“That’s the thing about Augusta. That time of year you don’t know what you’re going to get,” said Patrick Reed, the winner of the 2018 Masters who attended college in Augusta. “It can either be 75 degrees and sunny or 45 and blowing 30 [mph] and raining. Whatever weather we get we’ll just have to attack.”
Warmer-than-normal temperatures, however, are only part of what promises to make the 2020 Masters a singularly different tournament. Even with spring-like temperatures there are plenty of unknowns when it comes to the game’s most well-known layout.
“The few times that I have played in November it's been the same. It's been cold, ball doesn't go very far. I normally have done it before some of the changes,” five-time winner Tiger Woods said.
One of those fall visits was in 2001 following significant course alterations and Woods, like many players who have made the trek in November, recalled hitting driver off the tee and 3-wood for his approach shot at the first and 18th holes. That won’t be the case next week, but the wind could still dictate how the course plays.
“If you're able to get the north wind that time of year, it can be awfully difficult and long and very different than what we normally play in April,” Woods said.
Count Bubba Watson, a two-time Masters champion, among those with unbridled curiosity.
Although he’s never played the course in November, Watson did take a scouting trip to Augusta National last week with his wife, Angie, so they could play. Normally, Watson and his wife play the Sunday before tournament week, but because of policy changes this year and a previously scheduled procedure on her knee they decided to go early.
“I just want to see how it feels, looks. I’m not really trying to practice on the course, I know the course by now, it’s just about getting the feel and how everything looks. How tee shots look and if the trees look different. I don’t know how it’s going to look,” Watson said.
Although all agree a November Masters will be different for many reasons there’s also an unshakable belief that Augusta National has the resources and desire to make next week’s tournament as similar to its April self as possible. That probably doesn’t mean special azaleas that bloom in the fall, but the general design of the course allows for plenty of adjustability.
“The great thing is they have tee boxes that are long enough if the wind gets too much or it gets too cold and wet, they can make it play where it’s still favorable to how it normally plays,” Reed said. “That’s the biggest thing. With the system they have under the greens they are going to be about the same and with the ability to move tee boxes they are going to be able to move tee boxes around so it’s just not driver, 3-wood into every green.”
Even without colder conditions the consensus among players is the course will play longer than it does in the spring. As Phil Mickelson explained, the club’s practice of mowing fairways toward tee boxes could play a particularly crucial role on this front.
“It is a concern that if it rains, when your ball is landing into the grain the way that it is on every fairway, it’s going to dig into the ground much more than if it were landing down grain, where the ball would skid,” the three-time winner said on this week’s Callaway Golf podcast. “That allows mud to get on your ball, and that could be a big factor if there is any type of rain or dampness this week.”
But the biggest difference will be the absence of patrons because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the PGA Tour has been operating largely without fans since its restart in June not having the traditional galleries at Augusta National promises to be surreal to the extreme and not just because players will miss the ubiquitous Sunday roars.
“The one component that is going to be so odd for all of us who have played there and who have been there is having no spectators,” Woods said. “On [No.] 7 you aim at one spectator and you're going to cut it to another, which will leave you, you know, either left of this flag or right of that flag. That’s what I've done in the past, but there's going to be no background, no roars.”
No patrons. No Par 3 Contest. No spring excitement. So much is different in 2020, but for those who mark time with the seasons, a Masters in the fall is truly unlike any other.