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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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.