Why it seems a factor to tee off after 11am in first round of Masters
Here we go again. Just 144 days after Dustin Johnson holed the winning putt in a rescheduled November edition of The Masters last year, the 2021 edition is upon us back in its traditional spring slot.
As was the case just over four months, Johnson is still the world No 1 and, therefore, the man to beat once again at Augusta National, but plenty of other things have changed in such a short space of time between the two events.
Tiger Woods, for instance, is an absentee on this occasion, the five-time winner missing the event for just the fourth time in his career as he recovers from the serious leg injuries sustained in a car crash in Los Angeles in February.
The build up this week has not been quite the same without that “Tiger buzz”. If the event is in need of a spark, it could be provided by Rory McIlroy if he can produce a strong start and then kick on to set up a chance of completing his career grand slam at the seventh attempt.
That would seem unlikely on the basis of him feeling the need to add Pete Cowen to his coaching team after seeing his game suddenly turn a bit ugly recently, but certainly don’t rule it out because, as they say, form is temporary while class is permanent.
So, what else has changed since November? Well, Jordan Spieth is back to winning ways, which augurs well for his supporters as the Texan just loves this place, having started his Masters career with a run of second-first-second.
Hence why his odds have tumbled. Johnson, another player who rarely misfires here, is the favourite with most bookmakers, closely followed by Spieth, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas and new father Jon Rahm.
On a rain-softened course, Johnson claimed his victory with a record 20-under-par 268 total. That was the fourth year in a row that the winning aggregate in relation to par had been in double figures. The ‘Class of 2021’, though, have been told to “buckle up” by former winner Adam Scott.
Even for the practice rounds, the putting surfaces have been described as “crispy” and, according to three-time winner Phil Mickelson, “it’s a long time since it had to be respected” in the way it is this week due to the firmness of the greens.
Help could be on the way. The forecast includes showers and thunderstorms on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Friday, in particular, could be dicey with a “70 per cent chance” of that combination, with a breeze of between 10-15mph set to add to the challenge in Sunday’s closing circuit.
Shortly after Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player are joined on this occasion by Lee Elder, the first African-American golfer to play in the event in 1975, to hit the ceremonial opening shots, Sandy Lyle will earn a place in the record books by making his 37th consecutive appearance.
In contrast, Martin Laird is teeing up for just the fourth time while it’s a debut for Bob MacIntyre, who is bidding to become the first player since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to win in that position but can be heartened by the fact the last 10 Masters champions all teed off at 11.04am or later, as he will do and Laird, too.