They will be 88 on Thursday to set off on the most legendary course in the United States, and perhaps even on the planet. You can find everything in Augusta. Former glories, present thanks to their status of former winners, such as Jose Maria Olazabal, Ian Woosnam or Sandy Lyle. Beginners, more or less promising, an ambitious Frenchman, Victor Perez, and about thirty potential winners, looking wide. But only one title holder, and one big favorite, which makes only one man: Dustin Johnson.
Barely five months ago, the world number one donned the famous green jacket for the first time, during a staggered edition in the fall and devoid of spectators, coronavirus requires. In his happiness, Johnson will have had no luck: he only kept the famous “jacket” at home for five months, instead of the usual twelve. He didn’t take offense when he returned to Georgia this week: “I wouldn’t have bothered even if I only had it for one day.”
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Johnston is at home in Augusta
The best way to extend this sartorial idyll is to double down. It won’t be easy. Johnson is the target and, in the Masters’ long and grand history, only three champions have made it back to back: Jack Nicklaus (1965-66), Nick Faldo (1990-91) and Tiger Woods (2001-02) . A prestigious trio that Johnson would like to transform into a quartet to further anchor his budding legend.
The animal can afford it. In Augusta, he is at home. If he waited until 2020 to clinch his first victory there, the American is still playing very well here. Absent in 2017, he has finished at worst in the Top 10 in each of his last five appearances. 6th in 2015, 4th in 2016, 10th in 2018, 2nd in 2019 and, therefore, winner last year. Last November, Johnson didn’t just win the Masters. He flew over it, crushed it, finishing with a 268 card, 20 below par. A record.
Some argue that playing Augusta’s course in April is much more complex than in November, not to diminish the merits of her victory, but to put the scope of her record into perspective. Still, under the autumn rain as under the spring sun, “DJ” has the cards in hand to win a second Masters which would also be his third Major. “When I play my best golf I feel like I can beat anyone“, he warned. And if he experienced relative difficulties in this first quarter of 2021, especially with his putting, he still hits the ball just as well. Difficult, at least, not to consider that he is once again in the game to win it this week.
DeChambeau, Thomas, Rahm and the others
But Johnson will have to do Johnson to bisser, because behind the world number one, the pack of challengers promises to be as varied as they are impressive, starting with the American clique. Bryson DeChambeau. Justin Thomas (reinvigorated by his mid-March victory at the Players championship, considered the 5th Major). Or the returning Jordan Spieth, winner last weekend of the Texas Open, his first title since the British Open 2017. The Masters is certainly another song, but the return of Spieth spices up the Georgian recipe a little more.
The list is far from stopping there regarding US chances. Brooks Koepka, untenable between 2017 and 2019 (four Grand Slam titles, but not the Masters), has just come out of knee surgery but he still considers himself capable of shining in Augusta. Patrick Reed, winner of the Masters 2018, Xander Sc Chaudele and perhaps even more Patrick Cantlay have the ideal profile of dangerous underdogs.
The Europeans have not won the Masters since 2017 with Sergio Garcia. It is perhaps just another Spaniard, Jon Rahm, who embodies the best luck of the Old Continent. Despite the birth of her son on Sunday, the world number 3 will be present, her head perhaps a little elsewhere, but the spirit quite free. Rory McIlroy, he still hopes to hang Augusta the very last major title missing from his record. Ten years ago, the Northern Irishman squandered a four-stroke lead on the last day. A scenario that still haunts him.
Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy in training in Augusta, April 7, 2021.
Return of the public
But world golf is not limited to the United States and Europe. All Augusta will thus keep a very interested eye on Cameron Smith. In November, the Australian took second place by accomplishing a small feat: four laps in under 70. Unheard of. It wasn’t enough to stop the infernal Dustin Johnson, but the signal was sent. Especially since two participations, Smith has always finished in the top five. Watch out for him, then.
Aside from the climate, the other big change players will find at the start of the first round on Thursday will be the atmosphere. After the closed door of 2020, this 2021 edition will be marked by the return of the public. With a reduced capacity, of course, but everyone is happy to find a little atmosphere. The organizers have not announced how many spectators will be allowed, but it is mentioned the number of 12,000 per day, or about 25% of the capacity of the site. The public comeback will contrast with the imposing absence of one of Augusta’s kings, Tiger Woods, recovering from his serious car accident in February.
Augusta, the temple of American golf.
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