Dan Box
By Dan Box

Less than five months on from Dustin Johnson's commanding victory and subsequent emotional reaction after finally picking up that elusive second major, we are back again at Augusta National for even more.

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Every time a major comes around, I seem to find myself writing that things have 'never been so open' or picking a winner is getting harder and harder to call, but this year is no different.

So far in 2021 the list of winners on the PGA and European Tour include Viktor Hovland, Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, Collin Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Tyrrell Hatton and Dustin Johnson.

The Masters 2021 Tournament Preview

Image Credit: PGA Tour Twitter

Gone are the days where Tiger or Phil just had to turn up with some degree of form and you could almost guarantee that they'd be in contention come Sunday. In the 'modern era', it's anyone's guess as to who is going to come out on top.

Back in it's usual April spot, with (some) spectators present, some interesting weather expected and plenty of new golfers ready for their first taste of proper major action, this is set to be a week to remember.

Last Year

Last November Dustin Johnson took advantage of softer conditions than usual to set a new scoring record at The Masters, securing his second major title after a number of near-misses over his career.

The sight of an emotional DJ on the 18th green following that victory proves that, even for one of golf's coolest characters, this event just seems to mean a little bit more than any other.

Behind Johnson, the young trio of Sungjae Im, Abraham Ancer and Cam Smith impressed all week, despite Ancer's disappointing closing round of 76 which dropped him back to a tie for 13th place.

Justin Thomas looked primed for a charge at nine under par going into Saturday's round, but didn't have his best game over the weekend and eventually finished eight adrift in fourth place.

We all know that Bryson is a bit of a character, but his week at Augusta in November was particularly peculiar.

He arrived at the course declaring that he viewed the course as a Par 67, and was going to hit short irons into every par 5. He then made a double bogey 7 on his fourth hole of the week, somehow managed to lose a ball ten yards left of the fairway on the third hole on Friday, before being beaten by Bernhard Langer when they played together on Sunday and complained of dizziness and sickness. No doubt that caused a few chuckles among the powers-that-be at Augusta...

DeChambeau is known as one of the game's great thinkers, however, there is much more to his game than just thrashing it off the tee like in the above video, so don't be surprised to see him return to Augusta with an improved game plan and ready to avenge his disappointing performance last year.

After a lacklustre 75 in the first round, Rory McIlroy came back brilliantly to make the cut and shoot 14 under par over the final three days, but it was a case of too little too late to catch the imperious Johnson.

The Course

Augusta National is the most picturesque and most dreamt about golf course on Earth.

Very few get the chance to play it, and that adds to the overall sense of occasion every April as we see the pristine fairways, huge undulations and signature azaleas in full bloom.

The course is constantly being tweaked and altered year-on-year, although much of this is not disclosed to the public so that it is up to the players themselves to spot the changes every time they come back.

The Masters 2021 Tournament Preview

Image Credit: PGA Tour Twitter

Last November we saw Augusta in conditions that were much more 'welcoming' than usual, with softer fairways and greens making the targets larger and therefore improving the overall stroke average for the entire field, whilst also removing some of the advantage usually enjoyed by those golfers with more experience of the venue.

The Masters 2021 Tournament Preview

Image Credit: PGA Tour Twitter

This year is bound to see a reversion to more of the usual characteristics, so prepare to see balls rolling all over the greens and lots of creative short game shots as players desperately make sure that they are hitting the right spots with their approaches.

The Masters 2021 Tournament Preview

Image Credit: PGA Tour Twitter

Jordan Spieth hinted last week that the course would be 'firm and fast' based upon whispers he had heard from those who had visited recently, whilst the conditions at last week's Augusta National Women's Amateur were a good indication that the winning score is unlikely to get up to the 20 under par achieved by DJ in 2020.

Most of you will probably know every hole at Augusta National as if it was your home course. If you don't, then fear not. The Masters website has a fantastic hole by hole guide from 2015 Champion Jordan Spieth, who is much more qualified to talk you through it than I am.


The Field

I doubt there were many players more pleased than Rory McIlroy to see Jordan Spieth finally get back inside the winner's circle last week in Texas, as it's one more person for the media to focus on rather than the Northern Irishman himself.

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When you're going for the career Grand Slam there's always going to be a great deal of attention on you, particularly as this week happens to be the 10-year anniversary of a particularly spectacular collapse at this very venue...

However, McIlroy is just about as 'under the radar' as he could ever expect to be at this event due to a combination of poor form and simply because there are so many other players being talked about, even if he has recently added Pete Cowen to his team. Could that be just what he needs to finally string four rounds together?

The Masters 2021 Tournament Preview

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Spieth himself will feel supremely confident heading in this week having got his career back on track, and his record proves that he clearly loves playing at Augusta, but going back-to-back on the PGA Tour is never easy and this week boasts a much stronger field.

One slight surprise this week is that Brooks Koepka is fit enough to take part just three weeks after surgery for a dislocated kneecap and ligament damage.

The Masters 2021 Tournament Preview

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After more than seven hours of rehab every day in the lead-up, Koepka says he feels good and is ready to win, although whether the pressures of being in a major will take it's toll physically remain to be seen.

This week's other favourites include the usual suspects. Defending champion Dustin Johnson's form in 2021 hasn't been great despite a victory in Saudi Arabia, but we all know that he can turn it on at any given moment and picking up a second major could just open the floodgates in the next few years.

Justin Thomas recently won The Players, whilst Collin Morikawa added a WGC title, and both will lean on their stellar iron play to put themselves in contention this week.

The Masters 2021 Tournament Preview

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Jon Rahm is in the field after initially suggesting he may miss out due to the birth of his first child. His son Kepa arrived over the weekend however, so he'll be looking to make it a week to remember by picking up a first major victory.

It's been nice to see a resurgence in form for both Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, two stalwarts of European golf, over the last few weeks, whilst Paul Casey continues to play arguably the best golf of his career well into his 40s.

Could they be working towards one last hurrah at the Ryder Cup in September? A strong performance this week would certainly go a long way.

Two notable absences this week will be fan-favourite Rickie Fowler, who failed to qualify for a major for the first time in a decade as his poor form continues, and Tiger Woods, who will also be absent from the Champion's Dinner on Tuesday night as he continues to recover from his car accident.

Look Out For...

  • The Opening Tee Shots

Whilst the Par 3 Tournament has been cancelled again this year due to Covid-19 safety protocols, one of the other lasting traditions of the week is the ceremonial tee shots to mark the beginning of the event.

This year is expected to be particularly special as Lee Elder will be joining Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in the chilly Spring air on Thursday morning, celebrating his legacy as the first black man to play in The Masters.

  • The Patrons

They're back! For the first time since The Open at Royal Portrush in 2019, fans (or Patrons, as they are known at Augusta) will be in attendance at a men's major.

The Masters 2021 Tournament Preview

Image Credit: The Masters Twitter

Obviously these numbers will be greatly limited, so don't expect to see the usual grandstands and thousands of people lining each fairway and green. It will be great to hear a couple of roars come the back nine on Sunday if one of the favourites is making a charge up the leaderboard though.

Golfalot Betting Tips

Jordan Spieth @ 12/1 - Even if he hadn't won last week, Spieth would still have been on this list as he has been in great form this year, and loves playing at Augusta. If things had gone his way he could've had three Green Jackets already at the age of 27. He may not win this week, as going back-to-back is not easy, but with Spieth one thing you can be sure of is that it won't be boring.

Justin Thomas @ 12/1 -

The Masters 2021 Tournament Preview

Image Credit: PGA Tour Twitter

Having recently won The Players, Thomas should be full of confidence and a fourth placed finish here in November will provide plenty of motivation that he can win here. As one of the game's very best players, a second major victory does not feel far away and if his iron play is up to the usual standard he should contend.

Patrick Reed @ 33/1 - Reports from Augusta National appear to suggest that the conditions will be firmer and faster this week and that should play right into the hands of Reed, a gritty competitor who specialises in short game prowess. The 2018 Champion finished in the Top 10 last year and won at Torrey Pines earlier this year too against a strong field.

Sergio Garcia @ 55/1 - Since he won in 2017, Sergio has failed to make the cut at Augusta and had to miss the 2020 playing after contracting Covid-19. However, the popular Spaniard has looked really good so far this season with three Top 10s in 2021 already. Sergio's form can be unpredictable at times, but when he gets on a roll he's still one of the very best in the world on his day.

Matt Kuchar @ 100/1 - After a difficult 2020 Kuchar is starting to show signs of life once again thanks to a third place finish at the WGC Match Play, backed up by a T12 placing last week in Texas. Whilst he is not a long hitter, Kuchar is known for his accuracy and has a pretty decent record at Augusta with four Top 10s, despite missing the cut last year. If the conditions are tough, he is another one who could fare well.


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