Augusta Returns: 2021 Masters Preview
Harry Lindeman takes a look at the contenders for the 2021 Masters tournament
Despite last years being only 5 months ago, one of golf’s most eagerly anticipated opens is back as the Masters gets underway. The 85th edition of the tournament held on the infamous Augusta golf course in Georgia, USA welcomes many excited golfers looking to grab themselves a green jacket.
First of those names, and a personal favourite of mine after his emotional interview following his win last year, being the current title holder Dustin Johnson. He’ll be looking to earn his second masters win after his record-breaking performance going 20-under-par back in November. Even though Tiger Woods was the last person to defend his Masters title back in 2001 and 2002, the current world no.1 has odds of 9/1 to retain his and will undoubtedly want to prove critics wrong that he can perform at Augusta once more on the more dry and difficult conditions.
However, the likes of Bryson DeChambeau, with odds of him winning now at 17/2 on Betfair, will be looking to use his power off the tee to secure a win. His revolutionary methods of swinging a club as well as his physique (after gaining 20kg last year along with the help of biomechanics expert and exercise science coach Greg Roskopf) have been both revered and criticised throughout the golfing world. Although, after being ranked as fifth best golfer in the world and winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month, he’ll have to prove that he can work through the nuances of Augusta to secure a green jacket by Sunday.
The next contender sparking the public’s interest has been Jordan Speith; ‘the comeback kid’ has looked in impressive form this past year, especially with irons, and those efforts have been reflected after his win at the Valero Texas Open this Sunday just gone. The 3-time major winner has seen his odds to get a jacket increase dramatically from 50/1 to 10/1 and part of that has been down to an increase in strokes per round on approach shots, with only Morikawa and Thomas gaining more since February. With his odds looking to climb even further throughout the tournament, will Speith be able to claim another Masters win six years on?
Justin Thomas will look to also secure a win after his impressive win at the Player’s championship back in mid-March. If the world no.2 manages to secure a jacket, he would be one of only two players to have a Masters, a Players, a FedEx play-off victory and a World golf championship (the other one being Tiger Woods, obviously). Thomas admits that, along with the rest of the sporting world, he is ‘bummed’ that Woods won’t be at Augusta this year, with their customary group usually consisting of those two along with Fred Couples for traditional practise rounds before the competition. Regardless, Thomas standing also at 10/1 will still be a force to be reckoned with and a win dedicated to Tiger would be the icing on the cake.
Moving on to some Europeans, the Spaniard Jon Rahm will no doubt want to earn top spot after being placed within the top ten in the past three masters. Furthermore, with the arrival of his new baby, superstition dictates that Rahm will enjoy a too-the-wire win just as the UK’s Danny Willet did 5 years ago (unlucky Jordan). The odds for him to win are 12/1 and will be many people’s favourites however in recent months has not performed as what we usually expect. With that said if his overall performance is anything like his ‘Pond to Pin’ practise shot over water on the 16th in the last Masters, then I’m sure he’ll be in good stead to earn his first jacket of his career.
Although not showing anything that spectacular recently, Rory McIlroy will look to break the voodoo curse at Augusta and finally secure a major grand slam. The Northern Irishman has recruited a new swing coach in Pete Cowen (two weeks before the tournament begins) suggesting that he’s beginning to ‘start a journey’ in relation to changing his swing in the hopes that he can sustain or improve upon his 11-under-par performance at the 2020 Masters. Either way the country will be (somewhat) behind him given he’s the UK golfer most likely to win the competition at 14-1 with the next most likely being Lee Westwood at 30/1.
These six are no doubt the ones to watch over the next few days however that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other golfers that could surprise us. Xander Schauffele is hard to beat on his day and has come in the top ten seven times in his last 14 majors. The other UK golfer mentioned Westwood had a father-son trip to Augusta recently in preparation and has been looking excellent the last few months. Additional golfers who could turn up include Brooke Koepka, Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau, or even Phil Mickelson with his odds of winning being 270/1 (hey, you never know).
As alluded to earlier, Tiger Woods will sadly not be playing in this tournament after his dreadful car accident a couple months ago. It feels like forever ago when he came back to win his fifth jacket in 2019, but I’m sure you’d all agree we hope to see him back and playing soon.
Overall, the analysis and the build-up as to who’s going to win is obviously a lot of speculation, especially in my case when comparing to golf experts. However, reporters have said this may be one of the most challenging conditions to date given the extra-dry weather over the past few months so it may be the case of the only the best will be able to perform. Either way what seems to captivate us when it comes to sport and, especially in golf, is anything can happen.