It’s less than two weeks before a ball will be struck in the 2021 Masters but the build-up feels far less exciting and less intense than usual. The pandemic and the quick turnaround of only 145 days from November’s delayed tournament is partly to blame.
It could also be due to Tiger Woods’s absence and Brooks Koepka being on crutches following another knee surgery, plus the strange lack of consistent recent form by most of the Official Golf World Rankings top eleven?
Usually one only need look at the world’s top-10 ranked players to find the likely winner of majors. Someone who is in an ascending mode and has shown solid form in the Florida swing of tournaments to find a sporting bet in the Masters. Not this year, it would seem.
In spite of his win in Saudi Arabia, World No. 1, Dustin Johnson has been off form as his most recent results on the PGA Tour indicate: T11, T8, T54 and T48; hardly inspiring. Whereas prior to his 2020 Masters win Johnson’s form read: T2, 1, 2, 1, T6 and T2. It doesn’t take long to figure out the reason. He is 148th in strokes gained on the putting greens this year. But there is hope for Dustin. He won’t be allowed to use a Green reading book at Augusta. This could help to clear his mind, simplify matters and speed up his routine. The result may be to putt more naturally with less second-guessing and distraction?
Apart from winning The Players Championship, No 2, Justin Thomas has been far from his best for almost all this year so far, too. The world No. 3, Jon Rahm, has told his supporters not to bet on him because he might be departing early. His wife is expecting their first child during Masters week.
As for Rory McIlroy (now No. 11 and falling rapidly) what can I say? For the first time in his life, Rory has lost confidence and is doubting himself. It is most unlikely he will recover his swing in time. It is even conceivable he might never recover to the level he was once at. Pete Cowen is an excellent golf coach but, a whole stable of coaches cannot magically inject the kind of genuine, bullet-proof confidence required to win a major.
No. 4, Collin Morikawa’s win at the Concession in Florida was impressive and the perfect indicator for contending at Augusta, but apart from that one week his putting has been anything but impressive. Augusta is not the place for an unreliable putter to be considered a likely winner.
No. 5, Bryson DeChambeau looks the best bet from amongst the top 11. Bryson’s game has developed since he cut back on piling on the weight and now he is only hitting ‘all out’ a couple of times in a round. My money is already on him to win!
No.6, Xander Schauffele has shown very little good form for a while now but he hasn’t been playing badly either. As a frequent contender in majors, he just might up his game and get himself into the hunt come Sunday.
No. 7, Patrick Reed is a former Masters champion and has been playing reasonably without setting the world on fire. Perhaps, he can light a match at home in Georgia?
No. 8, Tyrrell Hatton: six months ago I was considering a long term speculation on him; not anymore. No. 9, Webb Simpson, a former US Open champion, could be a contender with his rock steady game but as the ultimate winner? I doubt it.
No. 10, Patrick Cantlay is a sleeper. His form this year has been fitful but if he starts well he is capable of hanging in and wearing a green jacket by week’s end.
Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler are other examples of players who would be amongst the favourites in previous years, but not anymore. It could be a strange Masters with so many of the top players lacking in good form and outsiders to the fore. Step up Shane Lowry. You would look good in green.