Tuesday, May 11, 2021

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5 Things to Know before the Masters begins

4. QUESTION TIME:

Many years, it feels like a handful of players establish themselves as Masters favorites. This year, it feels like there are more questions than answers. Here’s a few to ponder:

– Despite three consecutive finishes outside the top 25, can Johnson become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2001-02 to go back-to-back at Augusta? Johnson has finished in the top 10 in five straight Masters.

– How will new father Jon Rahm fare after arriving at Augusta on Wednesday? “My concern is that … from Thursday to Monday I didn’t sleep much, didn’t hit a single golf shot,” he said Wednesday. Rahm’s three consecutive top-10s at Augusta National is the second-longest active streak.

– Can Rory McIlroy’s new swing coach help him win his first Masters and complete the career Grand Slam? “I think being a little bit more in control of what I do, … that’s the sort of golfer that I want to be going forward,” he said. That could be helpful here. The big number has plagued him several times at this tournament. He had a round of 77 or higher in six Masters appearances in a seven-year span (2010-14, ’16). A decade ago, he famously shot a final-round 80 after taking a four-shot lead into the final round.

– Is Brooks Koepka’s surgically-repaired knee strong enough for him to contend at Augusta National? He’s one of just four players to finish in the top 10 in the past two Masters.

– What will a bigger Bryson DeChambeau’s second crack at the Masters look like? He finished T34 here last year while struggling with physical issues. DeChambeau said Tuesday that low oxygen was the culprit. “The brain was stressed … and wasn’t feeling that great. And they were like, well, let’s check out your oxygen levels.  … And immediately from after changing the way I was breathing, the way I was feeling that day from breathing, it took it out.  It literally just went away.”

– Can Jordan Spieth win again after last week’s victory at the Valero Texas Open, his first since 2017. Spieth, has four top-3 finishes in seven Masters, including his win in 2015, and the lowest career scoring average (70.46) at Augusta National among players with at least 25 rounds.

5. EXPERIENCE MATTERS: 

There have been just three Masters rookies to win the Green Jacket, and two of them were in the first two Masters (Horton Smith, 1934; Gene Sarazen, 1935). No rookie has won since Fuzzzy Zoeller in 1979. There’s a good chance that streak continues this year.

There are just six first-timers in this year’s field, including just three professionals who are making their Masters debut (Will Zalatoris, Carlos Ortiz and Bob MacIntyre). The three amateurs in this year’s field tie a tournament low; there were also just three amateurs in the 2008 and 1942 Masters.

Several big names – including Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff, Sungjae Im, Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Champ – are playing their first April Masters this week. Considering the severe contrast in course conditions, there is some limit to what can be learned from last year’s Masters. The course was much softer in November, and there were no patrons last year. A limited number of patrons will be on the grounds this week.

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