Adam Scott – perhaps underdone but still a chance
It might be seven months later than originally scheduled and it might be an event very much devoid of the on-course patronage it typically receives, but the 2020 Masters will be played with the same level of intrigue and anticipation that has become part of its folklore and it might be that there is even more.
It is a new look Masters in so many respects but perhaps Phil Mickelson summed it up best in his pre-event media conference on Tuesday when asked what he will miss most about the look and feel of an April Masters.
“Nothing,” said the three time champion. “In the sense that this is the Masters and it doesn’t matter if it rains or if it shines we gotta compete for a Green Jacket and as a player that is all we care about. I am just thankful we have the chance this year as it has been very challenging and a lot of extra work just to put the event on.”
Amongst the several who addressed the media early in the week, that sentiment was a common theme. World number one Dustin Johnson, who recorded his best finish in nine starts at the Masters when runner-up to Tiger Woods last year, would also describe his delight at just being able to play the event given the relative uncertainty of the year thus far and despite the enforced move to a November date.
“I’m happy to be here,” said the current FedEx Cup Champion. “I am happy we are playing the Masters – we are really fortunate and are very happy with you guys (Augusta National) for putting it on this late in the year.”
Five-time champion Tiger Woods has now held the Green Jacket for 19 months and while that has been a bonus of sorts it is not quite as he would have liked it.
“It’s been incredible to have around the house and to share with people but to have it this long its not the way I want to have it and wanted to try and earn it back in April.
“Having said that we have an opportunity to play this week whereas earlier in the year we didn’t think we would have this opportunity.
“This whole day (his last before handing the jacket back) was very special as I might never get the opportunity to take the jacket off property again.
“This whole year has been very different for all of us and for us to have the ability to play this year when earlier in the year we weren’t looking like having this is great and that we are having to play off two tees for the first time (a darkness factor) is irrelevant.”
Defending champion – Tiger Woods this week.
Adam Scott is one of five Australians in the field and the only Australian to have won the event. He returned to tournament golf last week with an encouraging week in Houston but acknowledged that this year’s absence of crowds will make a significant difference to the event.
“We’ll be missing one element but it is a huge element to the experience of playing the Masters.” said the 2013 champion. “I’ve played two major championships since returning from the Covid 19 schedule break and it couldn’t be more different playing major championship golf without the spectators and the crowds and the atmosphere.
“The thing that will be the same however is that it (the event) still means the same to us all.”
While acknowledging that he had yet to venture onto the golf course, Scott was aware that the different time of the year resulted in the different type of shots that might be required around the greens especially because of the different stages of the transition between bermuda and rye grasses.
“I haven’t been on the course yet. I’ve just been on the range. I can see just a little bit, the grass is, in some ways, a little more forgiving potentially. It’s a very fine grass, just pure overseed in April, and at times on particular shots when it’s quite thin and fine like that, it demands a lot of precision.
“But you know, I’ve also heard guys say that it is quite different on the course with a little bit of the bermuda still staying around, because it is quite warm, that you have to play some shots around the greens in a different fashion.
“I’ve got lots to learn in the next three days if that’s the case.”
Scott might be underdone as far as preparation is concerned given it is just his second event back after a lengthy break from an enforced quarantine due to a positive result for a Covid 19 test but there is little doubting his record at the Masters over the past few years.
He has not missed a cut in his last ten appearances, been runner-up once and of course the winner in 2013. His lack of play compared to those considered his main dangers will likely work against him but he is still a chance to at least contend.
Jason Day, too, has an excellent record at Augusta National. In nine appearances (he was forced to withdraw in another) he has not yet missed a cut and been inside the top five on three occasions and once 10th. His warm-up event when 7th at last week’s Houston Open was encouraging and provided there are no injury issues he can be expected to do well.
Cameron Smith, returns from a two week tournament break to recharge the batteries after finishing 4th at his last start in Las Vegas and 11th in his previous start in California.
Smith finished a very impressive 5th behind Patrick Reed at The Masters two years ago and has made the cut in his two other appearances. In his still relatively short PGA Tour career, the Queenslander is proving to be a big event player and so his performance this week will be of much interest to Australians.
Marc Leishman has done well at Augusta National previously but his current form is close to an all time low in his PGA Tour career and so it is hard to see him contending.
Australia’s other entrant is the Victorian amateur, Lukas Michel, who has jumped all sorts of hurdles to take his well-earned place this year. He won the US Mid-Amateur Championship in Colorado in 2019 and for him just to even be in the field is a herculean performance.
It is hard to go past the current world number one, Dustin Johnson, as the likely winner, however. Johnson has been inside the top ten in each of his last four starts at Augusta National including when runner-up last year and his current form is exemplary.
Whatever the outcome, by the time Sunday comes around at this year’s Masters there will be little talk of a missed April date but, rather, on the outcome of one of the world’s truly great sporting events.
Three of Australia’s five participants, Marc Leishman, Cameron Smith and Adam Scott in practice today