- Senior college football writer
- Author of seven books on college football
- Graduate of the University of Georgia
AUGUSTA, GA. — How different will Augusta National Golf Club be in November, compared to its traditional Masters date in April?
It will be a Masters tournament unlike any other.
With the coronavirus pandemic pushing the Masters back nearly seven months, the course figures to be longer, softer and less colorful in the cooler climate of the fall.
It’s still Augusta National, though.
Who has what it takes to win a green jacket this week? Here’s a look at the 92 players in the field, including the guys who have the games and mental makeup to win, the players who need everything to fall into place, as well as those needing miracles, the returning champions, and amateurs.
Tier I: The guys who can win
Here are the legitimate contenders to win the Masters Tournament. They have the games, guts and nerves to handle four pressure-packed rounds on one of the most treacherous golf courses in the world.
Brawny Bryson’s brutish style of golf wasn’t supposed to work at Winged Foot — and he won the U.S. Open by six shots. He’ll be able to cut corners over loblolly pines with his length and height at Augusta National, where he’s yet to finish inside the top 20. He took a month off to prepare for the Masters and vowed to get even stronger and longer.
The Spaniard, seeking his first major title, has played as well as anyone since the restart, with wins at the Memorial and BMW Championship and a tie for second at the Zozo Championship. He had back-to-back top 10s in his past two starts at Augusta and will be a contender again if he keeps his emotions in check.
Any doubts about Johnson’s game working at Augusta National have been put to rest with four straight top 10s, including a tie for second last year. After testing positive for COVID-19, Johnson missed consecutive starts at the CJ Cup and Zozo Championship. Before that diagnosis, he had won three of his previous nine events and finished runner-up in two others.
He has steadily improved in four starts at Augusta, including a tie for 12th in 2019. After breaking 70 just once in his first 12 rounds, he did it twice last year. The 27-year-old won the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and had three other runners-up in his past 10 starts.
The four-time major champion hasn’t avoided big numbers since the June restart. He made 29 birdies at the Zozo Championship three weeks ago, but also had three double bogeys and eight bogeys in finishing in a tie for 17th. McIlroy, who is still searching for a green jacket to complete the career Grand Slam, has only two top 10s in 12 starts going back to June.
If Rahm isn’t the best player in the world without a major title then it might be Schauffele, who finished tied for second in only his second start at Augusta last year. The 27-year-old flourishes when the pressure is on at big events, as he finished tied for second at the Tour Championship and fifth at the U.S. Open.
The 2018 Masters champion was playing some of the best golf of his career before the coronavirus shutdown and has four top 10s since the restart. His title defense last year was disappointing, as he finished tied for 36th with only one sub-70 round. He might have an advantage on the field, however, having played Augusta National in the fall while attending Augusta State.
The 35-year-old Simpson has probably never gotten enough credit for his 2012 U.S. Open title or being one of the game’s most consistent players for a very long time. After struggling at the Masters, he posted back-to-back top 20s, including a tie for fifth in 2019, when he had a 64 in the third round.
Since 2018, Finau has finished in the top 10 in seven of his 10 starts in majors, including his only two at Augusta. He tied for 10th in 2018 and tied for fifth in 2019 after a disappointing closing 72. Finau tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 6 and battled fever and body aches, before returning to finish tied for 11th at the Zozo Championship.
A new putter and putting stroke helped him post a career-high nine birdies and chase down Rahm and Thomas in the final round of his victory at the Zozo Championship. He briefly held the final-round lead at last year’s Masters before finishing tied for ninth.
Everything has come fast for the 23-year-old Morikawa, who already has three victories in 36 PGA Tour starts and is ranked No. 4 in the world. After winning the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park earlier this year, he missed three cuts in five starts. This after making the first 22 cuts of his pro career (Tiger Woods was the only other player to do that since 1990). It will be Morikawa’s first start at Augusta National, where he had never played a round until this week.
Wolff, 21, will also be making his first start at Augusta National. He certainly wasn’t overwhelmed in his first two majors, finishing tied for fourth at the PGA Championship and solo second at the U.S. Open. He became the first player to have five consecutive rounds in the 60s to start his major championship career.
The 2013 Masters champion tested positive for the coronavirus on Oct. 21 and withdrew from the Zozo Championship. He returned to his native Australia during the shutdown and was hesitant to return because he was uncomfortable with the Tour’s protocols. He has played in only four events since the restart, including a tie for 22nd at the PGA Championship and tie for 38th at the U.S. Open.
After missing nearly two months because of a recurring left knee injury and torn labrum in his left hip, Koepka returned and finished tied for 28th at the CJ Cup and tied for fifth in Houston. The former world No. 1, who tied for runner-up at last year’s Masters, has tumbled to No. 12 in the world after withdrawing from the FedEx Cup Playoffs and U.S. Open.
Tier II: If everything goes right…
Here are the dark horse candidates to slip on a green jacket. The list features past champions, including the most recent one, whose games have been works in progress so far this season. Will it all come together at Augusta?
The defending Masters champion hasn’t finished better than a tie for 37th in six starts since golf returned in June. Yes, Augusta National is his happy place, but winning a sixth green jacket this year seems like a stretch for the 44-year-old. Then again, Woods hadn’t done much before unexpectedly winning last year. The good news: his troublesome back seems to be holding up in cooler weather.
Fowler has labored through significant swing changes and hasn’t had a top 10 since January. He finished in the top 11 in each of his past three starts at Augusta, including solo second in 2018.
Fleetwood’s best golf of 2020 has occurred on European soil, as he finished tied for second at the Scottish Open and tied for 13th at the BMW PGA Championship.
The 28-year-old missed the cut only once in his previous eight Masters starts and finished fifth in 2015.
The Englishman has finished in the top 10 in eight of his 15 Tour starts since the beginning of the 2019-20 season, including a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. He also won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth on the European Tour in October.
The former world No. 1 has missed the cut in five of 11 Tour events since the restart to fall to No. 28 in the world. The two-time Masters runner-up ranks 199th in driving accuracy and 198th in greens in regulation.
The Australian heated up this summer with four straight top 10s, including a tie for fourth at the PGA Championship. He also withdrew from the CJ Cup with a neck injury.
After consulting with “life coach” Claude Harmon III about his putting, the two-time Masters champion played well on the West Coast, with back-to-back top 10s at the CJ Cup and Zozo.
The 2012 Masters runner-up is a top-10 threat at nearly any major; he was third at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot and tied for seventh at Pebble Beach in 2019.
Just when you might have thought the 43-year-old Englishman’s best golf was in his rearview mirror, he tied for 17th at the U.S. Open and tied for second at the PGA Championship. He said he didn’t touch a club for three months during the shutdown.
The Englishman’s golf has been steady, with five top 10s since the start of the 2019-20 season. His biggest shot came when he criticized DeChambeau for making a “mockery” of the game.
The shutdown couldn’t have come at a worse time for Im, who was playing some of the best golf of his career with a win at the Honda Classic and solo third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He has managed just two top 10s in 18 starts since.
The 2019 US Open champion hasn’t fared as well at Augusta, where he has made four of seven cuts. His best finish was 24th in 2011.
He resurrected his career with back-to-back wins a year ago. He’s making his second Masters appearance after missing the cut in 2015.
Kokrak picked up his first Tour win at the CJ Cup a month ago. Statistically, he’s the third-best putter on Tour, which will come in handy at Augusta.
The 44-year-old Englishman has made 13 of 14 cuts at Augusta, including a tie for 12th last year. He started in the next-to-last group on Sunday and was in contention until hitting a ball in the water on No. 12.
The South African is back after finishing in a tie for 12th in 2019, thanks to a pair of 69s in the first two rounds. The well-traveled 34-year-old has played in Australia, China, Dubai, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritius, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan and the U.S.
The former Texas star will be making his first Masters start. He tied for fourth at the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park and shot a 59 earlier this year at The Northern Trust.
Another player making his first start at the Masters, Ancer is still searching for his first victory on American soil. He is a three-time runner-up.
The 32-year-old is making his first Masters appearance after winning last year’s Houston Open. One reason to like him: He grew up playing a nine-hole muni called The Hill in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Kisner grew up in nearby Aiken, South Carolina, and finished tied for 21st last year by opening and closing with 69s. He doesn’t hit as far as most Tour players, so he needs to get his usually reliable putter going again.
Kuchar has missed the cut at the Masters only once in 13 starts, way back in 2002. He finished in the top 20 only once since the restart in June.
Outside of a tie for fourth in 2013 and solo ninth in 2018, the Masters has been kind of meh for the Australian. He also has been slow out of the gates since the shutdown.
The 2019 Open Championship winner hasn’t done much at Augusta, with a tie for 39th being his best finish. He missed the cut at 7-over last year.
Si Woo Kim
The South Korean had his best finish at Augusta last year, finishing in a tie for 21st. He missed the cut in five of his past seven starts in majors.
The 50-year-old has played exceptionally well while winning two PGA Tour Champions events, but not so much in Tour events, outside of a tie for second at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in August.
Tier III: Hey, miracles happen
They are the long shots. This tier includes a handful of aging former champions, a hometown favorite and some first-timers.
Charles Howell III
Eric van Rooyen
Rafael Cabrera Bello
Tier IV: Happy to make the cut
They aren’t expected to be among the contenders, unless something magical happens. Some know-it-all probably said the same things about Danny Willett, Charl Schwartzel and Trevor Immelman before they unexpectedly won, too.
Tier V: Past champions
They’re here only because they own green jackets and earned the right to come back and play. Their days of competing are in the rearview mirror, however.
Jose Maria Olazabal
Tier VI: Amateurs
They’re the new kids on the block and the most talented (and most fortunate) amateur players in the world. They’re trying to do what Ryan Moore (tied for 13th in 2005), Hideki Matsuyama (27th in 2011) and Bryson DeChambeau (21st in 2016) did before turning pro.
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