- The 84th Masters begins at Augusta National in Georgia on Thursday
- Third and final major of 2020 takes its first Autumn outing
- Tiger Woods defends Green Jacket, after famous win in April 2019
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – As the Masters makes its very first Autumnal jaunt around Georgia this week, who are the contenders for the prized Green Jacket at Augusta?
Seven months later than planed, Thursday sees the beginning of the much-anticipated 2020 Masters at Augusta National in Georgia.
As the patrons welcome the cream of golf to Georgia once more, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s trip to the famous Augusta pines has an autumnal flavour to it.
For the first time in the competition’s history, the Masters will be competed for in November, and the contenders for their moment in the Butler Cabin are greater in number than ever.
So who could be slipping on the famous Green Jacket this Sunday in Augusta?
DeChambeau heads US pack
US golf is again blossoming, with no less than 10 players in the top 14 rankings.
For Bryson DeChambeau, the Masters stands as new ground.
After coming through as last man standing at the US Open back in September, the American confounded his critics to win his first major at Winged Foot in New York.
The 27-year-old, dubbed The Scientist’, will see his power game tested however, with a need for precision rather than brawn on the Augusta National course.
The world number one meanwhile, Dustin Johnson, comes into another major at the top of the rankings, but can the North Carolinian this time hold his nerve to seal a second major?
Coming in T2 last year behind the eventual winner, Johnson’s game has always shone in the Masters.
A winner at Oakmont in the 2016 US Open, the American’s wait for his next major has seemed exhaustive, but could a switch to an autumn setting finally tip the balance in Johnson’s favour?
As part of a three-way musical chairs of sorts in the PGA rankings, Justin Thomas is again a contender, not least after leading into the weekend at Winged Foot back in September.
The 2017 PGA champion has a been a constant on the money list since then, but in majors has fallen decidedly short.
Though his best result is T12 at Augusta – from last year – could the Masters again see Thomas rise to the very top?
After missing the US Open due to fatigue and injury, Brooks Koepka makes his return to the major arena at Augusta.
A two-time major winner of both PGA Championship and US Open, the Floridian returns to the spotlight after a runners-up spot in 2019 – tied with Johnson.
Koepka’s recent high standards have dropped away since the restart after lockdown, but after a spell away from the tour, is Koepka ready to strike for the Green Jacket?
As one of the most consistent top-ten finishers in recent years, will 2020 be the year Xander Schauffele makes the final step to a major in Georgia?
Finishing in the group T2 with Johnson and Koepka last year at the Masters, Schauffele has spoken of in the past that Augusta most suits his game.
T10 at Harding Park and finishing fifth in New York back in September, Schauffele may yet round off the major year in style.
With surely a major to come in his future, will this weekend see the Californian’s wait come to an end?
One of the lesser-well known names to emerge from the pack in the US Open, Matthew Wolff makes his Augusta debut after claiming a runner-up spot at Winged Foot.
After a breakout year on the PGA Tour, the 21-year-old Californian was beaten in a play-off with Austin Cook and Scotland’s Martin Laird at the Shriners Open in Las Vegas, most recently.
Surrendering a lead into the final round in New York during the last major – on debut no less – Wolff is set to stand up to the very differing test of Augusta, and will definitely be one to watch this week.
April 2019 now seems a lifetime away, but for many sports fans, Tiger Woods’ remarkable return to winning ways at Augusta was a sight few expected to see again.
Holding on to claim his fifth Green Jacket 19 months ago, the 44-year-old this week defends his crown.
This would have been in the Californian’s sights since the announcement of a November tournament to round off the year, but is Woods a legitimate contender?
At Winged Foot, though he struggled early on, the 15-time major winner mounted a comeback over the weekend.
If Woods first makes the cut and is then in the picture, could we see another scintillating Sunday for the Tiger?
Others to watch
Away from the main field, both Jason Kokrak and Patrick Cantlay both have Tour wins to their name last month at the CJ Cup and Zozo Championship respectively.
Cantlay in particular, came closest to the PGA Championship last year in T3, so could the 28-year-old be a force this weekend?
Tony Finau again notched a top-10 finish in a major at Winged Foot two months ago, and though still racked with putting inconsistencies, Finau will more than likely be in the shake-up on Sunday.
Elswehere, USPGA champion Collin Morikawa has the remarkable prestige of making his debut at the Masters as a major champion, whilst 2019 US Open champion Gary Woodland has enjoyed strong showings in his last two visits to Georgia.
Daniel Berger finished T15 in last season’s FedEx Cup standings and has the right game to challenge Augusta, whilst Scottie Scheffler, after missing the US Open through Covid-19, looks recharged and ready to mount an assault on the weekend.
Four other names to have won at Augusta will also throw their hat into the ring.
Three-time Master Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson will all play Augusta National again, however, it is 2018 winner Patrick Reed – looking to top the standings in the Race to Dubai also – whose form suggests the strongest contender of the former winning pack.
Hatton, Rahm lead European challenge
The European challenge for the Green Jacket looks to be one of the strongest in recent memory, despite the absence of 2018 winner Sergio Garcia due to coronavirus.
Led arguably by compatriot and world number two Jon Rahm, the Spaniard has yoyo-ed between first, second and third in the rankings during the past 12 months, with a game that suits the tall pines of Augusta.
Finishing fourth here two years ago, Rahm should like the softer conditions around Augusta this year.
The outstanding Briton in the field appears to be Tyrrell Hatton after enjoying a superb end to the season post-lockdown.
Having won his first PGA event at the Arnold Palmer Memorial shortly before lockdown last March, the Englishman won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth by four strokes last month.
Enjoying his first full year with a Tour card, Hatton has consistently been at the top end of the standings, week-in, week-out, this year.
Now ranked number nine in the world, Hatton approaches the Masters as one of the form players in golf and will fancy his chances of becoming the latest Briton to make his way into the Butler Cabin.
As will Paul Casey, who continues to seek his first major crown.
Forced to come home in second at TPC Harding Park back in August, the veteran Englishman could be a real threat this week after – like many – falling foul of Winged Foot’s unforgiving pastures.
With a best finish of T4 four years ago, and with some of his best form to fall back on in the US this year, Casey may just improve on that in 2020.
Then of course, there is Rory McIlroy.
In what will be his 11th Masters this week, the Northern Irishman has his chance to the complete the prized Grand Slam once more.
After claiming his last major victory at Valhalla in 2014, this will be McIlroy’s sixth attempt to win the only crown that eludes him.
Spurning a four-shot lead in 2011, the Masters has always been the one that got away for the former number one, but to even be in the mix this weekend however, must go against the tide of a poor run of form – not least in majors.
Of the other Europeans to keep an eye on, Matthew Fitzpatrick, like Hatton, has began to spread his wings on the PGA Tour this year, and could make a fast start on Thursday.
Tommy Fleetwood remains in the top 20 despite an uncertain 2020, but retains the game to challenge for a top 10 finish at the very least, whilst Ireland’s Shane Lowry still holds the Claret Jug after the Open was cancelled this year and similarly, will fancy his chances of being in the mix for the weekend.
Finally, Danny Willett from nowhere managed a stunning win four years ago, and the 2016 winner can draw upon his victory for a run at an unlikely second major once more.
The global front-runners
As winner in 2013, Adam Scott returns to Augusta after an Australian PGA Championship victory last December, despite also having tested positive for Covid in recent weeks.
Scott, now 40, more recently won the Genesis Invitational in California back in February, and with the Green Jacket as his only major title, the Australian knows how to get the best out of Augusta.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama looks to be the strongest challenge for a first Asian winner since Vijay Singh twenty years ago.
Though without a win in three years since Bridgestone in 2017, the 28-year-old from Ehime will be eyeing the chance to break the likely Euro-US field dominance.
As will Mexican Abraham Ancer in his first Masters event, whilst 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen can also consider his chances as more than realistic.
The South African finished runner-up in 2012, and after notching third at Winged Foot, has already proved his 2020 credentials.
The 2020 Masters begin on Thursday, at Augusta National, Georgia.
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