To steal a phrase that rings loud in our hearts every
We welcome you once again to The Tailgate Society, coming to you in print from Not Augusta, Georgia. I asked Ted if he could try getting me a press credential this year. I think he’s still laughing at me several
2020 has done a lot of strange things, but this one ranks right up there for me. This week will be WEIRD. The Masters was always sort of a beginning, in my eyes. Early April, the world really becoming green after winter, people wearing light jackets and remarking on how perfect the weather is. This year, however, it almost feels like it’s marking an end. Not in a bad way, but in a way, this feels like the end of a journey. We’ve waited a long time to come back to the pines of Georgia, and we are finally here. It feels good, doesn’t it?
Let’s start by going back. Back to a time a lot of golf fans thought they’d never get to see again. A time when giants stalked the fairways, when massive crowds roared, and when the unlikely became reality. Let’s go back 578 days. That’s how long it’s been since Tiger freaking Woods won the 2019 Masters. 578 days since we saw a man clad in red and black don a green jacket (again). It was Tiger’s fifth win at Augusta National, tied for second-most behind only Jack Nicklaus. At the place where he’s won more majors than any other, and coming an astonishing 11 years after his last major tournament win.
Scrolling through my mental snapshots of that Sunday, it brings back some chills even now.
– Tiger playing alongside Francesco Molinari and Tony Finau, two of my favorite non-Tiger players on the final day.
– Molinari having a two-stroke lead after hole 10, only to falter down the stretch.
– Brooks Koepka, still hot in the middle of his ridiculous stretch of insane golf, just doesn’t quite have enough at the end to prevail.
– DJ makes a late charge with birdies at 13, 15, 16, and 17.
– Tiger’s tee shot on 16, nearly acing the par 3.
– Walking down 18 knowing it was about to happen.
April 2019 will forever be seared into golf fan’s memories for a long, loooong time to come.
Getting back now to 2020, and my how things have changed. COVID made a mess of the spring, so what we get instead of bright April green along with purple and white azaleas will be something potentially even more magical. Orange, red, yellow, and all the other colors of fall will take over Augusta National. Without fans and grandstands to block everything off, we will get to see even more gorgeous scenery than usual. There’s going to be times where the backdrop overtakes the actual game being played.
While golf has had better luck than a lot of leagues where COVID is concerned, they certainly aren’t immune. 2017 Masters champ Sergio Garcia announced on Monday that he would withdraw after testing positive following an event in Houston. This was on the heels of young Chilean Joaquin Niemann also having to withdraw a few days earlier as well.
The usual big names will be on display: Tony Finau and Adam Scott (both fresh off COVID layoffs), Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, and more. According to the folks in Vegas, though, they are all looking up at two men: Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson. Those guys lead the betting field, and both have plenty of reason to be hopeful. DJ is coming off a 2nd place finish last week in Houston, looking comfortable even after limited practice time while recovering from COVID.
Bryson meanwhile already has a US Open under his belt in 2020. He didn’t just win, he demolished the field, finishing an impressive 6 strokes ahead of 2nd place. He made headlines even before the restart for bulking up and gaining distance, and it’s paying off as he averages 344 yards off the tee. We’ve heard before that players hit it too far for Augusta, but it’s never really been true, until now. If he keeps that average going, it would mean probably having nothing more than a 6-iron into pretty much any green, par 5’s included. There are even some par 4’s he may have to club down to keep from flying over the green.Embed from Getty Images
The leaderboard will be littered with other big names; Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, and Xander Schauffle. They are joined by some newcomers looking to expand already impressive young careers in Colin Morikawa (already has a PGA Championship win), Matthew Wolff (a win his rookie year on TOUR, and coming off back-to-back 2nd place finishes this year), and Scottie Scheffler (Top 20 finishes in 6 of 8 tournaments after the restart, and ended 5th in the FedEx Cup Rankings).
There are also a lot of interesting names to keep an eye on. From players just starting to make some splashes on TOUR like Lanto Griffin, Sebastian Munoz, and Abraham Ancer. Since the restart, these guys have become regulars at or near the top of leaderboards of all shapes and sizes. The layoff seems to have sharpened their game, but they don’t quite get the coverage of big names. We’ve also seen some resurgent vets like Kevin Na, Lee Westwood, and Bubba Watson have success recently. Watson is especially compelling as a former Masters winner. He’s in good form coming to a course he knows very well, it would be a very “2020 thing” for Bubba to get another green jacket.
Of course, there’s also Tiger Woods. It hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride since that magical week last year. He finished the next six tournaments with 1 Top-10, 2 missed cuts, and a withdraw. Since the calendar flipped to 2020, it’s been even worse. After a Top-10 at The Farmer’s Insurance Open in January, his best finish is T37 at the PGA Championship in August. His two events in the new season have been a missed cut and T72. While he knows Augusta National better than anyone else in this field, things do not look promising for the defending champ. Is it impossible? No, if 2019 showed us anything, it’s that Tiger at Augusta is always in play. But very shaky recent form, coupled with potentially rainy conditions Thursday and Friday, I am not going to start the week with him as a favorite. Let’s be real though, I’m still following along like everyone else.
The Masters is always special, no matter where it falls on the calendar, and 2020 promises to be no different. After everything this year has thrown our way, finding silver linings has become extra important. Getting a chance to watch the best in the world tee it up, at one of the most beautiful places, at a stunning time of year is going to make this one a little extra magical. Let’s enjoy it all and take in the majesty together. It will indeed be a tradition unlike any other.