Complete Guide to the 2020 Masters at Augusta National

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2020

Complete Guide to the 2020 Masters at Augusta National

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    It's a tradition unlike any other.

    But you can call it The Masters.

    The event's 84th version will be played at the Augusta National Golf Club, which has hosted the tournament each year—outside of a three-year hiatus (1943-45) during World War II—since its inception in 1934.

    It was postponed in April and moved to November due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and will be played this year without fans on the course.

    The Masters has the smallest playing field of the four major championships and remains an invitation event, but there is a set of qualifying criteria that determines who is included.

    Among those guaranteed entry for 2020 include all past Masters winners, as well winners of the other three majors within the last five years, and winners of The Players Championship in the last three years.

    Tiger Woods earned his fifth green jacket and 15th career major when The Masters was last played in April 2019 and he's back among the favorites this year, along with reigning major winners Collin Morikawa (PGA Championship), Bryson DeChambeau (U.S. Open) and Shane Lowry (British Open).

    Not to mention the world's No. 1 player in Dustin Johnson, who's a past U.S. Open champion, has four top-10 finishes at Augusta and tuned up for this week with a tie for second at the Vivint Houston Open.

    Ditch the remote. Fluff the pillows. Turn the smartphone ringer to silent.

    Here's everything you need to know to get ready.

Where to Watch on Television

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    ESPN and CBS will provide 18 hours of live broadcast coverage Thursday through Sunday, with a mid-afternoon finish scheduled for the final round.

    Masters.com and the Masters app offer various channels to supplement the live broadcast, including featured groups, Amen Corner, holes 15 and 16 and a new channel covering holes 4, 5 and 6.

    The “Every Shot, Every Hole” feature which debuted in 2019 returns and will be supplemented by the debut of “My Group” that allows fans to build a personalized feed of every shot from their favorite players.

    To watch the action on television, here's the skinny (all times ET):

        

    Thursday

    1-5:30 p.m., ESPN

        

    Friday

    1-5:30 p.m., ESPN

        

    Saturday

    1-5 p.m., CBS

          

    Sunday

    10 a.m.-3 p.m., CBS

Biggest Storylines

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    The galleries are, well … not. 

    Let's face it, it's the Masters in name only. Because nothing about this edition is typical.

    The bold colors of spring have yielded to the subtle hues of autumn, and the thousands of spectators standing among them and giving the tournament its unmistakable soundtrack won't be there.

    The event was initially shut down amid the burgeoning COVID-19 pandemic in April and rescheduled for November, and the club subsequently made the call that while play would go on, the risk of allowing fans would be too great considering the infection risks involved. 

    Another virus-prompted accommodation? Play will begin Thursday and Friday in two waves at the first and 10th holes, meaning half the field each day will begin with back-nine staples like Amen Corner, etc. 

    “It’s going to be eerie. It’s going to be different,” said Rory McIlroy, via The Associated Press. “But at least we’re playing for a green jacket.”

    November weather is unpredictable.

    Picking up a golf tournament in April and dropping it in November means big changes anywhere.

    And Augusta, Georgia is no different, given an average daily high temperature that's 10 degrees cooler (77 to 67), not to mention a nighttime low that leans eight degrees (55 to 47) closer to shivering conditions.

    But who knows? Maybe this week won't be so drastic after all.

    An early-week check of Augusta's weekend forecast reveals four straight days of highs from 74 to 79, while the lows are a downright comfortable 61 to 69.

    What may be uncomfortable, however, is rain, which in the forecast via thunderstorms on Thursday and might hamper older players (see: Woods, Tiger) if rounds are interrupted or pushed back.

      

    Rory McIlroy can finish a career slam.

    For five years, Rory McIlroy has arrived to Augusta with a chance to complete a career grand slam that'd join him with the likes of Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

    He's made the top 10 in four of those five appearances, but hasn't gotten closer than fourth place (in 2015) and was farther off the pace in 2019 (tied for 21st) than any year since 2013 (tie for 25th).

    Given this year's circumstances, though, his quest isn't quite front-page news.

    And maybe that's a good thing.

    "I've done a lot of great things in golf," he told BBC Sport (h/t edition.cnn.com), "so it's just a matter of doing it on the right weeks."

The Top Groupings

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Thursday, 7:55 a.m. ET (10th hole); Friday, 12 p.m. ET (1st hole)/Tiger Woods, Shane Lowry, Andy Ogletree

    Let's face it: many storylines for the 2020 Masters will begin and end with the defending champion (to all) and sentimental favorite (to some). He'll be part of a wave of players with the unusual task of starting at the 10th hole and facing many of Augusta's famed back-nine challenges right away on Day 1.

    And though he can't possibly win the tournament Thursday, he can certainly lose it.

    Joining him will be reigning U.S. Amateur champion Andy Ogletree and Irishman Shane Lowry, who arrives as the incumbent champion for the Open Championship (that's the British Open, for the less formal among us), which wasn't played this year because of the pandemic.

           

    Thursday, 7:33 a.m. ET (10th hole); Friday, 11:38 a.m. ET (1st hole)/Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Louis Oosthuizen

    If you're of the betting persuasion, you could certainly do a lot worse than plunking down a couple of bucks on the winning coming out of a threesome that includes the world's No. 2 player (Rahm), the recent champion at the U.S. Open (DeChambeau) and another past major winner (Oosthuizen).

    Rahm's game is built for this course, and he's considered a legitimate threat to pick up a green jacket depending on how well he maintains his composure when things go bad—and they will. As for DeChambeau, he's added girth and power to an already packed toolbox and could do some memorable things if he's hitting his driver anywhere in the Augusta zip code.

    Oosthuizen would be far more of a shocker if he's on the leaderboard come Sunday, but it wouldn't be his first time. He won the Open Championship in 2010 and has finished second at each of the other three majors, including the Masters in a 2012 playoff against Bubba Watson.

            

    Thursday, 12 p.m. ET (1st hole); Friday, 7:55 a.m. ET (10th hole)/Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, Rory McIlroy

    If you're looking for name value and real prospects to win, look no further than the grouping of the No. 1 player in the world, a four-time major winner looking to complete a career grand slam and an emerging player who had a good long look at the leaderboard last year.

    Johnson's game is without peer thus far in 2020, and he's largely shaken off the cloak of a player unable to perform in big spots thanks to a win at the 2016 U.S. Open and subsequent seconds at the 2019 Masters and the 2019 and 2020 PGA Championships. In McIlroy, the storyline is all about finally breaking through at Augusta, which would put him in super-elite company with wins at all four majors.

    And if you want a legit dark horse who's ranked 10th in the world, there's Cantlay, who has four top-10 finishes this year and won his most recent outing by a shot over Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm.

The Top Contenders

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Dustin Johnson

    It'd be pretty hard to put together a list of favorites without the world's top-ranked player, so we'll not be so foolish as to not include Dustin Johnson here. 

    Six top-threes and nine top-10s in 16 events this year are overall evidence that he'll be a factor at Augusta, and specifically looking at his tie for second at the Houston Open—where he went 66, 66, 65 after an opening-round 72—doesn't hurt the case if you want more recent information.

    He's got four straight top-10s at the Masters and was a shot behind Woods while finishing second last year, so it should surprise precisely no one if Tiger is helping him with a green jacket come Sunday.

      

    Jon Rahm 

    The current leader in the clubhouse in the "best player to never win a major" event, Jon Rahm has game to spare when it comes to both power-hitting and putting—both of which seem mandatory when it comes to winning at Augusta.

    He's placed fourth and tied for ninth in his last two Masters appearances, and arrives this time amid a season which has yielded two wins and nine top-10s in 18 outings. Most recently, he tied Justin Thomas for second at the ZOZO Championship in Tokyo, one shot behind Patrick Cantlay.

    He might have preferred a typical November weather forecast to the warm, rainy conditions predicted for Thursday's opening round, but that's about all that's working against him coming in.

    Brooks Koepka 

    You're all thinking it, so we might as well go ahead and say it, too: Brooks Koepka will be a factor.

    He's been the best money player in the game over the last few years—four wins and three other top-fives at his last 11 majors since 2017—and he'll arrive this time around after a tie for fifth in Houston, including consecutive 65s in the final two rounds.

    The only mark against him would be health, considering his 2020 schedule has been impacted by hip and knee issues, but he held up across those two rounds in Houston and was just a shot off the pace while tying for second behind Woods last year. It'll be more of a shock if he's not near the top than if he is.

The Dark Horses

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    If picking Masters contenders straight from the first page of the Official World Golf Ranking is sufficient to move your needle, so be it. But for those seeking a bit more of a deep dive this week, weeding out the underdogs is where it's at. 

    Exhibit A is Jordan Spieth, a former world No. 1 who won a pair of majors—including this onein 2015 and another in 2017 but has since plummeted to No. 80 in the rankings.

    The Texan, now 27, has dropped from relevance with only a dozen top-10 finishes (and zero wins) since the start of 2018. But optimists would point out that two of his better efforts this season came in two of the most high-profile events he's played—the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February (tied for 9th) and the Memorial Tournament in July (tied for 13th).

    And if nothing else, his remarkable 2015 run, in which he finished no worse than a tie for fourth in the year's four majors, proves his spotlight mettle. If he gets off to a strong under-the-radar start Thursday with zero fans to add to the pressure, he could make himself a weekend storyline.

    If you're into past champions with a little more recent mojo, allow us to suggest Bubba Watson.

    Though he's a little older, the outspoken Floridian is still one his game at age 42. And while he hasn't been lighting up the PGA Tour in 23 events this year—seven missed cuts with just five top-10 finishes—he's a worthwhile consideration thanks to past performances at Augusta National.

    He's donned the green jacket twice—winning a playoff in 2012 and beating the field by three shots in 2014and two of his top-10s this season have come in the last two tournaments he's played.

    Remember where you heard it first.

    Last but not least, we present Jason Day, circa 2020.

    Day was the No. 1 golfer in the world after a 2016 that include top-10s at three of the four majors, but he's dipped precipitously since then, winning only twice and falling as low as 63rd in early July.

    But the Aussie, who'll turn 33 on Thursday, has quietly crept back toward relevance since.

    He'll begin the first round on the heels of a tie for seventh at the Vivint Houston Open, and he tied for fourth with three others at the PGA Championship, a shot behind Dustin Johnson and three behind winner Collin Morikawa.

    The quality of Day's tee-to-green game is borne out by statistics, and he'll belong back in the contention conversation if he's able to manage even four respectable rounds with the putter.

The Favorite

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Call us irresponsible, if you must. Call us unreliable, if you see fit.

    But you'll call us idiots on Monday if we don't tell you now what's coming this week.

    Bryson DeChambeau is going to win the Masters.

    In game-changing fashion.

    The 27-year-old Californian has been on the "he'll be a winner someday" radar for years, but he broke through in jarring fashion this summer, returning from the pandemic-induced shutdown with 20-plus pounds of additional muscle and an accompanying uptick in driving distance and swing speed.

    Twelve events since have resulted in seven top-10s, a near-miss fourth at the PGA Championship (three shots off the lead) and a scorecard-busting six-shot win at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, where his power off the tee helped him thrive even while missing better than half of the 56 in-play fairways.

    And if you're looking for another course where power trumps accuracy, how about Augusta?

    He tied for 29th at the Masters in 2019, when he weighed a mere 195 pounds and averaged a smidge better than 299 yards on his drives. These days, he's tipping the scales to 235 and is first on the PGA Tour with an average driving distance of 344.4 yards.

    Lest anyone think it's all sizzle and no steak, he's also first in scoring average at 66.711.

    No less an authority than Jack Nicklaus thinks he'll provide some incredible visuals this weekend, like driving the 455-yard first green and hitting wedge into the 530-yard 15th.

    "What he has done is amazing," Nicklaus told Golf.com. "He's figured out that distance is far more important than accuracy. Even at a U.S. Open. And he took a chance by doing what he did to build himself to a level to be able to do that. I give the guy great kudos. You develop skills that give you an advantage and that’s what he’s figured out."

    And we think he'll do even more, which in this case means challenging Woods' epic 12-shot win in 1997 and then standing proudly in Butler Cabin as the five-time champ helps him into his first green jacket.

    Get your popcorn ready and remember who told you so.

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