It’s Masters week!!! There are certain rites of passages in sport that hearken the coming of the seasons; in baseball it’s Opening Day, in football kickoffs foretell the entrance of fall, but in golf – nothing quite signals the coming of Spring like the vibrant azaleas, the dazzling dogwoods, and the deep green hues of Augusta National Golf Club during Masters week. Last November we were treated to a fall version of this event due to postponement from COVID-19, but now we are back in the regularly scheduled time slot and a back-to-back major championship on the hallowed grounds.
If you are a fan of arboretums, even the holes at Augusta National bring foliage into focus, with their names derived from the trees that surround them, such as Tea Olive and Chinese Fir, and golfers and patrons alike are welcomed up Magnolia Lane for a “tradition unlike any other”.
Perhaps the most famous of all these is the heralded “Amen Corner”, which consists of the second shot at 11th, the 12th, and the first two shots at 13. This term was first used in 1958 by the famed golf writer Herbert Walker Wind in a Sports Illustrated article he was writing on Augusta National, and the name stuck over the years – as many a dream of landing the coveted Green Jacket have needed a prayer and an Amen on those very holes.
Those holes have produced some of the Masters’ most memorable moments over the years, such as Byron Nelson’s birdie-eagle at 12 and 13 in 1937, and of course Jordan Spieth’s ill-fated quadruple bogey on 12 on Sunday in 2016, where he put two in the water, costing him his 2-stroke lead and ultimately the championship.
Augusta National was designed in 1933 by Bobby Jones and Alastair MacKenzie, and has hosted the Masters Tournament ever since. They built and contoured the land on the site of the former Fruitland Nursery, which explains all of the odes to flora that can be found everywhere on the grounds. It is simple in brilliance, playing as a Par 72 that comes in at 7,345 yards, and the land is undulating and penal. Augusta plays with more elevation than people might think, and the real safeguard is the severely sloped and undulating greens, which undo many a good approach. If placed wrong, the ball will simply roll and roll to find its resting place nowhere near where you it hit first.
The course is not very penal off the tee, the fairways are generally wide-open and somewhat forgiving, an aspect that can really favor longer hitters at times. Approach game is the absolute #1 most important factor. Birdies are very make-able at Augusta if your approach is in the right spot. The greens are Bentgrass that run a blistering 13 on the stimpmeter, and because they are so undulating, if you are out of position it is going to be a long day at Augusta National.
So break out the pimento cheese and egg salad sandwiches, $2 beers, and let’s get ready to see who will don the Green Jacket for this 85th edition of The Masters!
Must-Have #1: Tony Finau
For years now it seems that there’s been a not-so-subtle rumbling in the PGA Tour world that most pundits expect this lovable Utah lad to add a Green Jacket to his resume at some point. Augusta National is a course that fits the strengths of Finau’s game: blistering and accurate approach, second shots from his mid to long irons, and a steady hand on slick putting surfaces.
That approach has led him to continued success here in the knotty pine trees and azalea blooms, as he has finished 10th in 2018, 5th in 2019, and 38th in the fall version last year.
Most importantly for this rendition of the Masters, however, it seems that Finau’s game has been steadily trending in the right direction for the better part of 2021. He’s missed his last two cuts but before that he was on fire. Since beginning his season with a T31 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January, he has reeled off a form line of 4-2-2-14 which bodes supremely well heading into a place that suits his eye. Most encouraging is that almost all the strokes he’s lost in his last 5 tournaments have been putting, so if he gets hot with the putter this week, look out!
In his last 12 rounds via Fantasy National, Hideki comes into the Masters ranking 12th in SG: Approach, 13th in Ball Striking, 21st in SG: Off The Tee, 19th in SG: Around The Green, 26th in SG: Par 5, and 19th in Greens In Regulation. If he keeps up that pace this week at Augusta National, it would be no surprise to see yet another high finish from Finau this weekend.
Must-Have #2: Viktor Hovland
You get the feeling that of all the majors, the one nearest and dearest to this awesome young talent’s heart is the Masters. In truth, it seems that Hovland fits the profile of someone who will don a Green Jacket one day.
He seems to really relish the challenge that Augusta National dishes out, and Hovy’s cool and steady demeanor is surely one that is an asset to have when things start to get difficult at this major championship. Since turning pro, he has risen to the occasion in the majors he has played, including being the lead amateur with a T32 at the Masters in 2018. He’s also finished 12th and 13th in the two U.S. Opens he’s played, as well as a T33 at the PGA Championship.
So clearly young Hovland knows how to play when the stakes are high, and a cursory knowledge of the ins-and-outs of this golf course provide a wealth of knowledge this week. He has been in excellent form on the season, winning the OHL Mayakoba, and earning three more top fives at the WGC Mexico, Farmers, and Genesis.
It seems his game is in prime shape to fully take advantage this week, as he grades out so well in in so many key categories. He ranks 3rd in the field over his last 12 rounds in SG: Off The Tee, 2nd in Greens In Regulation, 13th in SG: Par 5, 15th in Ball Striking, and 12th In SG: Approach. Keep those up and we really expect Hovland to do well this week, and if things break his way, he could contend.
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