The Masters has returned, seven months late and 19 months since Tiger Woods last walked off the 18th green a champion. This will be a Masters unlike any other, to coin a phrase, so let’s get you prepped and ready for the year’s final (!) major.
What’s new for 2020?
The date, for one thing. Augusta National opted to postpone the Masters rather than cancel it outright because of COVID-19 concerns, and that means we’ll have a fall Masters. The autumn foliage this time of year in Augusta is magnificent and a reasonable substitute for azaleas.
Unfortunately for the atmosphere of the Masters, the pandemic has also prevented fans from attending. So those roars through the pines won’t happen this year. Players are split on whether this will help or hurt their game; some like to ride the wave of fan emotion; some feel the pressure when, say, they’re being watched on the 12th tee by thousands of eyes. Regardless, it’ll bring a far different feel to the broadcast than we’ve ever seen before.
Some smaller rules changes are in effect; the cut line now sits at the low 50 players and ties. That’s a change from the last few years, in which anyone within 10 strokes of the leader made the cut.
The time of year also means that darkness will prevail much earlier, meaning players will be getting out on the course earlier and in greater numbers than ever before. How a projected Thursday monsoon (see below) will affect the tournament’s progression remains to be seen.
What are the key storylines?
No one comes into this tournament a bigger storyline — literally and figuratively — than Bryson DeChambeau, the defending U.S. Open champion who’s doing his best to simply overpower the game of golf. Can he throttle Augusta National? Many have tried, few have succeeded, but none have ever looked or approached the game quite like DeChambeau. If he’s able to push around Augusta National, he’ll kick-start a sport-wide conversation/debate/war about how to dial back distance off the tee.
Beyond DeChambeau, who’s at +750 odds to win per BetMGM, there’s Dustin Johnson (+850), always a threat despite missing several weeks recently due to COVID. Further down the line, Jon Rahm (+1000) and Justin Thomas (+1100), who have one major between them, have the ability to control the course if not necessarily overpower it. Right behind them is Rory McIlroy (+1200), who needs only a green jacket to complete the career Grand Slam. But he’s six years past his last major ... can he still bring the heat?
The rest of the Masters field includes an array of legends and former winners, from Tiger Woods (+3300) to Jordan Spieth (+6600) alllll the way down to Sandy Lyle (+250000) and Larry Mize (+300000). That’s what’s great about the tournament: win it once, you can play it forever.
Darkness is an issue this time around; the sun sets before 5:30 ET in the afternoon, meaning the players will need to move through the course with more speed than in April. Augusta will implement a split-tee start, meaning the players will go off in two waves on both the first and 10th tee.
Full tee times are available right here, but a few groups are worth noting:
7:33 a.m., 10th tee: Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Louis Oosthuizen
7:55 a.m., 10th tee: Tiger Woods, Shane Lowry, Andy Ogletree
8:06 a.m., 10th tee: Jordan Spieth, Gary Woodland, Ian Poulter
11:27 a.m., 10th tee: Bubba Watson, Matthew Wolff, Tommy Fleetwood
11:27 a.m., first tee: Phil Mickelson, Abraham Ancer, Bernd Wiesberger
11:38 a.m., first tee: Adam Scott, Collin Morikawa, Tyrrell Hatton
11:49 a.m., first tee: Justin Thomas, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Brooks Koepka
12:00 p.m., first tee: Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, Rory McIlroy
The Masters spent so many decades keeping its secrets from the broadcast world that it’s still a bit of a surprise when Augusta National opens the gates. Masters.com will host a range of streaming options with the ability to build your own “featured group” and look in at Amen Corner, holes 4-5-6, and holes 15-16 throughout the tournament. The “Every Shot, Every Hole” feature will be back as well.
Television options will start on ESPN at 1 p.m. Eastern Thursday and Friday, and run until 5:30 p.m. Saturday morning will feature ESPN’s College GameDay on the site, followed by CBS broadcasting the tournament from 1 to 5 p.m. Eastern. CBS will broadcast the final round from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Both days end early because of scheduled — though not necessarily actual, depending on COVID testing — football commitments.
Well ... it doesn’t look great for Thursday. Per weather.com, the forecast is 100 percent for rain on Thursday, with heavy rain expected for the entire morning. The good news is that the rest of the week is starting to improve, with forecasts dropping to as low as a 20-percent chance of rain. The rain will take some of the distance off the table, softening up fairways and blunting potential long rolls off the tee. But Augusta’s famed SubAir system will keep the greens in exactly the condition the club desires.
The Champions Dinner
Tuesday night, Tiger Woods hosted his fifth Champions Dinner. While he’d picked cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes for his first one, back when he was 21, his selection this year included “The Augusta Roll”: sushi with tempura shrimp, spicy tuna and avocado, as well as steak and chicken fajitas and a dessert selection. Here’s the menu, since presumably you weren’t there:
How will Tiger do?
Weeellll ... never say never, especially given the fact that Woods came out of nowhere last year to win the tournament, but expecting a sixth green jacket would be a very tall ask. He hasn’t placed above T37 since January, and he hasn’t looked ready to contend at either of the two prior majors this year (that T37 at the PGA Championship, plus a missed cut at the U.S. Open). He ought to make the cut — local knowledge counts for a lot — but he’ll be sweeping the Augusta dew on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
It’s been a long time — too long — but the Masters is almost here again. Enjoy the tournament, friends.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at email@example.com.
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