6 burning Masters questions that we can’t wait to see answered this week

The first-ever fall Masters will have a different feel than what we're used to.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — A Masters unlike any other is finally upon us. What does this historic week hold? Here are the 6 key questions for this Masters …  

1. Will Bryson gobble up Augusta National like a triple serving of peach cobbler? 

Gotta start with the most obvious storyline, which is the U.S. Open champion’s looming destruction of one of golf’s most iconic courses. Perhaps not since Eldrick Woods was chasing the final leg of the Tiger Slam in 2001 has there been this much focus on one specific player around Augusta. But for all the breathless speculation about how many flip-wedges DeChambeau will leave himself into the par-4s (and par-5s!), he has struggled mightily on Augusta National’s diabolical greens, including finishing dead-last in Strokes Gained: Putting last year. Not for nothing did Johnny Miller once derisively dub the tournament the Augusta National Spring Putting Contest; how efficiently DeChambeau gets the ball in the hole will matter as much as far he bashes it off the tee. It’s going to be fascinating to watch. 

2. How does a soft course change things? 

Unfortunately, the forecast for this week is pretty grim and it seems very unlikely we’ll get the firm, fast test that makes Augusta National that much more interesting and challenging. The coarser Bermuda grass that is more prominent this time of year already figured to diminish a tad of roll off the tee, and rain-softened fairways will further tip the scales to the bombers. So, don’t expect Zach Johnson to steal another jacket. It certainly sounds like a good setup for Rory McIlroy, who used to feast on long, soft courses. Dustin Johnson, too. Both have always seemed slightly unnerved by having to walk the knife’s edge that is a crispy Augusta National; with slightly more margin for error on a soft course they can, theoretically, freewheel just a little bit more. 

3. How will the defending champ fare? 

Tiger Woods is Tiger Woods, so as long as he’s generating more clubhead speed than Gary Player he’s a threat at the Masters. There have been absolutely no indications this year that his game is ready for the challenge of Augusta National, which means he’s that much more likely to shock us. All that said, Tiger win last year is increasingly looking like a Jack-in-’86 victory lap. 

4. If we take Bryson off the table, who is the favorite? 

It’s wiiiiiide open. DJ, coming off what he called a refreshing Covid quarantine and strong finish in Houston — not to mention a near-miss at last year’s Masters — has to be at the top of the list. Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have been two of the keynote players of 2020 and both have plenty of firepower for a course that rewards aggressive play. Big, bad Brooks Koepka appeared lighter on his feet in Houston and went 65-65 on the weekend to roar into Augusta.

Phil Mickelson recently anointed Xander Schauffele as the best player in the game and X seems to pop up on every major championship leaderboard. Matt Wolff can overpower ANGC as easily as Bryson, while Collin Morikawa’s precision is huge advantage on the ultimate second-shot course. (The last five champs have all been top 5 in Strokes Gained: Approach.) We could keep going but you get the point. 

5. How different will this Masters feel for the players? 

Very. The two-tee start over the first two rounds is quite discombobulating, and plenty of folks who begin their round on 10 will arrive on the 13th tee bruised and battered. The shorter days means practice rounds will be more cramped, and the cancellation of the Par-3 Contest takes away what is usually an anchor of the week. It’s probably not a coincidence that both of this year’s major championships were won by young players without a track record of contending at the biggest events.

On Sundays at the majors the energy of the crowd is so palpable you can feel it in your chest, and this is especially true at Augusta National, where the roars famously cascade through the pines. This only adds to the choke factor at the tournament every player lusts after. Take away the crowd factor and less seasoned competitors have a better chance to survive the stress-fest of Masters Sunday. 

6. After surviving the endless treacly videos of shrubs being trimmed and curbs painted on the Masters social feeds, is it okay to finally be excited? 

Hell to the yes! We’ve all suffered enough in 2020, including having to wait an extra seven months for this Masters. It’s going to one heckuva show. Bring it on. 

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Alan Shipnuck

Golf.com

GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck writes longform features and a monthly column for GOLF Magazine and has his own vertical on GOLF.com entitled “The Knockdown,” which is home to podcasts, video vignettes, event coverage and his popular weekly mailbag AskAlan. He is the author of five books on golf, including na­tional best-sellers Bud, Sweat & Tees and The Swinger (with Michael Bamberger). Shipnuck is very active on Twitter, with a following of 50,000.