Tour Confidential: Best Masters storylines, Bryson-proofing Augusta and Brooks vs. DJ
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss Masters storylines, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Tiger Woods, our Top 100 Courses in the U.S., and more.
1. It’s Masters week … finally! We’ve been speculating about this moment since, well, last Masters week — 19 months ago. There’s much to chew on this time around — fall conditions, no patrons, Tiger Woods defending — but which one storyline are you most intrigued to see play out?
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: How Bryson plays the course and if the club can find a club coat suitable for him, should it come to that.
Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): I second Michael’s Bryson call. But next up, Tiger Woods, playing the Masters as defending champ. Something we haven’t seen in 15 years and may not ever see again.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): Both good answers! I’ll add in that I’m excited to see just how these guys act on Sunday afternoon, when the tournament’s on the line. Will it feel no-fan chill? Or will the tension ramp up in a particularly intimate way, with only a few onlookers to watch the action?
Luke Kerr-Dineen, senior writer (@LukeKerrDineen): I’m most excited about the weather, to be honest. There’s a chance of rain, which is the nerve-wracking part from a pure tournament-playing perspective, but this being a November Masters means it’ll also be colder and windier than usual. I’m hoping for a Masters-meets-Open Championship vibe, with the elements and the course working in tandem to test the best players in the world.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer (@alanshipnuck): There are so many top players who need to win here but haven’t: DJ, Brooks, Rory, JT and Rahm come to mind immediately. At a Masters unlike any other, can one of them finally break through and add the unlimited accomplishment to their resume? I hope so.
2. Two of the world’s best entered the Houston Open with question marks. They left with exclamation points. Dustin Johnson, after sitting out two tournaments due to Covid, tied for second. Brooks Koepka, who’s battled knee pain, tied for fifth. From what you saw in Houston, which of those two players are you most bullish on at Augusta?
Bamberger: Koepka, for sure. He’s such a big-time, big-moment player, and he had to have learned so much about how to play on Sunday last year. I’m not dissing Dustin Johnson; I’m just answering the question. Koepka.
Sens: I’ll take DJ in that matchup this week. Koepka’s rep as a big-stage player speaks for itself, but four days walking a hilly Augusta will be a different sort of test for his knee than pancake-flat Memorial Park. I won’t be surprised at all if Koepka goes out and dominates. But I’d be even less surprised if DJ does.
Dethier: Brooks Koepka. Fool me once by showing up out of nowhere at a major, shame on you. Fool me five times, and, well, you know how this goes.
LKD: DJ, for sure. I’m glad to see Brooks back and healthy again, but I’m not buying his stock just yet. DJ has been honing in on another major for a while now, and a green jacket in November would be the perfect cap on a bizarre but undoubtedly successful season.
Shipnuck: It’s been such a lost year for Brooks, it would be very on-brand for him to snatch this Masters and flip the script. But Dustin has been playing at a much higher level. It’s hard to imagine him never winning a Masters – this is as good as any year to get off the schneid.
3. Reports surfaced earlier this week of a Bryson DeChambeau practice round at Augusta National, where, as suspected, he overpowered the course much like he did at Winged Foot during the U.S. Open. (Also earlier this week, Jack Nicklaus suggested that, in the right conditions, DeChambeau could drive the green at the par-4 1st.) A week from now, what are the chances we will be debating in this space how ANGC best Bryson-proof the course?
Bamberger: Odds are good, and the fix is easy: shorten the course; give the players a tournament ball.
Sens: Possibly, but if we are having a Bryson-proofing conversation, we’re having too narrow a chat, as he’s far from the only player with course-shrinking length. I think the more likely conversation will be: Wait, how come Bryson didn’t win? Didn’t everybody say he was practically a lock?
Dethier: We’re going to be talking about other stuff, luckily, because the Masters is a really exciting golf tournament and promises to crown an intriguing champion. But yeah — it’ll be on the list. Everybody knows Augusta National, so it’s the one place (alongside possibly St. Andrews and Pebble Beach) where mind-bending distance really hits home for fans.
LKD: Whether he wins or not, we’ll be talking about needing to Bryson-proof courses, because he’s changing the fabric of golf at the highest level. He may not win the 2020 Masters for a number of reasons. He may get unlucky. He may not putt well. But I’m calling it now: He’ll do something this week that blows people’s minds. He’ll end up nudging a sand wedge into a hole – the 13th, perhaps – that prompts people to think about Bryson-proofing professional golf.
Shipnuck: It ain’t easy to come in as a huge favorite, while having had to navigate all the life changes that come with winning your first U.S. Open. Even Bryson’s vaunted focus will be put to the test as to whether he can drown out the noise and just go play. But his putting at the Masters has been quite poor – that has to change for him to win.
4. Even-money Masters prop bet: Defending champion Tiger Woods will finish in the top 10 this week. Why, or why not?
Bamberger: I’ll say yes, because you can T-10 and be six or more shots out of first. I think on guile and memory alone he’ll be in the low 280s, at the highest.
Sens: Not. No doubt, the man has defied the improbable more often than the rest of the field put together. But he hasn’t had anything close to his best stuff lately, and there are so many young players coming into this week in really good form. Now, give me 2-1 odds against Tiger to Top 10 – that would be more like it. But straight up, no way.
Shipnuck: I agree with Sens. The sketchy weather forecast is an issue; interrupted rounds are a nightmare for Tiger because his back can seize up. I think he finishes top-20 on guile, but better than that would be remarkable given how poorly he’s played in 2020.
Dethier: Yeah, because I’m a sucker, and because I promised you guys in this space last year (every day of the tournament, I might add!) that he’d win the Masters and then he did, so I owe him this much at the very least.
LKD: Sure, there’s a chance Tiger finishes in the top 10, but I doubt it. It’s more likely we’ll see a rusty Tiger, looking physically uncomfortable in cold weather, cruising somewhere outside the top 25.
5. Earlier this week, we revealed our 2020-21 ranking of the Top 100 Courses in the U.S., which included 17 newcomers to the list. What jumped out at you about our latest list?
Bamberger: A friend noted this first: all the old-timey new courses on the list. If you have a classic, cut down the trees, get some sun on the greens, speed them up, keep the charm, you have something irresistible to raters.
Sens: Definitely a continued drift toward the firm, the fast, the bouncy and the fun. Long, tree-lined brutes with lots of forced carries are decidedly out of fashion. But also something that has been true for so long in golf: the best courses in the country are accessible to far too few of us.
Dethier: As a new Washington State resident, I’m obligated to express my disappointment with Chambers Bay’s disappearance from the list. Beyond that, the new obsession with “fun” is a tremendous trend. I’m proud to be associated with the list, even though I basically had nothing to do with it. And I look forward to more rankings involving more publicly accessible courses, too.
LKD: I love playing nice golf courses, but I’m not a course expert. I’ll save my takes on this one, and defer you to the others who know far more than I do.
Shipnuck: Yes, that list is charm city. So many courses you’d be happy to play every day for the rest of your life, as opposed to some of the old brutes that used to be celebrated. And Sens is right – part of me is bothered by these lists because how many of our readers will ever play more than a handful of these courses? And that’s if they’re lucky. But I guess it’s like Maxim’s Hot 100 – we all need a little escapism.
6. Augusta National last week launched an online Masters merch shop for would-be ticket-holders. Included among the offerings is a $150 “Taste of the Masters” package featuring, among other goodies, 1 pound of pimento cheese; 1 pound of egg salad sandwiches; 1.5 pounds of pork “bar-b-que;” eight bags of potato chips; six chocolate chip cookies; and six bags of caramel popcorn. Put on your ecommerce cap and suggest another Masters merch collection that the club should sell.
Bamberger: Pieces of Augusta sod, coupled with three magnolia twigs and a pint of water from Rae’s Creek, for the low, low price of $70.
Sens: Discounted tee times?
Dethier: Hoodies feel like a no-brainer.
LKD: Flat brim hats conspicuously absent from the shop this year. It’s a long shot, admittedly, but one day I hope we’ll see an Augusta flat brim.
Shipnuck: Signed photos from every attendee of the Champions dinner – those would be seriously valuable.