Masters Tournament 2021: Gruelling conditions and a survival test

Dustin Johnson limped along for a while hovering around level until he struck timber with his drive on the 18th, recovered well enough, hit an indifferent approach to 35 feet from the pin and three putted for a double
“Thar he blows, the English Rose,Will he won? Heaven only knows!”

Out of the total field of 88 players, 40 are non-US, of which 10 are from Eng­land­/­Ireland. Three of these are in red figures as all the rest have presently wilted, and Justin Rose’s head is still held high. He already had a chance to win in 2017 when, in a nerve-jangling playoff finish, Sergio Garcia and he made uncharacteristic alternating nervous mistakes, first giving themselves a chance and then erring by offering it to the other. They ran out of holes and when the music stopped it was Garcia who wore the Jacket. He reversed direction from being two over after seven, to score nine under in the next eleven holes. That would surely win the championship on a Sunday, but this is the first day and as the course gets drier with little or no rain, the greens will be even trickier to handle. Two great players, hitting from the same spot but landing just a foot apart, can end up forty feet from each other on these greens. Three putts, even occasional four, are inevi­t­able and for Rosie to score like that and keep his head while all others around him were losing their is remarkable, but is it repeatable? It probably is if he can bring the club face square at impact for perfect ball striking.

There was no beating this course to a pulp by Bryson DeChambeau; the reverse seems to have happened. He should have learned that if the angle at contact of a massive drive is off by even 1%, it translates into a deviation of 20 yards 300 yards away, missing even the wide fairway and into an intricate maze of loblollies, or a bed of Azaleas or a dense flowering bush. His drive on the short Par 4 third was dead straight and heading for the green but, landing a bit short, it rolled 27 yards away. His flop shot to the pin looked perfect. It landed an inch off the perfect spot, it trickled fifteen feet away for a par rather than an easier birdie chance were he not trying to drive the green. Jordan Spieth drove into the woods on the 9th, tried a hero shot which hit solid timber just in front of him and rebounded (he had to duck) deeper among the pine needles. He recovered, finally made it to the green three feet from the pin and three putted for a triple. That was compensated for by an unlikely eagle on the 15th from over the green when his well struck short chip, while running true, was barreling along at great speed, fast enough to cross the green and plunge into the water beyond, but it struck the pin square and dropped in dead for an eagle. A cheesy smile and his cap pulled over his eyes followed in recognition that someone somewhere was looking after him. A similar shot from a similar spot by Sungjae Im, he who threatened the ramparts last year in the November event, did find the water and he took a quad. Sic transit gloria mundi!

Justin Rose
There were several hole outs from off the greens, from bunkers and even a hole in one on the 16th by Tommy Fleetwood, but let it be known that the blowouts far exceeded the hole outs.

Only 12 out of the entire field were under par which really is the toll the greens, and a little bit of wind, extracted on this testing day. Friday will be worse. Of the others, one must report that the Australian Marc Leishman was out of the stocks like a Jackrabbit and racked up birdies but then decided to rest a bit and let a number of hares catch up with him. Brian Harman, Hideki Matsuyama, first-timer Will Zalatoris, past Champion Patrick Reed, Christiaan Bezuidenhout of South Africa and Webb Simpson were steady throughout and that augurs well for their prospects. Dustin Johnson limped along for a while hovering around level until he struck timber with his drive on the 18th, recovered well enough, hit an indifferent approach to 35 feet from the pin and three putted for a double. How could this happen to the reigning champion? He is now on the cut line.

Brooks Koepka, tied for second behind Ti­g­er Woods in 2019, was brave to come out after a recent knee surgery (he literally limped aro­u­nd a bit) but did remarkably well to finish at +2. Rory McIlroy was a real disappointment as he was never in red figures. After he drove beautifully on the eagleable 13th, he dunked his second in the water. His body language was the same as when he snap hooked his drives on the 10th going into the final round while leading in 2012. He just is not the same Rory who has that inimitable spring to his step and hits outrageous shots from anywhere to win. Maybe he overthinks and over analys­es, which is a sure formula not to have fun, and also not to win. Maybe he wants this one so bad to complete his career grand slam that he won’t get it and that worries him. Qui totum vult totum perdit (he who wants everything loses everything).

Xander Schauffele, another of my favour­ites to win this year and who finished tied second several behind Tiger Woods in 2019, categorically stated that he was not in the game for long driving a la DeChambeau. He said that Bryson’s wrists were as thick at his forearms and long driving was a no contest. He would rely on being steady and consistent and stay patient and respect all the inimical forces that may haunt these premises. The thesis is to take your punishment early when in trouble rather than later (after a tried and failed hero shot), shoot at the greens for percentage play only, try not to three putt at all and, most of all, be calm, patient and respectful of this course.

About 52 players (top 50 plus ties) should make the cut, expected to be at +2, and Westwood with his presently untidy game, which belies his recent two back-to-back runner-up finishes on the Florida swing, is likely to take the weekend off. He will have good company though, of many major, including Masters, winners several of whom could still contend if they shoot out of their skins over the next three days. Bernhard Langer, stay where you are at present, or improve, and match your record of being the oldest past Masters Champion to make the cut beyond 50 years of age.

A final note on the Honorary Starters. Their scores are Lee Elder (86), Gary Player (85) and the youngster Jack Nicklaus (81). Those are their ages. What these gentlemen represent is the acme of sporting achievement, the trials of succeeding in segregationist eras, dignity in their deeds and thoughts, their status as role models and their contribution to golf development. Let’s keep in mind that we as golfers, hackers and pros alike, are better for what they represent in this age of eternal discontent.

Tomorrow, the cut. The bets are still on. You know as much as I do. Make me an offer. Only one poor chap has come forward so far!

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