By Matt Basile
It’s that time of year — March Madness has ended, baseball has begun and the azaleas on the Augusta National Golf Course have blossomed. That’s right, it’s time for the Masters Tournament: a golf tradition unlike any other.
Last year was everything but traditional, since the original event was postponed due to the pandemic and rescheduled to November. The event had a very different feel from the usual Masters Tournament as the course had very few spectators, the greens portrayed a different hue and, of course, the flowers were absent. Dustin Johnson, after a very successful year of being the number one ranked golfer in the world, went on to win the tournament by a margin of five strokes.
“I am really excited for the Masters to be back this year,” said senior civil engineering major Sean Cavalieri. “Having it in November was just not the same. It’s going to be nice to see Augusta in its true setting.”
The Augusta National course is one of the most recognizable playing fields in sports. It is a difficult and challenging golf course, according to FiveThirtyEight, because it tests different aspects of a player’s game. When looking at what makes the difference between winners and losers during this tournament, a few factors are considered.
The players’ ability to shot shape with their long irons has always been proven to be a significant trait of success. The skill to turn the narrow corners of the often unforgiving course, combined with the ability to approach and stick the green, has become a recipe for success.
Another thing to consider is the golfer’s overall experience with the course. According to Augusta, last year Johnson had already had 9 years of experience with the course, and his different skills put on display all year made victory more likely.
This year is a bit different. Since the most recent Masters in November, there have been 17 PGA tour events and 17 different winners, as recorded by the PGA Tour. No golfer is a clear favorite yet, but there are definitely a few names to look out for this week.
Johnson won the Masters Tournament by a margin of five strokes. His score of -20 proved why he was the number one ranked golfer in the world. He is still ranked number one in the Official World Golf Rankings, and has finished well in some tournaments since. According to Golf Channel, he won the Saudi International Tournament in February and placed T8 at The Genesis Invitational.
One part of the game that is notably causing him the most trouble is his putting. According to the PGA Tour Stat and Records, he has had a strokes-gained putting stat of -.182 in his last 24 measured rounds. That makes him ranked number 149 in putting as of late, according to the PGA Tour.
Bryson DeChambeau has been grabbing major headlines for the past year, making a name for himself by hitting the ball long. So long, in fact, that he has been ranked No. 1 in longest driving distance for some time, according to the PGA Tour. This kind of statistic can translate into how many strokes he gains off the tee.
Whether it has been par 5, 4 or 3, he has been the most productive player off the tee overall in his last 26 measured rounds, according to his off-the-tee analytics. He also ranks No. 1 in tee-to-green strokes-gained analytics.
He won the U.S. Open in September and the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month. His 370-yard drive over the pond during the Arnold Palmer Invitational made sports news headlines for the whole week and golf fans around the country have since united beyond this new exciting cause, hitting the ball very far.
“Bryson is revolutionizing the game of golf. Many people doubted him last year at the U.S. Open saying that his driving accuracy would cost him,” said senior management major Matt Cappelluti. “Even when he didn’t hit the fairway, his ability to scramble even in the highest rough led him to victory. If you can win at Winged Foot the way he did, you can win anywhere! He is my pick this week.”
America’s newest feel-good golf story has been the recent comeback of Jordan Spieth. Spieth was a dominant golfer several years ago. In 2015, he had five victories including the Masters and then had five more in the next two years. At that point in time, he was one of the most promising talents in the game. Since 2017, he had not won any PGA tournament.
It was not until this weekend that Spieth felt how it was to be the best golfer on the course.
He is currently ranked No. 23 in his approach-the-green analytic and 17 in around-the-green, according to the PGA Tour. Spieth went on to win at the Valero Texas Open. Including this tournament, he has had four top five finishes this year. He hopes to make another top five appearance at the coming tournament or even take it all the way.
According to USA Today, just 19 days after having surgery on his knee, Brooks Koepka walked onto the practice green at Augusta National and confirmed the news that he would be in the field this week.
Koepka has missed plenty of playing time throughout his career due to injuries: his ankle in 2016, his wrist in 2018, and now his knee in 2020 and 2021.
Although missing from the course for some time last year, he did place T7 at the Masters in November. He almost sealed another victory a few weeks later at The Concession, but finished in second. Since then, he has gotten his surgery and looks to play this week.
According to the PGA Tour, in his last 22 measured rounds he has ranked No. 25 in approaching the green and No. 16 in tee-to-green. Consistency off the tee and shot shaping with his long irons has given him the tools he needed to succeed earlier this year and could help him similarly in this tournament.