“The Masters is just one month away” is not a sentence frequently uttered in October, but in this COVID-19 impacted year, it’s a true statement. The Masters starts in 31 days, and while that is a bit of an oddity, it also engenders a ton of excitement at a time when golf has normally taken a backseat to the rest of the sports world.
Certainly other storylines will emerge over the next four weeks. We will have seen Brooks Koepka play by then, and maybe somebody will win both the CJ Cup and Zozo Championship. But with just one month to go, there are five bigger-picture narratives that have started to emerge for a Masters that will truly be unlike any other one in history.
1. How will the golfers prepare? Last week, I threw out a question on Twitter about what folks were interested in reading about ahead of the Masters, and I was stunned at how many wanted to know how this year’s edition affected player preparation. This story will fade by the time we list the top 10 storylines during the week of the Masters, but right now., it’s certainly interesting. It’s just that the answer may not be all that compelling. The reality is that, because of the schedule and rhythm of this fall, most of the biggest names in the sport will play either this week’s CJ Cup or next week’s Zozo Championship (or both!) and then not reemerge until Masters week.
A handful will play in Houston the week before — likely Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson — but most will not. Some like Bryson DeChambeau are done with tournament golf as of this week. DeChambeau said he was going to go into intense training mode — it is hilarious that this means testing 48-inch drivers and not playing PGA Tour golf — and that we won’t see him again until Nov. 9 at Augusta National.
2. Bryson’s assault: Speaking of DeChambeau, he’s back in the lab following his T8 finish at the Shriners Open. He said he’s going to try and get his weight up to 245 (!) pounds with an eye on being as long as humanly possible off the tee at Augusta in November. He also said the drives he’s hitting with a 48-inch driver currently look like missiles and that he doesn’t want to disclose his true length with a longer driver because he doesn’t “want to ruffle any feathers.” I’m not sure we’re completely prepared for the things he’s going to attempt to do on this course. While that doesn’t guarantee he’ll be in contention to win this year’s tournament, it could unlock the bigger-picture discussion about what’s going on in the game at the highest level. I, for one, hope it does.
3. Tiger defends his title: Your current major championship titleholders are as follows: Tiger Woods (Masters), Collin Morikawa (PGA Championship), Bryson DeChambeau (U.S. Open), Shane Lowry (The Open Championship). That’s a pretty unique set of players, personalities and skill sets. It’s also a reminder that, you know, Tiger Woods won the Masters last year and has yet to defend his fifth major at that course.
Woods’ game as of right now is not in the same place it was going into that tournament, but it might not matter. He can figure out how to be competitive there on wisdom and guile alone, and if the game bounces at all at the Zozo or weeks ahead of the Masters, he could certainly get himself in position to tie Jack Nicklaus with six green jackets. I don’t think he will just because I don’t think his tee-to-green play is quite sharp enough, but that it’s even a debate is a thrilling reality for this November.
4. Conditions are tough: The other narrative to keep an eye on is the condition of the course. The weather will be crisp (and possibly downright cold). How will this affect the agronomy of the place and who might it benefit? We won’t truly know this answer until early in the week of the event after talking to players, but I suspect a Masters in the fall might play a bit faster than in April when conditions are often rainy and sometimes downright sloshy. I spoke with one person who believes, though Augusta can mostly control conditions no matter the month, this year will be a little firmer than you might imagine for a Masters in November. That’s exciting because that’s when the course is at its best.
5. Rory’s career slam: There are really only three individual player narratives that stand out above all the rest. You could feasibly make a list of 50 storylines and include all manner of fun stories — Rickie Fowler’s first, Jordan Spieth’s trajectory, Patrick Reed’s low-key monster career and on and on — but McIlroy is a big enough star and the career slam is a big enough whale to make the list. I have no idea if he’s aided by a fan-less November start, but I do know that if he starts big (67-69, something like that), this will overwhelm every other story coming out of Augusta National. If one thing could properly reorient us to rightly think about McIlroy and his major bounty, it’s a green jacket and a sixth member of the career slam club.