Picking a winner before the Masters begins is a fool’s errand. In a field so strong and in a game so voilatile, predicting the outcome with confidence is almost impossible.
The best anyone can hope to do is weigh up each player’s current form and history at Augusta National, contemplate his skill set and apply it to the intracicies of the golf course, and then hope for the best.
The Masters is famous for its surprise winners just as much as it is for its coronations of champions, and the twists and turns that take place right until the 18th hole on Sunday — and sometimes beyond — are what seperates this from the other majors.
And yet, here we are assessing a small collection of the favourites to win the 2021 Masters, a handful of outside chances to keep an eye on and the strong field of Australians.
We begin with the favourites…
Having torn the place to shreds in November, winning his first Masters in an absolute canter, Johnson will naturally enter this tournament as one of the most popular picks.
History suggests going back to back at Augusta is an awfully difficult task, though, and it’s true that DJ’s game has slipped somewhat since that massive Masters win a few months ago.
While that has been compounded by injury, which saw him miss some weeks early in 2021, even on return his driver — once the most reliable and automatic on the tour — has become wayward.
Still, given he won the tournament with a ridiculous 20-under only five months ago at this same course, it would be pretty dumb to look far past Johnson.
Victory at the Players Championship last month was just reward for Thomas, who had begun to recapture some of his best form after an up-and-down start to the year.
That performance at TPC Sawgrass was JT at his best, with his weekend scores of 64 and 68 inspired by the very same brilliance with the irons and putter that will see him prosper at Augusta.
A 2017 PGA Championship win stands as Thomas’s only major to this point, but those who really know their stuff are particularly bullish about his chances this week.
Before the November edition last year, all the buzz was about how newly-crowned US Open champion Bryson was going wreak his own unique brand of havoc up and down Augusta, changing the game of golf forever.
Instead, he sprayed the thing everywhere, somehow lost a ball in the first cut at one point, and complained of diziness as he just barely qualified for the weekend.
But rather than abandoning his controversial theories and gameplans, he doubled down, leading to this sight on the Augusta range this week:
DeChambeau is in ominous form, and is confident as hell. He’s boasting of secret weapons in the bag and mapping out routes nobody has every though of playing before. Even if it doesn’t work, it’ll be fun to watch.
That’s right, Jordan Spieth can be placed among the favourites for a major once more, and it’s not just out of wistful nostalgia and blind hope.
After the best part of four years in the wilderness, Spieth has caught fire again in 2021, culminating in the muted euphoria of last week’s win at the Texas Open — his first victory since the 2017 Open Championship.
His game isn’t completely dialled back in yet, but Spieth has rediscovered the magic with the wedges and the steel with the putter, which will keep him in with a chance even if he does happen to be driving it off the planet on any given day.
The 2015 Masters champ would be an incredibly popular winner in 2021, and he has hit form at just the right time.
Which leads us to some outsiders, more unlikely than likely to contend, but worth monitoring closely…
Until a few days ago, we didn’t know if Koepka would even be fit to play at this tournament. But confirmation has indeed come, and so to the usual expectation.
Koepka’s problem is not golf, it’s his body. When he’s been fit this year, he won the Waste Management Phoenix Open in style and finished second at the WGC event at The Concession.
But the massive elephant in the room is that Brooks’s knee is basically pieced together by nuts and bolts, to the point where he won’t be able to properly bend over to read the green during this tournament — seriously, watching the hulking frame of Brooks Koepka delicately prance around the greens this week will be a joy.
At this point, an injury withdrawal is probably far more likely than a win, but if he can hold up physically then Koepka will have a few rivals concerned.
Rory is all over the place at the moment, but he traditionally plays well at Augusta. Just not quite well enough to win.
Looming over McIlroy’s head is the career grand slam, and the Masters is the missing piece to that puzzle. It should have been the first major he won back in 2011, before he completely lost the plot on Sunday in one of the tournament’s great bottlings.
It would be a pretty stirring turnaround for McIlroy to do it this year, given his current woes, but he’ll have plenty of people rooting for him.
And how about the Aussies?
The man with the best haircut on the PGA tour has remained there or thereabouts in the tournaments since his record-setting runner-up result at the November Masters, but he’s still awaiting a breakthrough win this year.
What hasn’t changed is that Augusta suits Smith, with his mastery of the irons and creativity in his approach shots. He’ll be Australia’s best bet this week.
As his back has disintegrated, so too has the former world number one’s form. Indeed, Day now finds himself at 52 in the world and a long way short of his best.
But he’ll have happy memories of Augusta, where he came so close in both 2011 and 2013. It’s unlikely this will be his year, but hopefully it can be the start of a road back to the Jason Day of old.
Having bailed from the US to hang out at the Caloundra Golf Club on the Sunshine Coast during the pandemic, it’s been a bit of a slog for Scott since the tour resumed last September.
His swing still looks as pretty as ever, but his driving is letting him down at the moment and he will be relying heavily on glorious memories of 2013 to inspire an unlikely charge.
Another Aussie who normally does well at the Masters, but Leishman hasn’t made a cut on tour since February, and has only one top-10 finish since the post-COVID restart. No two ways about it, he’s battling at the moment.
The most in-form member of the Aussie cartel, thanks to the recent win at the Honda Classic which earned him an invite to this year’s Masters.
He’s only played this tournament once before, when he was miles off the cut at 8-over in 2014. Fingers crossed for a better return this time around.