The Masters: Gear up for the Spieth show and don't ignore obvious DJ - The experts' picks

By Sports Desk April 07, 2021

Dustin Johnson has had little time to revel in the success of his record-breaking Masters triumph last November.

The world number one became the first player in the tournament's illustrious history to win with a score of 20 under par.

But the coronavirus pandemic meant the event could not be held in its usual April slot, with Johnson's triumph achieved amid an Autumnal rather than Spring backdrop.

This year, though, the action takes place at the traditional point in the calendar. So, here we are for the first major of 2021 and the expert team at Stats Perform News have picked out their favourites for the green jacket.

GEAR UP FOR THE SPIETH SHOW – Peter Hanson

Here is a statement of fact (okay, actually it's an opinion): golf is much more fun when Jordan Spieth is in the groove. We all know it to be true. And recently, boy have there been some tantalising moments to suggest Spieth will be flying at Augusta – a place where you could fill a lengthy highlight reel with his brilliance from years gone by. A rancid run of form saw Spieth ranked as low as 92nd earlier this year following a missed cut at the Farmers Insurance Open. However, four top-10 finishes from six events preceded a victory at the Valero Texas Open at the weekend – his first tournament win since triumphing at The Open four years ago. Spieth is always great viewing at a venue where he was champion in 2015 and has recorded three other top-three finishes. Key to success for Spieth will be if he can get the putter firing. On the PGA Tour this season, he ranks fifth for one-putt average, while his 27.91 putts per round tallies fourth.

BRYSON REVOLUTIONISED THE SPORT, NOW HE'LL WEAR GREEN - Dan Lewis

Having helped to revolutionise the sport en route to winning the US Open seven months ago, Bryson DeChambeau will now be looking to put his power game to good use with a second major title. The 27-year-old will certainly better his previous best finish of 21st in 2016 and, if he can continue to improve his putting, he has a serious shot of unseating Johnson.

THERE'S NO CURE QUITE LIKE WINNING FOR RORY – John Skilbeck

Who was that lurking in 39th place on the FedEx Cup standings last week? Is there another Rory McIlroy or is this where we are? By now, many thought we would be in an era of McIlroy domination, given the prowess he showed in his early twenties, but those predictions have been skewered, with McIlroy struggling to mount sustained title challenges in the majors. His career card shows plenty of top-10 finishes at the very elite level, but, since landing his fourth major at the 2014 US PGA Championship, the Northern Irishman has often been chasing essentially lost causes. There have been rounds which have amounted almost to self-sabotage, such as the closing 74 when he was genuinely in the hunt three years ago at Augusta, or the 75 with which he began last year. With coach Pete Cowen now on board, McIlroy is actively looking for remedies. There's no cure quite like winning.

DON'T IGNORE THE OBVIOUS, DJ CAN MASTER AUGUSTA AGAIN – Ben Spratt

Are we ignoring the obvious? Dustin Johnson is the Masters favourite and rightfully so. Since winning on his last trip to Augusta in November, DJ triumphed at the Saudi International on the European Tour but his PGA form has been mixed – just one top-10 finish from five tournaments. But no other golfer has had the benefit of returning to the scene of their triumph just five months later. Johnson did not just squeak to victory in November either; his 20-under 268 for the week broke Masters records and secured a five-stroke advantage. Do not bet against him mastering Augusta again.

IT'S NOW OR NEVER FOR VETERAN WESTWOOD – Pat Ridge

Westwood has never won a major, but he is in excellent form heading to Augusta. He just missed out to Bryson DeChambeau at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, losing by one shot – his best result on the PGA Tour since he tied for second at the 2016 Masters. He followed that up with a second-placed finish at The Players Championship, and it could be a case if not now, then will it ever happen for the 47-year-old? A strong performance will also do his Ryder Cup chances no harm, as he looks to match Nick Faldo’s record of 11 appearances for Europe.

NEW FATHER RAHM CAN JOIN NEW WINNERS' CLUB – Chris Myson

Collin Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau were first-time winners in golf's majors in 2020. Going further back, 12 of the last 19 winners had never before won a major, while seven of the last 10 champions at Augusta was triumphing at one of the big four events for a first time. This could be Jon Rahm's turn to continue those trends. While first-time winners have been prominent, nine of the last 10 Masters winners had landed a top-six major finish in the previous two years before breaking their duck. Rahm, who recently became a father for the first time, came in a tie for third at the 2019 U.S. Open and has three straight top-10 finishes to his name at Augusta. He has recent form too. In seven events in 2021, Rahm has five top-10s and is yet to miss a cut.

Related items

  • 'We've all been there as champions' - Woods empathises with McIlroy after U.S. Open heartbreak 'We've all been there as champions' - Woods empathises with McIlroy after U.S. Open heartbreak

    Tiger Woods revealed he sent a message of support to Rory McIlroy following the Northern Irishman's heartbreak at the U.S. Open.

    McIlroy suffered a remarkable collapse at Pinehurst, where he scored bogeys on three of his final four holes to hand victory to Bryson DeChambeau.

    It meant the 35-year-old's wait for a major title goes on, having last triumphed at the PGA Championship in 2014.

    Spanish tennis great Rafael Nadal and NBA legend Michael Jordan both reached out to McIlroy, who finished tied-fourth on his return to action at last week's Scottish Open, in the aftermath of that disappointment.

    And addressing reporters at a press conference ahead of this week's Open Championship at Royal Troon, Wood revealed he followed suit.

    "I just sent him a nice text. That was it," the 15-time major winner said. "I waited a week before I sent it. I wanted to let it calm down, as I know he was being besieged by a lot of different things going on.

    "It basically went, as you know, I'm your friend. I know this is a difficult moment. We've all been there as champions. We all lose. 

    "Unfortunately it happened, and the raw emotion of it, it's going to be there for, I'm sure, some time. The faster he's able to get back on a horse and get back into contention, like he did last week, the better it is for him.

    "There's a lot of times I felt discomfort, absolutely. Nervous, shaky, uncomfortable, all of it. I've missed plenty of putts. I've missed plenty of shots. 

    "Just like [Michael] Jordan, when they said how many shots have you taken? You see all the game-winning shots, but he's also missed a ton of game-winning shots, too. 

    "The thing is you still take the game-winning shot, and I still want the last putt."

    Woods also spoke of his decision to decline the Team USA captaincy for next year's Ryder Cup, with the role ultimately going to Keegan Bradley.

    "The decision was very difficult for me to make," he added. "My time has been so loaded with the tour and what we're trying to accomplish - I'm on so many different sub-committees. It takes so much time.

    "I just didn't feel like I could do the job properly. I couldn't devote the time. I barely have enough time to do what I'm doing now.

    "TGL starts next year, as well as the Ryder [Cup]. You add all that together, along with our negotiations with the PIF - all concurrently going along at the same time - there's only so many hours in the day.

    "I don't think I would be doing the captaincy, or the players and Team USA justice if I was captain. Keegan is going to be a great leader. He is very passionate about what he does and the event."

  • The Open: DeChambeau targeting Royal Troon success to cap best major season The Open: DeChambeau targeting Royal Troon success to cap best major season

    Bryson DeChambeau says winning the 2024 U.S. Open proves he can win more majors as he prepares for The Open Championship.

    The American profited from Rory McIlroy's late collapse at Pinehurst, snatching the victory by a single stroke.

    It was his second major win, having also won the U.S. Open in 2020, while he also finished as a runner-up at the PGA Championship and in the top 10 at The Masters this year.

    However, DeChambeau has only finished inside the top 30 once in six tries at The Open - in 2022 - though he is aiming to change that at Royal Troon this week, drawing confidence from his recent success.

    "2020 [U.S. Open] was a bit of me showing that I could do it," DeChambeau said. "It's always difficult to get that first major win.

    "The second one [2024] was more about cementing my own comfort levels of knowing I can do it again and again. That's really cool.

    "I can give myself more runs at majors... I've obviously played well at a lot of them this year."

    DeChambeau finished tied in 60th place at The Open last year, his worst finish at the major.

    He boasts the strongest form going into the tournament and is confident he can maintain that to put him in the running for the trophy.

    "If I play well this week, I think I can give myself a good chance obviously," he added.

    "I'm very confident, but it all depends on if I'm striking it well. I can come in here with the most confidence, off of a major championship win, but really what matters if I can continue to drive the ball as well as I have and continue to strike my irons the way I know I can and putt like I can. If I do those things well, I'll give myself a good chance.

    "I know how to get the job done, it's just a matter of whether I'm as consistent as what I was at the U.S. Open."

  • The Open: Harman confident of title defence and expects less fan heckling at Royal Troon The Open: Harman confident of title defence and expects less fan heckling at Royal Troon

    Brian Harman is certain of his capabilities to defend The Open Championship trophy at Royal Troon, where the American expects crowd heckling to calm down after last year's incidents.

    Harman clinched a maiden major title last year at Royal Liverpool after coasting to a six-shot victory for his first PGA Tour triumph in six years.

    The world number 13 hopes to reunite with the famed Claret Jug in Scotland, though expects the course – and the spectators – to pose a different challenge to last year's success.

    Harman described the abuse as "unrepeatable", with many mocking his pre-shot routines and heckling in an all-round attempt to put off the soon-to-be champion.

    "It doesn't bother me," Harman told Monday's pre-tournament press conference when asked about the incidents at the 151st Open.

    "I'm ready to take whatever in my stride. I'm here to play the best golf that I possibly can. That's my main focus.

    "I've always loved the fans over here. I've spoken a bunch of times about how I find them the most knowledgeable fans of any that we play in front of.

    "I kind of chalk last year up as more of an anomaly than anything else."

    The 37-year-old finished tied for 21st in the Scottish Open, a warm-up event for the major at Royal Troon, but has three top-10 finishes in the PGA Tour in 2024.

    Having shared fifth place at The Sentry, second at the Players Championship and ninth in the Travelers Championship, Harman is in decent form.

    He is now looking to become the first player since Padraig Harrington in 2007 and 2008 to win back-to-back Open titles.

    "Anytime that you become a major champion it certainly elevates your status in the game, elevates the way that you're perceived in the game," Harman added.

    "I try to take all of that in my stride, but at the same time understand that the golf is the most important thing, and I've tried to improve my golf game and get it in a place where I can maybe contend in some more majors down the road.

    "My stats this year have been really good. My ball striking has been as good as it's ever been. The only thing I haven't done well this year is I haven't putted especially well. So I'm just kind of waiting for it all to line up correctly.

    "You can work and work and work. You just never know when that work is going to pay off. You never know when the peak is coming, when you're going to catch a little bit of momentum.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.