It’s Masters week in an unfamiliar November slot and, while the azaleas will not be in bloom this time of year at Augusta National, there’s still a real buzz surrounding one of the world’s most celebrated sports events.
ParGolf‘s Jonathan Ponniah chatted with the Fox Sports Masters commentary team comprising two-time PGA Tour winner Daniel Chopra and 2009 Maybank Malaysian Open champion Anthony Kang, along with renowned sports presenter Jason de la Peña, to get their views on the 84th edition of the storied Major. Daniel actually competed in the 2008 Masters and shares his experience playing the lush fairways and slick greens of Augusta National.
It’s a November fall slot for the Masters for the first time, with colder temperatures and different predominant wind directions compared to April … how much will that change the way Augusta National plays?
Anthony Kang (AK): As far as the weather goes, looking at the weather report, it could have been fairly nasty this time of year. Last year, particularly on November 12th, the overnight low was 2°C – near freezing temperatures. But this year, it looks like it’s fairly nice weather, pretty comparable to what they had in April. So as far as temps go, I’d say it wouldn’t be too different.
The only thing is wind … wind strength, wind direction … and also looking at the prediction of the weather forecast, it’s going to come from different directions – as far as I understand it – every single day, so these aren’t conditions that players have not seen before. It’s forecasted to be rainy as well, so it’s just going to come down – in my opinion – to those rainy, wet Masters, the softer golf course.
Not having patrons, sure, it’s a little bit different … you don’t hear the roars, but when the tournament gets started, all the internal pressure is going to come from within the players trying to win the tournament. So in that aspect, once you get the ball rolling, I don’t think it’s going to affect the Masters too much.
Daniel Chopra (DC): Well the main difference that I think they’re going to see is in the grass – it’s very green lush grass you see in April, it’s going to look very similar right now. But it’s a grass that most golfers in Asia are not familiar with … it’s a Rye Kentucky Bluegrass overseed, which they lay on top of the Bermuda which goes dormant in the wintertime. That’s what you see, and it’s very predominant. All the Bermuda is extremely dormant in April, it’s not grown whatsoever the entire winter and the overseed would have taken over completely by April.
In November, since they just overseeded at the end of September, it has come in so the grass will look as green as possible. But with the warmer temps that we’ve had, Bermuda grass is still very much prevalent; it has not really gone dormant, so you’ll actually have better lies … the ball will sit up more in the fairways, the golf course will be softer, the ball won’t bounce and roll as much just because of the thicker grass.
The big issue will be around the greens as well – with the thicker blade of grass, some of the shots you’ll see around the green might be a little different from what you’d have seen in other normal years.
The biggest issue this week obviously is the length of the golf course with how soft it’s going to be with the rain, and they’re expecting ice, which is falling right now and for the next couple of days as well.
Jason de la Peña (JDLP): Anthony and Daniel have been to Augusta, and obviously, I have watched it and covered it many years. The big change for me, given that it’s the only golf tournament really that’s played in the same venue, and while the players have been playing without crowds and galleries for the last few months, maybe it’s going to be more weird for us covering the tournament and watching it as well.
And of course, no beautiful pink azaleas … they turn brown or they die during the winters, so there’s going to be no pinks down the fairways and around the greens. But I think for us, given that is Augusta, it is the same venue year in year out since 1934, no galleries there is going to seem more weird than what we’d witnessed over the last few months with tournaments around the world. And like the guys mentioned, it’s not going to affect the players, but certainly for us the viewers, it’s going to be a little bit weird.
Who’s your pick for the Green Jacket this year and what’s your prediction of the winning score?
DC: The Masters is probably the easiest of all the four Majors to pick a winner – or at least you can get a lot closer, anyway. Just considering the nature of the golf course and the reduced field of 93 players, you can pretty much eliminate all the first-time players in the field. There might be a couple that might still have a chance.
I’d have to go with somebody that’s a very long hitter, somebody that has played the tournament and the course numerous times, so I wouldn’t go really much past a guy like Dustin Johnson (DJ) or Rory McIlroy. If I had to pick one of those two, just going on recent form, I’d pick DJ.
The winning score, I think, will probably be a little bit lower, just because of the fact that you’re going to get better lies, the fairways will be a bit slower … the ball is not going to roll off the green that far, it’s going to sit up a little bit more around the greens. So I’m going to say in the region of 14-under – provided there’s no massive amounts of wind, no big squalls or whatever, and just light drizzle at worst.
JDLP: I’m hedging my bets – I’ve written down (Bryson) DeChambeau, Bubba (Watson) has been playing well, he’s won two Green Jackets before.
I’ll give you a few names. (Jon) Rahm skipping it in at 16 yesterday – that’s a video that’s going viral. What about Tony Finau, who was fifth last year, though he hasn’t had a great year.
Then there’s Tiger Woods, of course; the stats on Tiger are astounding – 13 top-six finishes since 1997, five wins of course, he’s the defending champion … he’s not in a great place, he missed the cut at Winged Foot, and he finished tied 72nd at the Zozo.
So I’m going to go with Jon Rahm. As for the score, well the conditions are going to be kinder, aren’t they, like Daniel said, so let’s go with minus-16.
AK: I was going with the exact line of reasoning as Daniel. You have to go top down over here at the Masters. Obviously DJ … that guy can play any golf course whether it’s long, whether it’s short. He’s been playing well, he’s been playing consistent, and he’s had this form since August, so he’s one of the favourites, I’d have picked him.
My next pick would be Jon Rahm, just because he’s near the top of the leaderboard week after week on a high percentage basis. He’s been on tour for four, five years … and he’s been near top-5 nearly 40 percent of the time. All that basically means is that he’s right there looking for those couple of putts, a couple more breaks.
But just to give you a different name, it’s going to be Rory McIlroy – and that is just because it’s Rory, and he hasn’t been winning lately and it’s just about time that he wins. And I think coming into this Masters – he has another Masters to play in five months’ time – so if he doesn’t get it done this time, he’s got one coming up really soon, and I think that will just kind of relax him a little bit. For that reason, I’m going to pick Rory. As for the score, I’m going with 12-under-par.
Tiger Woods is the defending champion but looking at his recent form and lack of competitive play, do you think he will be a factor this year?
DC: No. His clubhead speed is 3 to 4mph slower than it was a year ago. A couple of reasons for that – one might be physical, the other might be lack of confidence. It’s hard to go after it hard when you’re not very confident. And Augusta National is not the kind of course you come to and find confidence – either you have it or you don’t, and I don’t think he does. I just think it’ll be another week of struggles for Tiger.
AK: I think Tiger’s got a chance … he always has a chance at Augusta. His formula for winning the Masters is not much different. If you look at all his wins, he’s led the field in greens in regulation – last year as well. That’s what he needs to do, but that’s what he hasn’t been doing leading up to here.
And I think at the Zozo Championship, he wasn’t there to really win the tournament. He was there – from what I saw – to try and hit high draws. Whenever he had the chance, he was trying to hit high draws so that he could get that under practice … head into Augusta, and pull off that high draw on command. And if he does that, especially with his tee shots, and if his iron game kind of follows a little bit – which has been lacking – if his iron game is there, and Tiger knows the nuances of the course as far as where to put the ball in relation to the pin, then he has a chance.
I really hate to say it, because I believe Tiger is the greatest player, but he has to come with everything bottled up completely, he has to come in looking to nearly 100 percent to his potential to have a chance to win now.
JDLP: I did a show the other night and I just picked out a quote from Tiger. He’s saying, “The entire year has been different for all of us. My run up to Augusta is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced – that’s just the way it is. My game’s definitely better than it was at Winged Foot. I feel a little bit more prepared, a little bit better and hopefully that translates into playing the golf course.” I mean, there’s not a huge amount of confidence there, and given his form since June, you’d understand why.
Last year, before the final round, he had to get up at 4 or 5 in the morning. I remember the lights of the cars driving into Augusta and we were doing a ‘live’ here with Daniel and Collette. At 5 in the morning, you know, the cold weather, he’s not going to enjoy it. Tiger likes warm weather. So yeah, Tiger’s out. All his records are incredible, but he’ll do well to make the weekend.
Daniel, you played the Masters in 2008 and missed the cut by three shots after a second round 78. In retrospect, would you have done anything differently?
DC: I came into that week really struggling with my game. I guess the tension of my impending first Masters, I just got really tight, got really wound up … a lot of anxiety. I just wasn’t swinging well, my rhythm was out, I was very jumpy and quick, which was the mistake that I would make – my rhythm would get out, I would get very fast and quick, especially when I got very anxious. It was that way for the most part of the week.
The first round, I managed it fairly well, but then it caught up to me in the middle of that second nine. But … there’s nothing really I would do different other than try to make sure I worked on my rhythm a bit more before going into that week.
I think it has to do with playing your first Masters, especially somebody like myself, such an enthusiast of the history of the game, and especially of that golf course. I’ve watched every Masters that’s been played since it was televised in 1986. I felt I knew so much about it, which is a little bit of a detriment when you get there because you are then aware of all the good things that can happen as well as all the bad things that can happen. I just made too much of an occasion about it.
What I noticed when I went and played Augusta for the first time, because I’ve watched so many of the shots played into every single hole, the greatest shots ever, you have this amazing visual of how this shot is meant to be played. So you’ve seen all these really good shots, because they’re only really showing you the best players, the way they’re playing it while they’re potentially going to win the tournament.
So you’ve got this amazing visual but then when you get up there, you go, “wow this is actually a really hard shot, it’s not that easy.” So I’ve always said that Augusta National may be the most difficult ‘easy’ golf course in the world, because you’ve seen the possibilities to hit great shots to get the birdies and eagles, but when you stand there and actually have to hit that shot, and you realise how hard that shot is and how small the area you have to hit it into, it’s really tough.
Catch Daniel Chopra, Anthony Kang and Jason de la Peña co-hosting the 2020 Masters Tournament live from 13-16 November on FOX Sports.
[Astro Channel 815 (HD) and 835 (SD)]