Tough greens are back: What to watch at the 85th Masters Tournament


The Masters is back just five months after its previous iteration, this time with limited fans.

By the numbers: The field comprises 88 golfers, including six first-timers and 18 past winners.

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Here are the five favorites, via DraftKings (pictured above):

Storylines:

  • Johnson set a Masters record (-20) last year. With a win this weekend, he’d become just the fourth repeat champion (Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods).

  • Spieth is coming off his first win in nearly four years and has one of the best Masters track records of anyone in the field. Gotta love him.

  • Rory McIlroy hasn’t won a major since 2014, but a Masters win would make him the sixth golfer with a career Grand Slam (Nicklaus, Woods, Gary Player, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen).

  • Brooks Koepka is less than a month removed from surgery to repair a dislocated kneecap. Most believed that would require at least a six-month recovery, but he tees off this afternoon.

November’s fall foliage and cool, damp weather gave Augusta a brand-new feel. But now that spring has bloomed, the course is back to looking like itself.

Why it matters: Hidden in that beauty is a daunting reality for golfers: After a uniquely dry month, Augusta is expected to play tougher than it has in over a decade.

  • Johnson’s record 20-under par in November was aided by slow greens, a byproduct of October seeing more than double its average rainfall.

  • But last month, nearby Atlanta saw 30% less rain than average, meaning the whole course should be lightning fast.

The state of play: All that rain in the fall neutralized Augusta’s best defense: its firm, undulating greens. But now they’re back — and perhaps deadlier than ever.

  • “You can’t hit that shot in April,” Paul Casey said of an approach he hit in November right at the flag stick. “That shot in April would have one-hopped over into the patrons.”

  • “This week’s going to be a huge premium on accuracy, on landing your golf ball on your numbers and being precise with your iron play,” said McIlroy.

  • “If it stays dry, it’ll be as difficult as the course has played in a long, long time, and that’s what I think we need to have,” added 61-year-old Fred Couples.

📚 Go deeper: This Masters is about a champion who is missing and what is ever-so-slowly returning (ESPN)

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