AUGUSTA, Georgia — The 85th playing of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club returns to its traditional spot in April this week.
There will be limited patrons once again because of the coronavirus pandemic, and no Tiger Woods as the five-time Masters champion recovers from serious injuries suffered in a car wreck in February.
Still, it will feel like a more traditional Masters than the one played in November, which was won by Dustin Johnson in a rout.
Who are the favorites to win a green jacket this week? Who are the dark horses? Who has no shot?
Tier I: The guys who can win
Here are the legitimate contenders. They have the games, guts and nerves to handle four pressure-packed rounds on one of the most treacherous golf courses in the world.
The reigning Masters champion set the 72-hole scoring record at 20 under while winning by 5 strokes in November. He’ll attempt to become the first back-to-back winner since Tiger Woods in 2001-02.
Thomas was tied for the 36-hole lead in November and has been under par in each of his previous seven rounds at Augusta National. Another promising trend: His finish has improved in each of his five Masters starts, including a solo fourth last year.
The 27-year-old has been close, but just short, since winning the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January 2019. He has finished runner-up eight times since then, including a tie for second at the 2019 Masters, in which he led the field with 25 birdies.
With three straight top-10s at Augusta National, the 26-year-old from Spain is among the favorites. His wife, Kelley, gave birth to their first child Saturday, so Rahm will be in the field. He had warned that he would be ready to bolt for home if she had gone into labor.
Love him or hate him, the 2018 Masters champion is probably going to be in contention to win a second green jacket. He tied for 10th in November and won the Farmers Insurance Open in January. Reed has carded scores in the 60s in half of his previous 12 rounds at Augusta National.
The 2015 Masters champion has finally found his game and confidence again, winning the Valero Texas Open this past weekend, after struggling for much of the previous three seasons. He has finished tied for 15th or better in six of his previous seven tour starts, including four top-5s. Even during his struggles, Augusta National was Spieth’s happy place; he tied for second in 2016 and was solo third in 2018.
The UCLA graduate, if you forgot, briefly held the Sunday lead on the second nine before fading to a tie for ninth behind Woods in 2019. He finished tied for 17th in November after a not-so-great weekend. He won the Zozo Championship in October and was playing great golf until a missed cut at the Players Championship.
After suggesting that he intended to play Augusta National as a par-67 course, Brawny Bryson finished tied for 34th in November. He led the field in driving distance at 324.4 yards but made far too many mistakes. He hasn’t finished better than a tie for 21st in four starts here. If he straightens out the driver and continues his hot putting, he should perform better.
McIlroy returns to Augusta National a decade after he squandered a 4-shot lead in the final round — and he’s still searching for a green jacket to complete the career Grand Slam. He finished in the top 10 in six of his previous seven Masters starts. The former World No. 1 hasn’t won on tour in more than 17 months. He recently turned to swing coach Pete Cowen to help turn things around.
Simpson isn’t one of the longest hitters on tour, but he more than makes up for it with outstanding iron play and putting. He was a factor in each of the prior two Masters, finishing tied for 10th in November and tied for fifth in 2019.
In November, the Australian became the first player in the 84-year history of the Masters to post four rounds in the 60s. He still finished 5 shots behind DJ. Smith has two top-5s in four starts at Augusta National — and a glorious mullet to boot.
Few players have been as consistent on golf’s biggest stages as Finau, who has seven top-10s in majors in the past three years. Unfortunately, few players have less to show for it than Finau, who hasn’t won on tour in more than five years. He has two top-10s in three starts at Augusta National.
The 24-year-old has quickly become the most accomplished player among the sport’s young stars, already winning four times since turning pro in 2019, including the 2020 PGA Championship. He added a victory at the WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession in February, becoming the only player other than Woods to win a major and a WGC event before turning 25. He tied for 44th in his first Masters start in November.
The 23-year-old from South Korea had quite the debut in November, using three rounds in the 60s to finish in a tie for second at 15 under. It was the best finish by an Asian player at the Masters. He had nine top-25 finishes in his first 18 starts this season.
In his first Masters start last year, Ancer opened with three straight rounds in the 60s to play with Johnson in the final group on Sunday. He shot 76 and finished tied for 13th. He had nine top-25s in his first 14 starts this season.
At 47, Westwood has enjoyed a resurgence with back-to-back runner-up finishes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship in March. He is a two-time runner-up at the Masters, in 2010 and 2016, and is still searching for that first elusive major championship.
Like Westwood, Casey is playing some of his best golf in his 40s while still trying to end a long major championship drought. Casey, 43, finished in the top 15 in four of his prior six starts at Augusta National.
The first Norwegian to compete in the Masters, Hovland was the low amateur in 2019, when he had three rounds under par to finish 3 under. This will be his first appearance as a pro. He’s already won twice on tour, including the Mayakoba Golf Classic in December, and tied for runner-up at the WGC-Workday Championship. The sky’s the limit for the former Oklahoma State standout.
The Englishman’s lone tour victory came at the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational. He hasn’t finished better than a tie for 44th in four Masters appearances, but the game and potential are there for the 29-year-old to make some noise — if he can improve his work around the greens.
Even though he was the hottest player after the restart last year, Berger was a victim of circumstance and didn’t make the Masters field in November. He’s making his fourth start at Augusta National — his best finish was a tie for 10th in 2016. He won at Pebble Beach in February and is still playing well.
Watson became the second fastest to win multiple green jackets by doing it in just five career starts. He’ll have to hit more fairways and improve his putting to get a third.
The four-time major winner underwent surgery March 16 to repair a dislocated right kneecap and ligament damage. It was the latest setback for Koepka, who struggled with a left knee injury and hip ailment in recent years. He finished tied for seventh at Augusta National in November, after finishing tied for second behind Woods in 2019.
Tier II: If everything goes right
Here are the dark horse candidates to slip on a green jacket. The list features past champions and runners-up whose games have been works in progress so far this season. Will it all come together at Augusta?
The 2013 Masters champion has only one top-10 in his previous seven Masters starts and just one top-10 in 10 tour events this season.
The Japanese golfer has four top-15 finishes in nine starts at Augusta National, including a tie for 13th last year.
Day’s form hasn’t been great this season, with only two top-10s in 14 tour starts. But he has a strong track record at Augusta, with three top-five finishes in 10 starts, including a tie for fifth in 2019.
The South African outperforming expectations at the Masters is about as predictable as Augusta National’s azaleas having colorful blooms. He has six top-25s in 12 starts at the Masters, including runner-up in 2012.
The 24-year-old Texan is coming on fast with three top-10s in his past six tour starts; he was runner-up at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. He tied for 19th at the Masters last year.
Last year, the South African grabbed a share of the opening-round lead with a 65 and finished tied for fifth at 11 under. He had missed five of seven cuts since then until tying for ninth at the WGC Match Play.
The 2017 Masters champion missed the tournament last year after testing positive for COVID-19. He missed the cut twice after winning a green jacket in his 19th start at Augusta National.
The 26-year-old Englishman has won six times on the European Tour, but he is still seeking his first win on American soil. His best finish at the Masters was a tie for seventh in 2016.
The 30-year-old Englishman is so committed to finally winning on tour that he’s cutting his hair before his fifth Masters start. Of course, we’re kidding.
The two-time Masters runner-up hasn’t played competitively since withdrawing from the Arnold Palmer Invitational in early March with back spasms.
In November, the Australian tied the Masters record by playing the par-5s in 15 under, thanks to three eagles, including two on Sunday. He finished tied for 13th at 8 under.
In his first Masters appearance, which he dedicated to his late grandfather, Mack “Pops” Champ, he finished tied for 19th. His foundation helped establish scholarships for two Black golfers at Prairie View A&M, an HBCU in Texas, which his grandfather wanted to attend.
The former actuarial math major at Kent State didn’t have to worry about uncertainties after his 10th-place finish in 2020 earned a return trip to the Masters.
Wolff’s game hasn’t been great since he missed the cut at the Masters in November. He ranks sixth in driving distance (314.6 yards) and 205th in driving accuracy (50.2% of fairways).
The 2019 Open Championship winner is still in possession of the Claret Jug after last year’s tournament was canceled because of COVID-19. His best finish in five Masters appearances was a tie for 25th in November.
Niemann, 22, is making his first Masters start as a pro after missing last year’s tournament because of a positive COVID-19 test. He missed the cut in 2018, when he was the Latin America amateur champion and No. 1 amateur in the world.
He captured his first tour victory since 2018 at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play last month and is looking to fare better at the Masters. He has made four of six cuts at the Masters, including a tie for 17th in 2016.
Pan, from Taiwan, had an impressive Masters debut last year, shooting 66 on Friday and 68 on Sunday to finish in a tie for seventh at 10 under.
It’s hard to believe that it has been nearly a quarter-century since Kuchar smiled his way to a top-25 finish as an amateur in 1998. He has had four top-10s since, the most recent a tie for fourth in 2017.
Na probably wishes he’d made a few putts last year. In the first round, he became the first player since 2009 to hit every green in regulation. But he needed 39 putts and finished 1-over 73, becoming the first player in at least 30 years to hit every green and shoot over par.
The 45-year-old showed he still has plenty in the tank with a 6 and 5 trouncing of McIlroy at the WGC-Match Play. He has played consistently well at Augusta National, where he has nine top-25 finishes in 15 starts.
After finishing a surprising eighth at the Tour Championship last year, the Colombian golfer had two rounds in the 60s to finish tied for 19th at 6 under at the 2020 Masters.
The Georgia native was a late addition to the field after he cracked the top 50 in the world rankings by tying for fifth at the WGC Match Play. During the run, he had a stretch of eight straight birdies. He also tied for third at the Players Championship.
The former Georgia star is making his third Masters appearance and first since 2016. His previous best finish at Augusta National was a tie for 42nd.
The 32-year-old won the 2019 Houston Open and missed the cut in his lone Masters appearance in 2020.
Kokrak’s form has been good as of late, with three top-10s in a four-start stretch after winning the CJ Cup in October. He missed the cut in his first Masters start last year.
Last year, an erratic driver caused him to miss the cut for the first time in five starts at the Masters. Kisner grew up in nearby Aiken, South Carolina; his best finish was a tie for 21st in 2019.
After a five-year absence, Todd was back at the Masters in 2020 and missed the cut. He won twice in 2019 to complete one of the better comeback stories in tour history.
The 2019 U.S. Open champion hasn’t had much success at the Masters, where his best finish is a tie for 24th in 2011. He missed the cut in four of his previous eight starts.
At 36, the 2011 Masters champion is still playing decent golf. He had three eagles at the Masters in November, helping him finish in a tie for 25th.
The 30-year-old won the Genesis Invitational in February for his second tour victory. He missed the cut in his only Masters appearance in February. Ask him about your golf swing on Twitter.
Five years ago, he stunned the golf world by winning the Masters, his lone PGA tour victory. The former No. 1 amateur in the world has won seven times on the European Tour.
Tier III: Hey, miracles happen
They are the long shots. This tier includes a handful of aging former champions and some first-timers.
Si Woo Kim
Tier IV: Happy to make the cut
They aren’t expected to be among the contenders unless something magical happens. Some know-it-all probably said the same things about Danny Willett, Charl Schwartzel and Trevor Immelman before they unexpectedly won, too.
Tier V: Past champions
They’re here only because they own green jackets and earned the right to come back and play, but their days of competing are in the rearview mirror.
Jose Maria Olazabal
Tier VI: Amateurs
They’re the new kids on the block and the most talented (and most fortunate) amateur players in the world. They’re trying to do what Ryan Moore (tied for 13th in 2005), Hideki Matsuyama (27th in 2011) and Bryson DeChambeau (21st in 2016) did before turning pro.
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