Five months after a Masters like no other, a more usual edition comes full of the usual pastel shades and the sound of a game is slowly regaining its voice.
In the sleepy southern city, we’re probably halfway to where we were last November, back to the usual April sound, where the air is filled with constant chatter about golf and the endless promise of another majors season.
On the failing side, losing Tiger Woods always feels like a particularly heavy blow when the Masters come, and there are still many thousands of patrons who are also missing.
Dustin Johnson offers to successfully defend his green jacket after a victory last year
The world’s number 1 dominated the field last November, winning five strokes at Augusta National
Bryson DeChambeau is another American among the big favorites at the Masters this week
There are no grandstands to generate the signature roar that scares the faint of heart on Sunday afternoon. The great old oak in front of the clubhouse, the usual gathering point for all the great and good at golf, stands like a lonely sentinel.
But the spectral silence that made the November Masters such an eerie experience has thankfully disappeared, and there is a spectacular abundance of azaleas and dogwoods in all the quintessential haunts.
The course plays firm and fast, not to punish Bryson DeChambeau, but because it is supposed to be at this time of year.
“ It was always Bobby Jones’ intention to make this a domestic link in terms of how the track plays, but this may be the first time since 2013 that nature has allowed us to do it this way, ” explains Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley explains. .
As always, the first tee on Thursday will hum in anticipation. How fascinating that Lee Westwood, at the age of 47, is playing as a draw next to defending champion Dustin Johnson.
Is there anyone who isn’t intrigued by where DeChambeau will aim when he gets there shortly after lunch?
In echoes of Masters from long ago, the place has once again become an American stronghold. The last 11 majors held in the United States have been won by American golfers, a dominance not seen since the days before 1980, when Seve Ballesteros stormed the gates and led the European conquest.
Perhaps it will turn out to be a good omen that this year is filled with birthdays from the past when international players claimed the Green Jacket.
For example, it has been 30 years since Ian Woosnam faced the public and Tom Watson to win; 25 years since Greg Norman and Sir Nick Faldo fought their last all-ages round; a decade since Charl Schwartzel took advantage of the collapse of Rory McIlroy’s last lap.
Most relevant of all, it has been 60 years since Gary Player became the first overseas champion.
Rory McIlroy enters the Masters with little expectation after struggling to find his form
Who is the Gary Player of Seve for the time being, the global ambassador the game needs and the centerpiece to counteract the great American firepower?
McIlroy was that man for a while until he lost his wizardry. The hope remains that he can rediscover it under the wise tutelage of Pete Cowen, but you definitely need a vivid imagination or glasses of the azalea-colored variety to believe it will make it to this event.
Cowen recently lightly suggested that another of his charges, Ian Poulter, is more likely to win this week. It’s a sensible, low-key strategy adopted by McIlroy himself at his Tuesday press conference, allowing himself something of a free hit rather than being burdened as usual with all thoughts of glory. It will be interesting to see if he can thrive by lowering the expectation.
Jon Rahm? There are times when he looked a worthy heir to the likes of Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal as Europe’s next great golfer. Now, at the age of 26, the new dad has reached that fascinating age when players of his caliber claim their first major and win several more, or simply fall short and pile up devastating scars. It is true that golfers can have wonderfully long careers, but time seems to pass very quickly without a major to your name.
The 10-man English contingent is full of such fine players who never made the final jump. It has become a recurring theme among majors to study names like Westwood, Poulter, Paul Casey and Justin Rose and wonder how they have one major between them. It is hardly plausible that English golfers have won only two majors in the past 25 years.
Now time moves on if Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick will not suffer the same fate.
Farther on, traditional golf strongholds like South Africa and Australia have become barren wastelands. No player from either country has won a major since Jason Day claimed the 2015 US PGA Championship.
Like the Europeans, they have struggled to cope with this golden age of American golf at the highest levels of the game, filled with thrillingly destructive hitters like Johnson and DeChambeau, great iron players like Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas, and great putters like Patrick Reed and Brooks. Koepka.
The return of the best putter of them all in Jordan Spieth, and on his favorite track, adds another chord to the American bow. When you look at the ages of these players, and the fact that there is still a strong group waiting in the wings, it is hard to see that this is another week where a player from the host country ends up dressed in green.
Spaniard Jon Rahm remains one of Europe’s greatest hopes at the Masters this week