News & Opinion

Looking for a Masters favorite? Don’t short the long guys

Bryson DeChambeau
Bryson DeChambeau, who has been hitting 400-yard drives in practice, might reduce Augusta National to a pitch-and-putt exhibition in the Masters.

Bryson DeChambeau, the oddsmakers’ choice after he obliterated Winged Foot in the U.S. Open, might pummel Augusta National, but he still has to make putts, and he’s not the only guy built to win

If it’s almost November, this must be … Augusta?

Golf’s new normal continues to be abnormal. Playing the Masters in November gives a totally unintended meaning to CBS host Jim Nantz’s tagline, “A tradition unlike any other.”

At long last, the Masters is in sight. A clear favorite to win this Masters is not.

There is no King of the Hill as golf prepares to head to Augusta National for the Nov. 12-15 Masters. Forget the defending champion. He was unable to crack the top 70 at last weekend’s Zozo Championship, finishing 72nd in the 77-man field. Tiger Woods, who also was the defending Zozo champion, didn’t defend much, but he did beat Phil Mickelson, who was Mr. 76th.

What we’ve got for next month’s Masters preview is a “Jeopardy!” moment: I’ll take Potpourri for $200, Alex. Potpourri, parity … same difference.

The official Masters betting favorite at DraftKings was Bryson DeChambeau, listed at 8-1 odds. Rory McIlroy was 11-1; Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas were 12-1. Among other favorites, Zozo winner Patrick Cantlay was 25-1; and Patrick Reed and Woods were among a group at 28-1. Mickelson was 66-1.

Golf’s world order long since has permanently changed. For two decades-plus, it was Woods and Mickelson. They carried golf, and for casual fans, they were golf.

That was then; this is a new era. In 2019, Woods won the Masters for a fifth time, proving that almost anything can happen at Augusta.

But Woods is not the favorite. No one should be. We’ve got a bowl of potpourri instead.

Tiger Woods. Even Al Michaels would have trouble believing in this miracle. Woods ranks 224th in greens hit in regulation in 2019, 245th in strokes gained off the tee and 171st in strokes gained putting. He is a cumulative 21 over par on the PGA Tour in 2020, and that includes a 9-under performance at the Farmers Insurance Open in January. It may be apples and bowling balls, but DeChambeau is 123 under par for the calendar year.

Woods doesn’t look sharp or strong or capable of being consistent. His current form makes that 2019 Masters victory look very much like a miracle. But he’s Tiger Woods, the one player who never can be counted out.

Bryson DeChambeau. Still waiting for the nickname that sticks: The Mad Scientist, DeSlambeau, DeCham-BowFlex, The Incredible Bulk. He will be the Masters favorite by default but not without some reason. He came perilously close to winning the PGA. Remember eventual winner Collin Morikawa driving Harding Park’s par-4 16th green in the final round? DeSlambeau put his shot just off the fringe, pin-high, and made birdie. He used 3-wood.

He used Hulk-like strength to overpower Winged Foot and win the U.S. Open. His recent tweet of a launch-monitor reading showing that he carried a drive 400 yards sent a shiver through golf. We are fighting hysteria. How many greens will he drive at the new Augusta National Pitch & Putt? Will he shoot 24 under and win by 15? Will he get to 10 green jackets before Woods?

Well, DeChambeau was 29th and 38th in two previous Masters as a pro. While he is redefining the limits of long drives on the PGA Tour, don’t forget that former golf analyst Johnny Miller liked to refer to the Masters as the “Springtime Putting Championship” because of its fast and treacherous greens. Length isn’t everything in golf … but each player wishes he had it.

Dustin Johnson. When you’re ranked No. 1 in the world, shouldn’t you be the favorite at any major championship? Yes, but DeChambeau’s showing at Winged Foot turned our heads and made us forget how good Johnson looked en route to the FedEx Cup title, memories that now seem as ancient as Milli Vanilli and Al Gore’s lockbox. Out of sight, out of mind, and Johnson missed the Zozo after a positive COVID-19 test. He’s not the favorite because he doesn’t seem like the guy who can handle those greens. Neither did Vijay Singh or Sergio Garcia. You never know.

Patrick Cantlay. Great iron player, great putter. Sounds like a Masters champion. He was right there last year except for two late bogeys and that Woods fella. He may be a steal at 25-1 odds. But getting PGA Tour win No. 3 last week at the Zozo Championship almost 17 months after win No. 2 isn’t nearly enough momentum to call him a favorite. More Ws, please.

Rory McIlroy. You know the story. He needs a Masters to complete the career Grand Slam. Except he hasn’t won any major in six years and was seen snapping an iron in half at the Zozo. Pro: At least he cares enough to get angry. Con: His iron play is off enough to make him break a club.

Justin Thomas. This guy is an artist with a club, yet he has that weird, half-swing practice takeaway that makes it look as if he’s working on mechanics, a mixed message. His best golf is as good as or better than anyone’s. His putting has been average until Zozo, although everyone looked as if they were putting into funnels. Losing 54-hole leads doesn’t build confidence, for him or for us.

Brooks Koepka. Every pro is one injury away from not being a contender. Is his injured left knee the thing that derails Koepka, who was the man to beat in majors a year and a half ago? We’re waiting for his certain comeback … still waiting.

Jon Rahm. The Spaniard drives it fairly straight and putts it pretty great. What’s not to like? He seems like the perfect fit for Augusta. So did Ernie Els.

Xander Schauffele. He is the X-factor, with no apparent holes in his game. He gets into contention a lot while not necessarily winning a lot. You definitely want him on your Masters fantasy team, but do you bet him to win? Hmmm.

Patrick Reed. He performed short-game miracles for two days at the U.S. Open until hitting it in the rough caught up with him. Augusta National has no rough, just a slightly longer cut. His short game and putting are sharp. However, he hasn’t won since February. (Bonus points if you remembered it was the WGC event in Mexico.)

Tyrrell Hatton. This Brit is a first-teamer on the All Club-Tossing Squad. He has stretches of brilliance with his irons when he’s not kicking them around. Does he have the temperament to survive the back nine on Sunday at Augusta? That jury is out. (That’s the polite way of saying, Not likely.)

Collin Morikawa. The PGA Championship winner should be given consideration as a favorite, but he hasn’t backed it up with much: sixth in the 30-man Tour Championship field, a missed cut at the U.S. Open and 50th at the Zozo, among others, have lacked sizzle. The Masters ought to be right up the alley of a great iron player, however.

Lanto Griffin. Oops. How’d he get on this list?

Phil Mickelson. Serious nominations only, please. Yes, Mickelson is 2-for-2 in Champions Tour starts. Impressive. He somehow finished second at the St. Jude Invitational in August. Very impressive. His play elsewhere has been unimpressive, to be blunt. If there’s one course where he might put it together and play well at 50, Augusta is it.  What will Phil do next? Win a Masters? Probably not. Outdrive DeChambeau? Not a chance. 

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