It may be close to seven months later than expected, but the 2020 Masters Tournament is finally upon us. There will be differences from the normal April slot but not enough to make a significant difference where we have to handicap this tournament another way. (By the way, don't miss my 5-Pack of Masters picks -- it's available right now.) The cutline has been lowered from top 70 and ties, to top 50 and ties which is due to the amount of daylight available. Weather will play a factor as opposed to other years but it should not be significant. Temperatures will be cooler but only about 10 degrees less on average and there is rain in the forecast which could benefit the bombers if conditions become soggy. Augusta National measures 7,475 yards for a par 72, but with rain expected at times throughout the week, it will probably play longer than that.
While crushing the ball off the tee might benefit some, ball striking is now a big factor as hitting greens in the right spots can lead to easier putts. Only three times in the last 16 years has the winner finished outside the top 26 in driving accuracy, and only twice have they finished out of the top 10 in greens in regulation. Basically, it is a second shot course which means the approaches are important just to get into position. Hitting an approach shot to the wrong place in some cases means not even being able to go after the pin, whether it be a chip shot or putt. That brings big scores into play so the thought process of shots is just as important as the physical part of the game.
Americans dominated here early on with Gary Player being the only non-American to win through the first 43 years and he actually did it three times. Since then, it has been up for grabs as over the last 40 years, Americans have won the green jacket 21 times (nearly half of those by just three players) with the rest of the world not far behind with 19 wins. Past history plays a big part as you will see names near the top that you rarely see in other events as successful players here are usually successful a few times. Tiger Woods looks to become the first golfer in history to win the Masters in back-to-back years twice.
The most shocking fact is that the European contingent has struggled at Augusta. Granted, it is a totally different experience but with the huge amount of world class players, a European had not won since 1999 (Jose Maria Olazabal) until when Danny Willett was the surprising winner in 2016 and then Sergio Garcia followed that up with a win in 2017. In total, the green jacket has been given to only eight European players (Nick Faldo 3 times, Jose Maria Olazabal 2 times, Seve Ballesteros 2 times, Bernhard Langer 2 times, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle, Willett and Garcia).
How do first time participants fare at Augusta? Not very well as a Masters rookie has not won here since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. There have been numerous close calls along the way but experience, even if it is just a little, has prevailed. Twenty-six participants will be playing the Masters for the first time, including world No. 4 Colin Morikawa and reigning PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year Scottie Scheffler.
Three key metrics come into play at Augusta National. Strokes Gained: Total is a huge one considering players with the best all around game are rewarded. Over the last 36 rounds, the top five in this field are Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas and this list should come as no surprise. Next is Strokes Gained: Approach as mentioned before, hitting the right spots is massive. Over the last 36 rounds, the top five in this field are Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Matthew Wolff, Henrik Stenson and Chez Reavie. It should be noted that DeChambeau is No. 71 out of the 93 players in the field.
The third important metric is Strokes Gained: Putting on fast bentgrass. Because of the date change, the bentgrass greens went through their hot summer and that type of strain heats up and comes under stress which makes for a slicker surface. Even with rain in the forecast, greens are projected to still run at a 13. Over the last 36 rounds, the top five in this field are Andrew Putnam, Brendon Todd, Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker and Jordan Spieth.
Dustin Johnson +900
Johnson led the field in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee last week in Houston and was top 15 in putting. Since 2015 in four Masters starts, he has finished sixth, fourth, tenth and second.
Justin Thomas +1,300
Thomas has improved in every trip he has made here, going from T39 to T22, T17 and T12 in his next three. He has two runner-ups in his last four starts as well as an eighth and a tenth.
Xander Schauffele +1,600
Schauffele steps up on the big stage as has finished in the top-10 in six of the last 10 majors that he has played. He has a top 25 in 11 straight starts including two runner-ups in his last four.
Brooks Koepka +1,700
Koepka is back from his latest injury and he looked good in his first start back, placing fifth at the Houston Open. Improved each of four trips here, 33rd to 21st to 11th to second.
Jason Day +3,000
Day has made eight of nine cuts at Augusta including three top fives. Injuries are always a concern but he seems to be healthy at the moment. He finished seventh at Houston last week.
Tony Finau +3,300
Finau will be a popular pick, both in the betting markets and DFS, and rightfully so with five tops tens in his last 10 starts. But he has just one career win. Two tops tens in two Masters starts.
Bubba Watson +3,300
Watson comes in playing at a high level with four top 25s in his last five starts including a seventh and fourth in his last two. He is a two time champ here and has a 12th and fifth in his last two.