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DeChambeau and Johnson Struggles Demonstrate Augusta’s Special Status

As will be recorded in the history books, the 2020 and 2021 Masters were held just 144 days apart. A long time in some respects, but fleeting when you consider the 2020 event ended the season for some players and the 2021 event heralded the beginning of a new one for others.

But the two tournaments couldn’t have been more different for some players. In the November Masters, Dustin Johnson “tamed Augusta”, sailing around the course over four days and posting a record-breaking score of 20 under par. A few months later, Johnson cut a forlorn figure and missed the cut. 

The performance by Johnson in the latest Masters does not say much about the talents or form of the world’s number one golfer. Rather it says more about Augusta itself. You might be able to “tame” Augusta National for a weekend, but the course will eventually bite back. Johnson will surely be among the favourites next year at the Masters. 

In MansionBet’s US Masters blog, James Mason posed a question: What makes the Masters so special? The writer referenced the history, the pomp and ceremony and, of course, the course itself. With regards to the latter, there is the enigmaticness of Augusta – a puzzling sense that what looks easy can be difficult, and what looks difficult can be made to look easy. 

Augusta can feel like a contradiction

There are many tough courses around the world – Carnoustie, Bethpage Black, the Palm Course in Malaysia – but few have the contradictions of Augusta. The 15th hole, Firethorn, for example, is both an eagle chance and a double bogey minefield – both of those were scored in almost equal amounts in the 2021 tournament. And that sense of contradiction gets to the heart of what makes Augusta so special. It stays the same but changes at the same time. The course can be incredibly inviting and simultaneously difficult, sometimes on the same hole; the same green. 

Bryson DeChambeau has been fairly consistent at the Masters. In his four years as a professional at the tournament, he has finished tied for 38th, T-29th, T-34th and T-46th. He hasn’t been able to tame the course – far from it – despite grabbing the headlines for his revolutionary tactics over the last year. DeChambeau perfectly exemplifies the challenges of Augusta, the risk versus reward. In the November 2020 tournament, he hit 18 birdies and an eagle, but he dropped 18 shots elsewhere for a final score of two under. Risk and reward. 

Players rewarded for iron play

De Chambeau’s problem, as with so many others, is not getting the ball from tee to fairway, but mastering Augusta’s greens. Phil Mickelson calls them “the golf course’s only defense”. If the greens play firm, it suits the best iron players. Justin Spieth, Will Zalatoris, Corey Conners and John Rahm are considered in the top 10 iron players this year, and all four finished in the top 10 in the 2021 Masters. 

Augusta National. Both photos provided by I.S.F Digital Ltd

So what, then, do we say about the 2021 winner Hideki Matsuyama? Not only is he not considered among the very best players in the approach to the green – although he remains very good – but he also arrived at Augusta in relatively poor form. He had not finished in the top 10 in 11 consecutive tournaments before winning the 2021 Masters. His last win on the PGA Tour was August 2017. And yet, he donned the Green Jacket, and it felt right to observers. He changed his putter before the tournament, which clearly aided him, but there was something else in the air. That’s the magic of enigmatic Augusta.