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AUGUSTA, Ga. — The date wasn’t the only thing different about the 2020 Masters, which took place in November instead of its traditional April slot because of COVID-19 restrictions.
The golf course was different than it usually is in April. Augusta National was defenseless, softer and more receptive to shots.
Thus, the result was Dustin Johnson’s tournament-record winning score of 20-under, a gaudy number usually reserved for the birdie-festival tournaments on the PGA Tour, and something none of the powers that be want to see for any Masters.
The players emerging from three days of practice rounds before Thursday’s opening round of the 2021 Masters have described the golf course as wildly different from the one they played in November.
“It’s going to be pretty spicy,’’ Kevin Kisner said. “It’s a lot different than November. The greens are pure. They’re as fast and as firm as I’ve seen them in a long time.’’
Kisner, a native of nearby Aiken, S.C., predicted the winning score this week will be around 10- or 12-under.
“I think you’ll see some more interesting shots than in November,’’ Kisner said.
“If it stays dry, it’ll be as difficult as the course has played in a long, long time, and that’s what I think we need to have,’’ Fred Couples, who is playing in his 36th Masters, said.
“With firm greens, this golf course needs to be respected, and I think it’s been a long time since it’s had to be respected,’’ three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson, who is playing for the 29th time, said. “I would say for the last decade, the greens here are in the top 25 percent of softest we play on Tour, and the golf course’s only defense is the greens. So, when the greens are firm, the precision, the course management, the angles, the leave where the ball is left, all of this stuff becomes incredibly important in your ability to play this course effectively.
“When the greens are soft, it’s irrelevant because you can fly the ball over all the trouble. Angles don’t matter. The guys are so precise in their ability to fly the golf ball the correct yardage with every club that if you have soft receptive greens, it’s like having a military and then not giving them any weapons. It’s defenseless.
“So, with firm greens, that’s the defense. There’s no U.S. Open rough here. There are no tight fairways. The defense is the greens. When the greens are firm, those small sections are very hard to hit and you’ve got to really strategize on where you leave it. If it’s firm, I think it’s going to be a real test, and major championships should challenge and test the best players.’’
Patrick Cantlay said he has “kind of set aside’’ the November Masters as an anomaly.
“I thought it was fantastic that we were able to just get the event in that year, and I think Dustin’s 20-under record will be pretty safe for many years to come,’’ Cantlay said. “This week, I expect it to get really firm and fast, and I think that’s when this golf course shines.’’
Adam Scott, the 2013 winner, was taken aback by how fiery the course was, after he played a practice round Monday.
“Usually in the past when it’s been good weather, you’re kind of lulled into a false sense of security Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday around here, and then they cut your legs out from under you on Thursday and you’re scared every chip shot and downhill putts are running to the edge of the green,’’ Scott said. “That’s what was happening out there [in the practice rounds]. If that’s a sign of things to come, we’ve got to buckle up for this week.’’
Scott said he doesn’t remember the course playing this fast since 2007, when Zach Johnson won with his brilliant short-game display.
“It’s nice to see the course like this,’’ Abraham Ancer said. “I’m sure the Augusta National crew didn’t like the low scores [in November], so it shows right away where it’s going to be this week, which is going to be fun.’’
Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley on Wednesday insisted, “We don’t have any prescribed score.’’
“The fact that Dustin was 20-under was a combination of his extraordinary play that at the same time, admittedly, the golf course was soft … so it was ready to be played very well with a lot of red numbers,’’ Ridley went on. “This is probably the first year probably going back to [when] Adam Scott [won] in 2013 when we actually came into the week with the golf course playing firm and fast as it is right now. Our intention would be to maintain that throughout the week. I think we have the golf course where we want it.’’
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