AUGUSTA, Ga. — Someone will slip on one of Augusta National Golf Club’s green jackets on Sunday as the champion of a Masters tournament that the coronavirus pandemic delayed by seven months.
Dustin Johnson will enter the final round at 16 under par, giving him a commanding four-shot lead. But there is a far tighter competition just below him on the leaderboard. Abraham Ancer, Sungjae Im and Cameron Smith, all at 12 under par, are tied for second. Dylan Frittelli is behind them by a shot, just as Justin Thomas trails Frittelli by the same margin.
Augusta National officials expect that the tournament will be decided by midafternoon, far earlier than usual because of scheduled N.F.L. games which follow the TV broadcast on CBS.
Rory McIlroy is making his run.
Watch out for Rory McIlroy, who was 10 off the lead after a five-bogey first round 75. McIlroy has had only one bogey since, on the 13th hole in his third round, and is six off the lead. He is trying to match Craig Stadler, who won the 1983 Masters after opening with a 75.
McIlroy birdied the 8th hole for the fourth straight round to bring him to 11-under and into a tie for fourth behind leader Dustin Johnson, who sits at 16-under on No. 7.
DeChambeau and Langer are Masters’ odd couple.
One of Sunday’s most intriguing groups has nothing to do with who might win or lose the Masters. But Group 4 includes Bryson DeChambueau, the long-driving United States Open champion, and Bernhard Langer, the two-time Masters victor who this year became the oldest man to make the cut at Augusta National. So to watch a hole or two with them is to see how the game is changing, mostly because DeChambeau leads the field in average driving distance while Langer is dead last.
At about 262 yards, Langer is one of just two players in the 60-man field with average drives falling below 271. But 11 players are averaging drives of more than 300 yards, with DeChambeau’s typically logging in around 326. His nearest competitor on that line is Dylan Frittelli, whose average is about 319 yards.
Some of the gap between Langer, 63, and DeChambeau, 27, is a mathematical matter of age. But it is just as much a matter of style.
“It actually makes me feel older when I play with these young guys and I see how far they hit it and how short I hit it,” Langer said last week. “It makes me feel older, not younger. I like this golf course. I think I know how to get around it, even though I hit very long clubs. But it’s certainly not easy.”
Augusta National, Langer noted, had always been welcoming to long hitters like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. (So far this tournament, Woods’s drives are coming in at around 284 yards.)
DeChambeau, of course, set out to overpower Augusta National and came in as the favorite ahead of Thursday’s opening round. It hasn’t quite worked out for him — he was 12 shots off the lead late on Sunday morning — and he may have been partly thwarted by the damp course.
“Wet ground and water has always been my nemesis for some reason, just can’t figure it out, whereas some people have no problem with it,” he said on Saturday. “They’re able to hit it and have no issues.”
But he still leads Langer by three strokes.
Im and Smith cut into Johnson’s lead.
After Dustin Johnson missed a 10-foot par putt on the par-3 fourth, he showed as much emotion as he has all week. He knew how important that par save was to maintain his momentum; it would have been hard for Johnson to avoid seeing the nearby scoreboard showing that two players in the group ahead of him, Sungjae Im, a Masters rookie, and Cameron Smith, are 2-under for their rounds, to draw to within two of his lead.
One thing that hasn’t changed in 2020: the Masters purse.
Augusta National will dole out $11.5 million in prize money to professionals playing the tournament, the same sum as last year. The winner will earn nearly $2.1 million (along with a green jacket, lifetime entry into the tournament and an annual invitation for dinner), while the runner-up will be paid more than $1.2 million. Even the tournament’s 50th place player will receive a handsome payout of $28,980.
The Masters purse is among the largest in golf, though the United States Open awarded $12.5 million in prize money, including $2.25 million to the winner, after the tournament in September.
Cameron Champ starts hot.
Masters rookie Cameron Champ birdied his first three holes to vault onto the first page of the leaderboard, but gave those shots back triple bogeying the fourth. At the BMW Championship in August, Champ, who is biracial, wore one black golf shoe and one white one to protest police brutality against Black people after the police shooting of Jacob Blake. The New York Times spoke to him last month about racial injustice and how he views the Masters, with its Old South roots.
As he prepared last month for his Masters debut, Champ saw no reason to hold Augusta National to account for a segregationist history similar to the one endured by his paternal grandfather, who caddied at courses around Houston that wouldn’t allow him to play.
“Growing up, you don’t really learn that stuff until you’re older,” Champ said in an interview last month.
“It’s obviously a super historical tournament and something that obviously still means a lot to me,” he added. “I don’t think it needs to be shunned. I think it just has to do with the times. Now we’re in different times, things have changed.”
As a boy in South Korea, Sungjae Im would stay up through the night in early April. It was the only way he could watch the Masters as it unfolded.
Now it is South Korea that will be staying up for Im, who began Sunday four strokes behind Dustin Johnson at this year’s Masters and in a three-way tie for second.
“I know a lot of people back home are staying up late and not sleeping watching the Masters, watching me perform,” Im said through an interpreter on Saturday. “I want to stay composed again and make sure I finish strong so that I make them happy.”
History suggests it will not be easy. No first-time player at the Masters has won the tournament since 1979, when Fuzzy Zoeller earned his green jacket. But Im, who first played at Augusta National on Monday, said he was comfortable with the course. Peering down the fairway from each tee box, he said, he has been able to visualize his strategy with ease.
“I can see where to hit it and where not to hit it,” he said. “I think that’s why I feel comfortable playing here.”
His group on Sunday includes Johnson and Abraham Ancer, who is also making his Masters debut.
Bryson DeChambeau isn’t totally out of things.
Say what you would like about Bryson DeChambeau, but the man can make a recovery.
A calamitous second round left DeChambeau, the pretournament favorite, exactly at the cut on Saturday morning. He did not wilt: He scored a 69 on Saturday, his best round of the tournament, and edged into a tie for 29th at three under par.
A comeback to win this year’s green jacket is highly improbable — the tournament record after 54 holes, which Jack Burke Jr. set in 1956, is eight strokes — but DeChambeau could still finish with a far more credible showing than it very recently seemed like he might.
DeChambeau started Sunday at the 10th hole with a bogey, but eagled the par-5 No. 13, where he had posted a double bogey in the second round.
The 14th hole is another where DeChambeau has toggled among results this week: birdie, par and bogey. Once he makes it to the third hole, watch to see if has ridded himself of the golfing demons that left him with a triple bogey on Friday and nearly derailed his tournament in its entirety.
Crucial to any success for DeChambeau might be whether his dizziness, which he said began Thursday night, has resolved. He said he had tested negative for coronavirus.
“Every time I’d bend over and come back up, I’d like lose my stance a little bit,” DeChambeau said on Saturday. “So I don’t know what’s going on. I’ve got to go and do some blood work and get checked out and figure out what’s going on for this off-season.”
Fog delayed Sunday’s start
A thick fog cloaked the Augusta region on Sunday morning, prompting a 10-minute delay for all tee times. By the time Rory McIlory, Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood hit their shots on No. 1 just a bit after 9 a.m., conditions were beginning to clear, though the government’s dense fog advisory was not supposed to expire until 11 a.m.
The fog pushed start times back by ten minutes with groupings listed below.
Eventually, forecasters said, Augusta will see a partly sunny day with a high of 80 degrees.
The final round will air on CBS beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern, an earlier than usual Sunday start to accommodate a 3 p.m. finish and green jacket presentation before the televised broadcast gives way to afternoon N.F.L. coverage at 4 p.m.
This year’s big losers? Ticket scalpers.
To reach Augusta National Golf Club from downtown on Sunday morning, you drove past restaurants, retailers and even a church with a sign declaring “THIS IS THE MASTERS HOUSE.”
Absent: ticket scalpers. Ordinarily a staple of Augusta during Masters week, especially closer to Interstate 20, the resellers have no tickets to sell because the club banned patrons, as fans are known in tournament parlance, this year.
“The Masters is really, in my estimation, the biggest ticket in the world,” said James DiZoglio, a ticket broker who estimated that some 40 percent of his business stems from this tournament, golf’s only major held at the same club every year. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event for a lot of people.”
Club officials hope fans will be able to return next year, but they have made no guarantees. And the collapse of the resale market around the Masters is a symptom of bigger issues in the ticketing industry at a time when there are so few live events.
Tiger Woods, the defending Masters champion, stunned a dinner of past winners on Tuesday night when he swelled with emotion.
“He said he was on the way to the golf course, and he had to stop because he had tears in his eyes and paused for a little while on the road because a lot of memories were going through his mind very quickly,” Gary Player, a three-time winner at Augusta National, recalled on Thursday.
Jack Nicklaus, who won the Masters six times, shared Player’s assessment: “I’ve never seen Tiger that way. But it was good.”
Woods, who is tied at 20th and entering the final round at five under par, will assuredly need to steel his nerves for Sunday, when he will either tie Nicklaus’s Masters record or present one of Augusta National’s green jackets to someone else. He posted an even-par 72 on Saturday, his highest round of this year’s tournament, and said he had not been thinking about the potential sentiments of Sunday.
“I was focused on trying to get myself in contention going into tomorrow,” said Woods, assigned to play with Shane Lowry, who won the last British Open, and Scottie Scheffler, who is making his Masters debut.
“We’ll see how emotional it’ll be after tomorrow’s round,” Woods said.
Softer greens reward aggressive play.
Augusta National was inundated with rain last week, saturating and slowing the greens, which typically are lightning quick. As a result, players have been able to take aim at the pins on the par-3s. In the first three rounds, Dustin Johnson played the four shortest holes in 4-under. His closest challengers also fared well on them: Sungjae Im (2-under); Abraham Ancer, (4-under); Cameron Smith, (3-under); Dylan Frittelli (even par) and Justin Thomas (2-under).
“With the conditions being soft you can be really aggressive no matter what club you have in your hands,” Johnson said.
The green jacket ceremony will be 2020-ified.
Not too long from now, someone is going to be presented with one of the green jackets that Augusta National has offered members since 1937 and Masters winners every year since 1949 (and, as we wrote this week, that anyone — including you! — can sometimes buy on the auction block).
The green jacket ceremony, as usual, will be in Butler Cabin. But Fred S. Ridley, Augusta National’s chairman, said that people watching from home would see more of the room than normal because participants, including Tiger Woods, the reigning champion, will be spaced farther apart in accordance with social distancing guidelines.
“We will have the same people in the cabin with the same basic ceremony, but I think we can do it appropriately,” Ridley said.
One typical part of the Sunday festivities, though, will not happen: There will not be a ceremony on the 18th green, mostly, Ridley said, because that event is primarily designed for spectators who are attending the tournament.