Widely regarded as one of the most prestigious competitions in the sport, The Masters at Augusta took place in early April, only 5 months after the 2020 edition, which was delayed by the impacts of COVID-19. Famed for its’ illustrious history and iconic scenery, the Masters at Augusta is the first Major Championship of the Golf calendar and features the very best players in the world, playing 4 rounds across 4 days in early April.
The 2020 edition was won by Dustin Johnson, who carded a phenomenal -20 throughout the tournament, securing the title with a 5-shot lead over second placed Sung-Jae Im and Cameron Smith. With an understandable change in conditions, the 85th edition of the tournament was a far closer affair, with Hideki Matsuyama claiming victory by just 1 shot ahead of Will Zalatoris.
The Masters at Augusta is the first of four Major Championships to be held throughout the course of any given calendar year. Famous for its’ custom Green Jacket that is awarded to the winner of the tournament, the Masters provides the smallest playing field of any Major Championships in the sport, typically consisting of between 90-100 players. After two rounds, the top 50 players (including ties) continue to rounds 3 and 4 before the final placings are announced at the end of the 72 holes. There are no qualifying tournaments for the Masters, however players are invited according to the criteria that they fulfil as a result of their performances at other competitions around the world or in the world rankings.
The Masters provides the opportunity for Amateur players to take the field alongside professional golfers. Regional amateur champions from around the world are invited to compete and have the ability to compete for the Silver Jacket which is warded to the highest placed amateur in the tournament. A decade ago, the 2011 Silver Jacket was awarded to Hideki Matsuyama and 10 years later, he returned to Augusta to claim the ultimate prize.
The Masters has a rich history of elite players claiming the title, with Jack Nicklaus the most successful with 6 victories, closely followed by Tiger Woods’ 5. Matsuyama’s victory is the first Major Championship to be won by a male Japanese golfer. At 29 years old, Matsuyama has an exciting future at the top of the game after his first worldwide success since the 2017 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational has moved him up to 14th in the world rankings.
The 2021 Masters
2021 saw the return of patrons to Augusta National for the first time in two years. Although limited in numbers, fans were able to line to fairways and greens around the famous club in a welcome return for all associated with the game. Their first round to witness however saw few opportunities for cheering as difficult conditions made birdies and eagles hard to come by.
With Augusta providing a high quality challenge for the very best golfers in the world, 2021 saw some notable surprises throughout an eventful four rounds. Novembers’ champions and course scoring record holder Dustin Johnson missed the cut after his second round, along with last years’ runner-up; Sung-Jae Im. After a big push in the build up from British media outlets as well as his sponsor, Nike, Rory McIlroy failed to capitalise on the opportunity and missed his chance for a career Grand Slam after missing the cut with rounds of 76 and 74.
Despite this, Justin Rose set a blistering pace, carding a 65 on his first round for a 4 shot lead, tied for the second largest after 18 holes in tournament history. Having made an even par 72 for his second round, Rose sat atop of the leaderboard at the cut however with a far smaller margin for error. On day 3 however, the leaderboard took a significant turn, with Matsuyama shooting his final 8 holes in 6 under par to claim a 4 shot lead. Behind him, four players were tied on 7 under par, ready to pounce on the slightest mistake during a tense final day.
By his own admission, the nerves began “right from the start until the very last putt” rather than kicking in on the final 9, despite a few nervous moments. Even on his penultimate shot, Matsuyama missed a short putt to secure victory, narrowing the margin of victory to just one shot and ensuring his position as Japan’s first male Major Champion in the sports’ history.
The Future of Golf
With the absence of the world-famous Tiger Woods due to his recent car crash from which he is recovering, the Masters gave a platform for a glimpse at the future of the sport. Renowned players such as Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Brooks Koepka failed to capitalise on the opportunity, along with last years’ winner, Dustin Johnson. Big hitting Bryson DeChambeau, famed for his powerful drives, also missed the cut and with it, the opportunity to stamp his name at the top of the list of successors to top the sport.
Matsuyama’s victory at Augusta represents a turning point for the sport, with Japanese golfers able to claim their first Major victory within the sport. Having started the tournament ranked 25th in the world, he now moves into the elite company of the top 14 players, thrusting his name into the limelight.
There is a short turnaround until the next Major Championship on the calendar with the PGA Championship looming in May. This tournament is traditionally played on various courses around the United States and this year, will be hosted at the TPC Harding Park in San Fransisco. Unlike other Major Championships, the PGA Championship does not invite leading amateur golfers to compete, only allowing them to do so if they are to win one of the other Major tournaments in the calendar. As a result, a field of elite professional golfers awaits in California where all eyes will be on Brooks Koepka as he looks to bounce back from his Masters disappointment to claim his third successive PGA Championship.