In the midst of what is normally football, hockey and basketball season, the big event on the sports calendar this week is the Masters at Augusta, Ga. In November!
Of course, it’s 2020, the year of abnormal everything. In fact, another Masters tournament, the 2021 version, will be played five months from now.
Storylines abound, besides the obvious one about playing this ‘rite of spring’ in November, when the azaleas won’t be blooming, the green grass might have tinges of brown and the crowd roars will be non-existent.
Warm spring breezes may be replaced by cool northerly winds and none of the Masters’ participants really know for sure how the ball will react on the greens. It’s November, after all.
Trying to pick a winner is a fool’s game, because some of the recent PGA Tour winners have been lesser-known players such as Hudson Swafford, Martin Laird, Stewart Cink and Jason Kokrak, and the sport’s current biggest name, Bryson DeChambeau.
So, instead of trying to foretell what will happen at Augusta this week, what follows are names of a few players to watch, with compelling reasons to do so.
DeChambeau — He has upset the golfing world with prodigious, 350-yard-plus driving, adding 40 pounds to his frame and developing swing speeds otherwise unseen.
He dominated September’s U.S. Open as a result, and has told the world he plans to hit the ball even further at Augusta, thanks to recent experimentation with a 48-inch driver, the longest allowed by the game’s rules.
Dustin Johnson — The guy who dominated the end of last season by winning one of the playoff events plus the Tour Championship, and ultimately was named Player of the Year, comes into Augusta on the recovery side of COVID-19.
How he’ll perform after being away for a long spell is unknown.
Rory McIlroy — This is the only major tournament McIlroy has not won, and every year the hype surrounding his quest for the career ‘Grand Slam’ seems to paralyze him, and throw him off his game.
Will this be the year he settles down and finally wins his first Masters?
Tiger Woods — How lame would a golf-themed column be without somewhat of a focus on the greatest golfer who ever lived?
Woods is the defending champion, having shocked the world by winning the 2019 event 19 months ago.
Woods has played very little recently, and has had poor results, and a strong performance at Augusta this week would be another major surprise.
But hey, he’s Tiger Woods, and he wasn’t supposed to win last year, either.
So, let’s get ready to kick off … er, tee off.
• Greg Cote of the Miami Herald: “Ray Ciccarelli, the unsuccessful NASCAR truck-series driver who threatened to quit over the sport’s Confederate flag ban, is now hedging on that. His fans are happy. Both of them.”
• Patti Dawn Swansson, the River City Renegade, on researchers in Finland claiming they’ve found a cure for hangovers: “If true, it’ll be the greatest discovery since Sandy Koufax found the strike zone in the 1960s.”
• A question from RJ Currie of sportsdeke.com: “If the White Sox merged with the Red Sox, would they be the Pink Sox?”
• Nick Canepa, of the San Diego Union-Tribune, not surprised that the Steelers are proficient in the two-minute offence: “Big Ben should be great at clock management.”
• Patti Dawn Swansson again, on Bill Johnson being named GM of the Arizona Coyotes: “Hey, I can think of worse jobs. Cleaning up after the circus elephants comes to mind.”
•Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg: “Federal agents are questioning USC football players in connection to a fraud investigation. And the penalties could be stiff. Some of the players may be forced to attend classes.”
•Frank Schwab of Yahoo Sports, on the receiver-heavy Tampa Bay Bucs signing troubled veteran Antonio Brown: “It seems like the Buccaneers are hitting on 20 in blackjack, hoping for an ace.”
• Greg Cote again, after Dodgers’ Justin Turner celebrated and hugged team-mates on the field after the game during which he was pulled because of a positive COVID-19 test: “So congratulations, Justin Turner. Not for your World Series ring. For being the new, grinning face of oblivious, callous disregard for our most deadly health plague in a century.”
• Comedy writer Brad Dickson of Omaha: “In the battle to see who’s really carried the Patriots all these years Brady and Gronk have taken a clear lead over Belichick. Maybe the evil genius is really just evil.”
• Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: “NBC needs to replace the retiring Doc Emrick on its hockey broadcasts, which is like trying to replace Frank Sinatra as lead singer.”
• Fark.com: “Jimmy Kimmel to Clayton Kershaw and Cody Bellinger: ‘Was it easier to win the World Series when the other team wasn’t cheating?’”
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By Bruce Penton