I’m not going to say last year’s pre-winter Masters tournament, awkwardly organized due to COVID-19 concerns, was a fluke. True, it seemed less authentic without the roar of the crowd. Conditions weren’t ideal either due to unpredictable weather. But Dustin Johnson broke an Augusta National record with his 20 under par victory and the FedEx Crown. The best player during the weird 2020 season won, and deserved all the praise.

In 2021 however, things are back very close to normal. The event will be held on its traditional dates. The gallery will be back, at least at a limited capacity. Also, a lot of different faces, old and new, have emerged to stiffen the competition. To thicken the plot, Johnson himself has indicated that it’s not likely to be very many low rounds this time around.

“I played the course with my brother two weeks ago, and it’s in immaculate shape,” Johnson noted. “The greens are a lot firmer, and they don’t hold as well as last November when they were softer with all the rain.”

So the drama begins at Augusta this week, April 7-11. The field of approximately 87 players will tee off in search of that pot of gold worth $2.70 million for a first place finish. Even the runner-up will rake in almost $2 million for a week’s work. The boys in Vegas have handicapped the field, as they always do for major sports extravaganzas, and there are few surprises.

The sure bet is still on Johnson at 8-1 odds, even though he has taken some time off lately. He is followed by young stars Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm at 11-1, even though the Spaniard has never finished higher than third place in any PGA major tourney. Rory McIlroy has not turned many heads lately, but is still listed at 14-1. Rounding out the favorites are young bucks Bryson “Muscles” DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Brooks Koepka, and Patrick Cantlay.

Then there are those “bubble” guys who have had success in the past, have unlimited potential., or both. But for whatever reason, they are considered long shots. So here are my top 10 picks, from bottom to top, who might have a chance to hang out in Butler’s Cabin. 

10. Abraham Ancer

In his only Masters invite last year, Ancer shocked the golfing world by posting his opening three rounds in the 60’s. The slender dark horse who grew up in Reynosa, Mexico fell apart on Sunday, but still managed to tie for 13th. Abraham was also impressive in the 2019 President’s Cup for the international team, losing only to Tiger Woods. 

9.  Adam Scott

The 40 year old Aussie is a former Masters winner in 2013, and has 14 tour victories under his belt. An avid surfer, Adam is a great athlete and has proved that he’s still relevant on the links, winning the 2020 Genesis Invitational.

8.  Joaquin Niemann

A Santiago, Chile native, Joaquin’s only previous Masters berth was as the Latin America amatuer champion. And the 22 year old phenom has been a model of consistency as a pro, winning one tour event, one second place, and is currently listed in 10th place on the FedEx points tally. 

7.  Tommy Fleetwood

One of the best ball strikers on both the European and PGA tours, Fleetwood is one of those guys who are always in the hunt. The 30 year old Englishman has never won here, but has impressive performances in the U.S. and British Opens. Tommy’s best finish at Augusta was a tie for 17th. 

6.  Hideki Matsuyama

Only 29, Matsuyama will be playing in his 10th Masters, an amazing feat in itself. He has four top 15 finishes there, and knows how to win with five PGA titles. Internationally, Hideki has nine more triumphs. That’s quite a resume. 

5.  Scotty Scheffler

The big strong Texan is one of those new kids who are capable of producing some jaw-dropping scores on occasion. Scotty is only the 12th player in PGA history to break 60, carding a 59 at the Northern Trust Open last year. In his debut at the Masters in 2020, Scheffler placed in a tie for 19th. In 2021 however, he had three top 10’s to his credit, making him a tough hombre to count out.

4.  Collin Morikawa

Like Scheffler, the Los Angeles born Morikawa is only 24, and has already won four PGA events, including a major in 2020. Not only that, but the former Cal Berkeley star made the cut in his first 22 consecutive pro events. Only Tiger has racked up that accomplishment.Collin is the real deal.

3.  Tony Finau

The 31 year old Samoan from Salt Lake City has surprisingly won only once on the PGA tour, but has finished second eight times. As a result, Tony’s bank account ain’t too shabby and he’s high on the FedEx points ladder. In four Augusta starts, Finau has notched ties for 10th and fifth, so he’s knocking on the door. Will 2021 be his year?

2  Viktor Hovland

A native of Norway who was a college standout at Oklahoma State, Viktor’s first appearance at the Masters was as the reigning U.S. Amatuer champion in 2019. He turned pro shortly afterward and picked up a tie for 12th at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Hovland would move on to win two PGA events, the first European ever to do so before his 24th birthday. This kid is cool and legit.

1.  Jordan Spieth

Well, my underdog top pick probably doesn’t qualify now that Jordan finally won again at the Valero Open in San Antonio on Easter Sunday. The Dallas native went on a terror at a tender age, winning 11 times including a 2015 Masters crown. By the time he was 23, Spieth was on top of the world. Then things suddenly went south for this personable young man and for the next four years, he would be lucky to even make the 36 hole cut. The curse has seemingly ended for Jordan in 2021, with four top five finishes plus the San Antonio success to finalize the journey. Can Spieth make it two in a row and earn another green jacket? I guess we’ll soon find out.

ESPN will carry the coverage for the first two rounds on Thursday and Friday. Then on the weekend, CBS will take over with Jim Nantz and Sir Nick Faldo as the iconic anchors. CBS.com will be streaming the event along with Paramount +, but with a $5.95 monthly subscription.  

About Steve Randel

Steve Randel, former MLB scout and high school coach. Freelance journalist for 47 years covering all things Latino. Managing editor for HispanicHorizons.com.

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