The 2021 Masters: A Recap
May 11, 2021
In many ways, the 85th rendition of the Masters tournament attempted to recapture the magic and allure of prior tournaments. First, the event occurred in its typical April time frame unlike last year’s tournament, which was postponed to November due to safety concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, the natural setting returned to its April roots, and the vibrant and appealing colors of spring were on full display. A warmer and more humid environment was also present. And second, fans were in attendance—albeit a limited number of them—and they could once again stroll along the grounds of the course at Augusta National Golf Club. They provided applause and cheering following shots golfers’ shots.
The course at Augusta National is arguably the most beautiful and well-kept in the world, and for good reason. Every year, staffers and groundskeepers spend several weeks preparing the course for the Masters. Every year, they do not disappoint. The natural scene was absolutely gorgeous—everything from the flowers to the shrubbery to the trees caught the eyes of the hundreds of spectators and staff on Thursday morning. Various types of plants occupied the natural landscape of the course, and in fact, each hole of the Masters is named after a particular type of plant found on the course.
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 11, 2021
The Professional Golfers’ Association Tour, commonly known as the PGA Tour, offers many events in which golfers can compete. As with any other event on the PGA Tour calendar, there were some storylines to follow. First and foremost, Tiger Woods was sidelined from this year’s Masters as he had been recovering from a horrific car accident in which he sustained potentially career-ending injuries to his lower body. Rory McIlroy was once again on the hunt for the elusive Masters Trophy, and in the case that he won, he would attain a career grand slam, an achievement only a handful of golfers have achieved. Dustin Johnson, the reigning Masters champion, looked to defend his title and become one of only a few golfers to win the tournament in back-to-back years. Bryson DeChambeau, the victor of last year’s U.S. Open, sought to add to his golfer’s resume by adding another major win at the Masters. Jordan Spieth was coming off a victory from last week’s Valero Texas Open, and he was poised to make a dominant run towards winning the Masters. Last but not least, Xander Schauffele, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, wished to make a strong run at the title. Keep in mind that Schauffele was only two years removed from a runner-up finish at Augusta National, one stroke behind Tiger Woods.
With many golfers competing at Augusta National, there were several favorites to win the tournament. The aforementioned names like Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Bryson DeChambeau headlined many sportsbooks and sports betting websites. These names, among several others, were contenders for this year’s winner. Whatever the case, there was no clear favorite, and it would be a long, hard-fought fight to the finish.
Thursday, First Round
The tournament kicked off with a ceremony in which Fred Ridley, the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, gave a planned speech describing three Masters legends: Lee Elder, Gary Player, and Jack Nicklaus. Following the introduction of each player, each stepped up to the tee and teed off at the course’s first hole with the exception of Elder. Unlike Player and Nicklaus, who both had won their fair share of Masters tournaments in the past, Elder made history by becoming the first black golfer to play at the Masters in 1975. It should be noted that these golf greats will not actually be competing in this year’s event. Rather, it was only a ceremony to honor and commemorate the accomplishments in their golf careers.
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 8, 2021
Following the ceremony, the first few groups of golfers made their way to the first hole to tee off. The golf course looked as green as it ever had, and fans permeated the course, congregating at the teeing grounds where players teed off and the greens where players putted their balls into holes. The Masters was officially underway.
In the early going, Hideki Matsuyama took an early lead after scoring an eagle at the par-5 8th, which brought his score down to three-under for the day.
Two of the big favorites to win the Masters, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, were off to shaky starts. McIlroy in particular was off to a horrid start, bogeying holes 5, 6, 7, and 9 with only a birdie at No. 8. Adding insult to injury, McIlroy hit his father with an errant approach shot at No. 7.
Rory’s errant approach shot into the par-4 7th hole at Augusta somehow managed to hit his dad, Gerry McIlroy. https://t.co/tRqfeEfGz1
— GOLF.com (@GOLF_com) April 8, 2021
McIlroy finished with a miserable score of four-over 76 with six bogeys and two birdies in what was a grueling first round for the 31-year-old Irishman.
Johnson’s play, albeit not as bad as McIlroy’s, left much to be desired for most of the day, and his only saving grace was his birdie on the difficult 11th hole. He finished with a two-over 74 for the round.
“The conditions are definitely different,” said Johnson after his round, describing the stark contrast in how the course played in November compared to Thursday. “Playing definitely a lot tougher just because, when the greens are firm and fast here, the golf course plays difficult. Then you add the wind in today, it made it play really difficult, I thought.”
The mediocre play affected others like Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau, who both had scores of above 72 for the day. As a whole, the firm greens on the course at Augusta National proved to be too hard to handle for many golfers. Justin Rose, however, was the exception to the mediocrity and subpar performances many experienced on Thursday. Rose showed up the competition, scoring a jaw-dropping 7-under 65, and led the rest of the competition by four strokes.
Friday, Second Round
The second round saw a bit of a mix-up in the standings. First, Rose remained atop the leaderboard at -7. His performance cooled off in many aspects as evidenced by his score of even-par 72. His opening tee shot went into the Georgia Pines, and he bogeyed three of his first seven holes but recovered with three birdies on the back nine holes.
The 24-year-old Will Zalatoris, who was making his first Masters appearance, followed closely behind, with only one shot off the lead. He birdied his final three holes to score a 4-under 68.
“I wanted to be here my entire life,” he said. “Some people shy away from that, but I’m excited to be here. … There’s no reason to feel intimidated now. I made it to here.” Brian Harman also occupied the second spot after shooting a 3-under 69.
Jordan Spieth, despite a triple bogey in his opening round, was only two strokes behind Rose. Marc Leishman was also within two strokes of the lead.
Justin Thomas, Tony Finau, and Bernd Wiesberger were in a three-way tie for third following their masterful performances in round two.
In other news, defending champion Dustin Johnson missed the cut after scoring a 3-over 75 on Friday. He birdied eight holes but also had nine bogeys and two doubles at the end of two rounds. Other notable players to miss the cut were Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy. For McIlroy, it was only the second time he missed the cut at the Masters.
Bryson DeChambeau knocked in several birdies and saw his score drop down to a 67 for the day.
“I finally felt like I was seeing lines out there for the first time in the five times I’ve played it in tournament conditions,” DeChambeau said. “That excites me for sure.”
Saturday, Third Round
Rainy conditions delayed the third round of play for about an hour and fifteen minutes and dampened the entire course, which significantly impacted the remaining golfers in the tournament. Softer greens meant balls traveled much slower, and players had to adjust to the saturation.
Only a slim few took advantage of the dampened course, and one of those included Hideki Matsuyama. He scored a 6-under 66 on the day and cemented himself into the top spot of the leaderboard. Following Matsuyama, Xander Schauffele, Marc Leishman, Justin Rose, and Will Zalatoris were all tied for second.
Corey Conners put himself in contention after sinking a hole-in-one on the sixth hole. His 8-iron tee shot went in the hole en route to a 4-under 68. It was a well-needed hole-in-one for the 29-year-old Canadian in what was a sweet performance. Speaking of sweet, the Tim Hortons in his hometown of Listowel, Ontario even made a donut in honor of his ace.
It was un-fore-gettable, @coreconn! From everyone back home, congrats on your hole-in-one and a great performance at the Masters. The Tim Hortons team in Listowel made you a special donut to celebrate! https://t.co/kneRGIzw4b pic.twitter.com/1KQbAzjUOA
— Tim Hortons (@TimHortons) April 12, 2021
He was alone at 6 under par, five off the lead. “I’m notoriously a great sleeper, so I don’t think that will be a problem,” Conners said. “Just stick with the same routine that I’ve been doing the last few days. Just try and get ready to have some fun tomorrow.”
Jordan Spieth was still within arm’s reach of the lead at only six shots back. He shot an even-par 72 despite a double-bogey on the seventh hole on Saturday.
Justin Thomas, on the other hand, was far beyond arm’s reach of the lead. Although he birdied the 12th hole to get to four-under-par, he proceeded to triple bogey No. 13 after hitting his ball into a water hazard.
“It was two rounds. I was playing great before the delay, and then I didn’t afterwards. I mean, it’s just a shame. I was really playing well,” he said. “I just chunked it.”
Sunday, Final Round
Matsuyama headed into the final round Sunday with a four-stroke advantage. Others who were in contention for the top spot included Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, and Will Zalatoris.
Xander Schauffele went on a hot streak on the back nine holes, scoring birdies on four consecutive holes starting at No. 12. At that point, he was ten-under-par and looked poised to capture the lead from Matsuyama. That was until the 16th. How exactly did Schauffele fare? He ended the hole with a triple bogey. Just like that, he no longer threatened Matsuyama’s lead. He went on to par his last two holes to finish one-under-par.
Overall, Schauffele had some good stretches on Sunday, but a double bogey on the 15th along with a triple bogey at the 16th were costly and ultimately barred him from winning what could have been his first major championship.
Things got a little hairy for Matsuyama down the stretch, especially after he bogeyed Nos. 12 and 15. However, he remained steadfast and played well enough to escape with the victory.
Hideki Matsuyama – 2021 Masters champion. #themasters
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 11, 2021
Will Zalatoris followed by just one stroke at -9, with Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth at -7.
Zalatoris, although finishing just short of the title, had nothing to be ashamed of. To finish runner-up at the Masters in his first appearance was a huge accomplishment in itself. He finished his final round with a 2-under 70 and played as well as if not better than Matsuyama at times. He made a name for himself and could not have asked for a better outcome than the one he received.
“I’ve wanted to be in this position my entire life,” said Zalatoris, a Korn Ferry Tour member. “I don’t need to shy away from it now. I’ve made it this far. Why now be timid? I thought I did a really good job of enjoying the moment but not letting it get to me, too.”
He was the only player to shoot under par in all four rounds this week. pic.twitter.com/CYtC2ZBSYo
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 11, 2021
Falling short of yet another victory added to Schauffele’s misery of close call finishes at majors. The four-time PGA Tour winner now had eight top-10 finishes in his first 15 major starts, including six top fives, but still looked for his first win since 2019.
“If you look at my career, you could call it a big ball of scar tissue with a bunch of second places,” said Schauffele, who wound up three shots behind Matsuyama. “I don’t look at it that way. I don’t think my team looks at it that way. So I’ll sleep on it. I hit a good shot. I committed to it. It turned out bad. I’ll be able to sleep tonight. I might be tossing and turning, but I’ll be okay.”
Regardless of the outcome, Schuaffele still held his head high with how he battled back to give Matsuyama a scare.
During Matsuyama’s post-tournament interview, he was asked several questions in which he, through an interpreter, stated: “Hopefully I’ll be a pioneer in this and many other Japanese will follow. I’m glad to be able to open the floodgates, hopefully, and many more will follow me.”
Matsuyama plans on representing his home country this summer at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where he looks to win gold and add to his successful career. He will come home to a crazed crowd upon his arrival in Japan.