After the 84th edition of the Masters was postponed, these captivating storylines will also be pushed back a few months.
Rory McIlroy chasing the grand slam
When McIlroy led by four shots heading into the final round of the 2011 Masters, it was almost inconceivable that he wouldn’t win his first green jacket.
But nine years later, here we are. McIlroy’s won every other major championship, he’s been world No. 1 on several occasions and made an absurd amount of money. But victory at Augusta still eludes him.
The Northern Irishman seems to have never completely moved past the spectacular back-nine collapse that cost him his first major as a 21-year-old.
He’s never properly challenged at the Masters since, despite five successive top-10s between 2014 and 2018. He was in the final pairing in 2018, but shot 74 on Sunday as the pressure of chasing the grand slam told.
This year could have been different, though. An incredible run of nine consecutive top-five finishes between last October and March of this year – including a win at the WGC – HSBC Champions – was perhaps his best run of form since he captured two majors in 2014.
Losing the prospect of a focused, confident McIlroy heading into Augusta with that kind of momentum is a real shame, and a speedy return to his best after the break would be great both for him and the sport.
Tiger Woods going back-to-back
Tiger winning last year’s Masters was one of the best stories in the past decade of sport.
For a 43-year-old who previously dominated with power and athleticism to return from a potentially career-ending spinal injury and win with finesse and guile was stunning.
Hoping for him to do it again would be downright greedy.
Still, he couldn’t, could he?
The postponement of the Masters might actually help Woods’ chances of claiming another major.
He has only played twice since that victory a year ago, and although he won the ZOZO Championship in October, that was one of just two top-five finishes in 12 months.
Some extra time off to rest his back can only increase the chance of Tiger slipping the green jacket over his Sunday red for the sixth time.
Can Tommy Fleetwood win an event that ‘matters’?
Paul Azinger received plenty of criticism last month when he was rather dismissive of Fleetwood’s five European Tour wins.
The former American Ryder Cup captain is right to say that European players are lured by the prestige and money of the PGA Tour, but suggesting that wins around the world don’t matter is a stretch.
Nevertheless, Fleetwood will be desperate to win for the first time in America soon, and not just because it would convince those in the US what European Tour fans are already sure of – that he’s one of the world’s most talented players.
Fleetwood proved that at the 2018 Ryder Cup, he proved it with two HSBC Championship wins in 2017 and 2018, and continued to prove with four top-three finishes in his last seven starts, including November’s win at the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa.
Azinger may not really believe that winning around the world is unimportant, but this conversation surrounding Fleetwood will quickly be forgotten if he wins the Masters.
A victory at Augusta would certainly matter.
Brooks Koepka’s major domination
Koepka has emerged as a sort of anti-McIlroy.
While the Northern Irishman has failed to deliver at the majors since 2014, his American counterpart has developed a knack of playing at his absolute best every time a massive event comes around.
Koepka won back-to-back US Opens in 2017 and 2018, and repeated the feat at the PGA Championship in 2018 and 2019.
It’s perhaps no surprise that a man who supposedly doesn’t really like golf and once claimed to only practice for the majors isn’t churning out wins at the Sony Open and Genesis Invitational.
The major wins alone have seen earned him consideration alongside McIlroy as the world’s best player, though, and it’ll be hard to see him as anything other than No. 1 if he adds the Masters – where he finished second in 2019 – to his list of wins.
After a pedestrian start to 2020, the delaying of the Masters can only aid his chances of extending his dominant run at golf’s biggest events.
Jon Rahm’s breakthrough
Rahm’s record since he turned professional just over four years ago has earned him the well-worn title of ‘best player yet to win a major’.
With nine wins since the start of January 2016 – including two DP World Tour Championships in Dubai – it seems only a matter of time until the Spaniard gets his hands on one of golf’s most prestigious trophies.
Augusta looks the course most likely to host his breakthrough. Rahm has finished inside the top 10 in his last two Masters appearances, including a solo fourth in just his second start at the venue in 2018.
If the 25-year-old is to become one of the world’s best players, though, it’s imperative that he claims a major soon.
Players like Hideki Matsuyama and Rickie Fowler have seemed destined for greatness early in their careers before enduring slumps, and both have been overtaken by younger players who got over the hump.
Rahm had been in major-winning form before golf was suspended, with four top-10 finishes from five starts in 2020, including two top threes.
Should he rekindle that hot streak when the sport returns, he’ll be among his favourites to claim the green jacket.
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