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Bernard Gallacher’s 2020 Masters Preview

Golf Care, 23rd October 2020

bernard gallacher 2020 masters

Bryson DeChambeau is the bookies’ favourite to win the Masters. He isn’t playing until that tournament because he’s bulking up even more, with the aim of reaching a bodyweight of 245lbs. He’s then going to start testing a 48-inch driver that he believes will give him an advantage at Augusta. What do you make of this approach – do you think that he can overpower the course?

DeChambeau is rightly the favourite having won the US Open, but he’s not going to win the Masters because of how far he can hit the ball. You win the Masters by being the best putter.

He was the best putter at the US Open and he’s got a chance of being the best putter at the Masters because he hits the ball a long way, but can he manage the expectations of being the favourite? 

Even though there won’t be spectators, there’ll still be an intense atmosphere because it’s the Masters. The pressures and tactics of Augusta are entirely different to the pressures he faced at the US Open.

If I were to take a controversial viewpoint on DeChambeau’s game, I would say that he needs to spend more time on putting than trying to hit the ball an extra 20 yards.

He might overpower the course, but other players can hit the ball far, too. Even though DeChambeau is top of the driving stats at the moment, he’s not top by a considerable margin. Dustin Johnson has begun to increase his distance again and has become more accurate, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas are big hitters, and Rory McIlroy is up there as well.

I think Dustin Johnson is a very close second favourite. He’s always there or thereabouts at major tournaments, and he’s had a fantastic year.

Gary Player’s said that he expects DeChambeau to win the Masters if he has a reasonable week. But he’s also said that golf’s ruling bodies must implement equipment regulations to reduce the distance a golf ball can travel for the professionals. Would you go along with that?

I disagree that DeChambeau only needs to have a reasonable week to win at Augusta – I think he’s got to have a good week.

Gary is getting carried away with the length these guys are hitting the ball, which is incredible, but at the same time DeChambeau still has to hole 4ft putts and play well on the greens. As I said, it’s usually the best guys on the greens who win the Masters, even going back to Gary’s time.

There’s no finer putter than Tiger Woods and he’s won five Masters championships, which tells you everything you need to know. Even though when he won those championships, he was the longest hitter, what separated him from the rest of the field was his holing out – not his long driving. The same will apply to DeChambeau if he’s to win the Masters.

However, I do agree with Gary about the ruling bodies reducing distances – they must be inching towards a tournament ball. Jack Nicklaus has suggested this idea for years. We don’t need to keep changing the architecture of courses, we need to bring some of the hazards back into play and the pros should use a tournament ball. This is the only way to address some of the distances we’re seeing at the moment.

Just behind DeChambeau on the list of favourites is Rory McIlroy. If you were to predict the outcome now, do you think this is his moment to clinch the Grand Slam?

He has a big opportunity to complete his Grand Slam, for sure. It’s a huge incentive because of course, only five golfers have ever achieved this. Lots of golfers have come close – Phil Mickelson finished 2nd at the US Open six times!

This shows how difficult it is to complete a Grand Slam and I think that, because of this, there’s been too much pressure on Rory to win at Augusta. However, the pressure has been lessened on Rory for two reasons.

First of all, we’re still thinking about Bryson DeChambeau and how far he hits it. The other factor which has taken a lot of pressure off Rory is the attention on Tiger Woods. We know Tiger has not been comfortable with his game this year.

Without that added pressure, Rory’s got a good chance of winning the Masters and completing his Grand Slam. People tend to forget; this is a guy who’s fourth in the world, putting well, and having an excellent season. He’s been very consistent without winning anything yet, but he has to do better on the greens if he’s going to win the Masters.

McIlroy has consistently said how difficult he finds playing without fans. Could a lack of spectators potentially hinder him at Augusta?

He should be used to a lack of spectators by now and the players will have to create their own pressures because they might be playing without fans for a while!

The players are getting exponentially better every week – there was a lot of excitement at Wentworth, despite there being no crowds. Players are still throwing themselves into it because they’re playing in big tournaments, as we also saw at the US Open. In some ways, I’d forgotten there were no spectators because the broadcasting companies have done a good job of creating suspense.

So, if we’re getting used to it, the likes of Rory will be getting used to it, too – and the atmosphere at the Masters will still be unique. Because it’s being played at a different time of year, the course will be softer and the weather will be cooler by about 10°C. So, this might be a good time for Rory to slip under the radar.

Tiger Woods is the defending champion. His game is not where it was this time last year – do you think this will be a major factor going into the tournament and how tough will it be for him to defend his title?

We know Tiger hasn’t played as well as he can, but the last time he won at Augusta he showed everyone what a golfer he is. When he got a chance to win the Masters he did, and the players around him backed off because of the effect he has.

Tiger’s biggest challenge will be getting himself into a position to win on the back nine on the last day. If he can get himself high up the leaderboard going into the last nine holes where there’s most pressure – and most water – he’s in with a real chance.

You win or lose the Masters on Augusta’s back nine. You can point to Molinari, Koepka, Spieth – the list of players who’ve come unstuck there is a long one. There’s so much pressure there, but Tiger can cope with that pressure. He’s been there and done it and knows how to manage the expectation.

There’s also not as much pressure on his driving as there has been in previous years. For these reasons, I think Tiger is still a big threat this year.

It’s also worth talking about Tyrrell Hatton. Having won the BMW PGA Championship, he’s on the brink of the world’s top 10 for the first time in his career. His confidence will be sky-high at the moment, so do you think this could swing it in his favour?

You’ve got to admire Tyrrell Hatton. He doesn’t have the same panache as Rory or Tommy Fleetwood, but he gets the job done.

He’s not the longest hitter in the world but he’s right up there among the top 10 in the world. His game is in good fettle with no weaknesses – he’s a straight hitter and an excellent putter. We saw this not only at Wentworth but also at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, on a tough course in Bay Hill which has plenty of water and rough.

When you putt well, this says more about your temperament than technique, so his temperament is superb.

Winning the PGA at Wentworth will give him loads of confidence and he’s a force to be reckoned with. I just think that, to win at Augusta, you have to have been in contention a few times before. Rory, Dustin, and Tiger have been there before and that makes a massive difference.

So, I don’t expect Tyrrell Hatton to win, but I expect him to finish high up the leaderboard. That should be his motivation going into the tournament. You never know, though – he could do a Danny Willett!

What do you make of the chances of the rest of the British contingent, such as Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey?

Paul Casey is a long shot to win. He’s done well at the Masters before and he performed well at the USPGA this year. He’s a very consistent player – long off the tee, a good putter, has good technique. His course management is good, too.

He’s one of these very good players who’s never won a major. He’s been around a long time and he’s still getting good scores. Because he doesn’t play as often in Europe, he’s a little bit underappreciated over here, but he’s quietly going about his business in America and he’s right up there as one of the main contenders.

As for Tommy Fleetwood, he’s got the game to do really well at Augusta. From tee to green, there aren’t many better players. He knows how to cope with the pressure and he’s finished highly in recent Majors, including last year’s Open. Whether he wins or not, again, depends on his putting.

The one thing that worried me was the poor putt he hit in the play-off hole at the Scottish Open – it was disappointing for him to go down so quietly and miss an 18-inch putt like that. It told me he’s struggling with his temperament on the greens. We’ve seen how well he can putt at the Ryder Cup, so he can do it and he works hard on his putting. Whether he can replicate this putting at Augusta just depends on his mentality.

The Masters being played in November means that the conditions will be markedly different to previous tournaments. How do you think the weather could affect the players and how will they need to adapt to the conditions?

I’ve read reports that the weather will be between 5°C to 10°C  cooler with a chance of some cold winds, but I still think Augusta is one of the best places in the world to play golf. Augusta in autumn is like an English course in summer.

If the players need to wear a sweater, it’ll only be a light sweater – we’re not talking about heavy sweaters and windcheaters.

The players will embrace the weather. The course may be a bit softer, but that’s an advantage to the players. There also won’t be any run on the ball, which pros like. There’s even a chance that the greens won’t be as quick, but Augusta does have subair technology which can dry the greens out very quickly. So, even if there is a little dew and damp in the morning, this technology will take that straight off.

So, Augusta will still radiate beauty, the players as always will be inspired, and I expect low scoring because of these perfect Masters conditions.

Are there any players whose game you feel is best suited to the softer surfaces as a result of the weather?

I think it’ll suit Tiger Woods because he’s wayward off the tee, but in general most pros like to have soft conditions off the tee.

The interesting paradox with Bryson DeChambeau is that he’s playing with a 48-inch driver and trying to hit the ball even further, but the most important aspect of golf is to hit the ball in the right place on the fairway. It begs the question, why does he want to hit it even further? You want to hit the ball consistently straight.

He’s hitting drives that are travelling 345 yards but even then, there are guys right behind him like Cameron Champ who are using a 3-wood. I suppose this is why golf’s governing bodies are having sleepless nights! 

Any player who is not averaging at least 300 yards off the tee will be at a big disadvantage, mainly because they will have to hit longer second shots which makes getting close to the awkward pin positions more difficult. You often end up in 3-putt country if this is the case!

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