By Stephen Delaney Hale
Photos Courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club and The Augusta Chronicle
Sports speculation is a favorite pastime around the world.
Every sport has their own prognosticators, but Masters fans invented their own prediction mechanism, the Calcutta Party, very early on in the life of the tournament. First of all, it’s a party! It can be among your golf group, your bridge club or even your polo club (we did that in 2006).
You start by plying a significant size crowd with cocktails. Then you get a popular member of the group who knows enough about golf and the Masters and is enough of an entertainer to keep everyone’s attention. Usually, the emcee hands out a list of this year’s invitees and then begins an auction of the players. The key is that once you pick a player (or group of players) you have your favorite(s) for the rest of the week. It focuses your mind. You cheer a little louder for “your guy.”
The Calcutta Party is an Augusta tradition.
As the tournament approaches, Masters fans – and “experts,” spend countless hours picking their favorites, and talking it over with other “experts” hoping to find the inspiration to pick the winner this year.
Here are our Top 10 picks to win a green jacket at this year’s tournament. These ten men have proven their mettle, won’t get swallowed by the moment or have been playing exceptionally well in the past several months.
World rankings as of February 21, 2021
Dustin Johnson | World Golf Ranking 1
The sweet swinging golfing great from Irmo, S.C., Dustin Johnson virtually ran, make that calmly walked away, with the 2020 Masters Tournament win. When you are the premier athlete in your sport, greatness begins to reveal itself. Much like Tom Brady controlled the 2021 Super Bowl, Johnson was in constant command of his game, strolling into Sunday with a four-stroke lead.
The Masters marked the fifth time in his last seven Tour starts that Johnson held the 54-hole lead/co-lead. Since Augusta, Johnson achieved another huge success in early February with his second Saudi International win.
It is exciting to wonder if we have already witnessed the beginning of another record of excellence, a Tiger Woods-like dominance, another Nicklaus or Jones. Johnson is just getting so good at what he does that other players see that calm measured walk and have images of Clint Eastwood whistling and coming for them.
Jon Rahm | World Golf Ranking 2
Spainard Jon Rahm is playing very well coming into the 2021 Masters. He finished T7 at the November Masters Tournament after being in a four-way tie for the lead with Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Cameron Smith on Friday. Elsewhere on the PGA Tour, Rahm won twice last year, was second twice and third once. At the time of the Phoenix Open this year, Rahm had been ranked 2nd in the world for the prior 18 weeks – except for the two weeks in which he was ranked No. 1. Rahm had a spectacular 2019, winning at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans over the emerging Englishman Tommy Fleetwood and his longtime mentor and countryman Sergio Garcia.
Back in Europe, Rahm repeated victories in The Irish Open, defended his title in The Spanish Open and in back-to-back years won the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
After his second World Tour Championship, Rahm was named 2019 European Tour Golfer of the Year. In previous Masters Tournaments, Rahm finished 4th in 2018 and 9th in 2019. A former Arizona State Sun Devil, Rahm lives in Phoenix, with his wife, Kelley Cahill. At Arizona State, he won 11 tournaments, a mark second only to Phil Mickelson’s 16 wins for their shared alma mater.
Justin Thomas | World Golf Ranking 3
Justin Thomas has been the most consistent winner in the world of golf over the past seven years, taking home at least one trophy every year since he became a full-time PGA Tour member. He has won twice in each of his last three seasons and five times in 2017.
Thomas began 2020 with a victory in the year’s first tournament, the Sentry Tournament of Champions, and won again in August at the World Golf Championships – St. Jude Invitational. Thomas lost on the third hole of a playoff to Collin Morikawa in the Workday Charity Open at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio.
In October, Thomas finished in a tie for second with Jon Rahm, both a stroke short of winner Patrick Cantlay. He finished third behind Tony Finau and playoff winner Webb Simpson at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and his lone tie for third in 2020 came in a star-studded season finale Tour Championship at East Lake Country Club in Atlanta.
Thomas had five more finishes in the top ten last year including a fourth at the Masters and a tie for sixth at the U.S. Open. Getting Thomas in your stable at your Calcutta party will be an early week victory for you.
Xander Schauffele | World Golf Ranking 4
Xander Schauffele had entered three tournaments by mid-February this year. He chalked up a tie for fifth at the Tournament of Champions and tied for second in the other two, behind Patrick Reed in the Farmers Insurance Open, and one stroke behind Brooks Koepka at the Waste Management Phoenix Open with Kyounghoon Lee.
In his first four seasons on the PGA Tour, Schauffele has won five times, including the Tournament of Champions in 2019, The WGC-HBC Championships in 2018, and twice in 2017 at The Greenbriar Classic and the Tour Championship.
Second in the 2019 Masters, a stroke behind winner Tiger Woods and tied with Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, Schauffele has had several good finishes in major tournaments in his short career. In 12 career major starts, Schauffele has finished in a tie for sixth or better six times.
His 2019 performance at the Masters seems to show that Schauffele is already a big-time player, even if he doesn’t yet have a big-time name in the sport. A win in the 2021 Masters Tournament will change all that.
Tyrrell Hatton | World Golf Ranking 5
Tyrrell Hatton has missed the cut in two of his four Masters Tournament entries and his best finish here is a tie for 44th in 2018. But 2021 could be the year all that changes.
Ranked No. 5 in the world in late February, Hatton is one of the world’s leading golfers boasting victories on both the European and PGA Tours last year. The 30-year-old’s winning form of 2020 has already returned in 2021 with a January victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, his fourth Rolex Series win on the European Tour. In 2020 the Englishman finished atop one of the best fields in golf to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. His victory at the European Tour’s Flagship event, The BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, resulted in his first Top-10 spot in the World Golf Rankings.
Hatton turned professional in 2011 and joined the European PGA Tour in 2014. That was the beginning of a continuous upward trajectory with his victories at the Italian Open and back-to-back triumphs at the world’s oldest and most prestigious match play titles, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, making him an obvious member of the winning 2018 European Ryder Cup Team. In 2019, Hatton won his second straight Turkish Airlines Open.
He is considered a key asset on the European Ryder Cup Team set to be played at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
Most Masters veterans say it takes a while to get your legs under you at Augusta National and the same is true of learning to win in professional golf. Hatton has done the latter that suggests that he is on his way to the former.
Rory McIlroy | World Golf Ranking 6
In danger of forfeiting the title to Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy has been widely considered the player of the decade ever since he “almost” won the 2011 Masters Tournament. Nobody needs any extra motivation to win the Masters, but McIlroy has it more than anybody else.
He has won the other three majors and needs a Masters win to become the sixth player in history to win the grand slam of golf. He led going into the back nine in 2011 and then famously failed down the stretch.
Since then, he scored four major victories, including a few months later at the 2011 U.S. Open by eight strokes at Congressional Country Club. He has also won the PGA Tournament twice, in 2012 and 2014.
In 2019, McIlroy was voted the PGA Tour Player of the Year and won The Players Championship and the Tour Championship. In that order, the two tournaments would almost surely be rated fifth and sixth in prestige after the four majors if there were such a ranking.
The Players Championship has the strongest field in all of golf and the Tour Championship invites only the top 30 golfers who still have clubs in their hands after the season-ending elimination playoffs named The Fed/ExCup. The Tour Championship, held at Georgia golf icon Bobby Jones’ home course East Lake Country Club in Atlanta, is ‘the finals’ of the Fed/ExCup.
He also won the 2019 (Harry) Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average on Tour throughout the year. He joined Tiger Woods as the only golfers who have twice won both the cup and the championship in the same year. Another reason it is difficult to get McIlroy at your Calcutta is because just about everybody loves the guy – that’s what polls of the other PGA players shows nearly every year. As proof of his popularity, he was elected by his peers as chairman of the Tour’s Player Advisory Council for 2021.
Bryson Dechambeau | World Golf Ranking 10
In his first tournament of 2021 the long-hitting and unorthodox swinging Bryson DeChambeau began with a tie for seventh at the Tournament of Champions. In what the PGA Tour is listing as a 2021 event due to COVID-19, DeChambeau won the U.S. Open by six strokes at famed Winged Foot Golf Club. It was his first major championship victory and seventh PGA Tour win for the 28-year-old from California.
By winning the national professional USGA title, DeChambeau became just the third player in history to win it as well as the other two national championships, the U.S. Amateur and the NCAA Division I Collegiate Championship. He joined the company of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods by accomplishing that trifecta.
Despite his obvious talents to match Augusta National’s toughest tests, DeChambeau has struggled in his four starts at the Masters. His best finish so far was a T-21 in his first appearance in 2016. When he won the U.S. Open last year, DeChambeau led the field in driving distance and in strokes gained putting. Last year the consistent DeChambeau turned in a streak of seven consecutive finishes at T-8 or better, concluding the string with a victory at the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the Detroit Golf Club in July.
DeChambeau is reaching distances off the tee never before seen on the PGA Tour. Not long ago it was Tiger Woods who broke all the driving distance records and he’s won the Masters five times. Before Woods, it was Jack Nicklaus who was the unchallenged driving distance champ and he has won six green jackets. DeChambeau has a lot of room in his closet to date, but there is a great distance between his tee balls and those of his playing partners.
Patrick Reed | World Golf Ranking 11
Patrick Reed won the Farmers Insurance Open by five strokes over Viktor Hovland at the end of January. The 2018 Masters champion, Reed played college golf for two years at Augusta University and helped lead the Jaguars to the NCAA Division I championship in both 2010 and 2011.
He turned professional and earned his 2013 playing card through the Tour’s “Q-School.” Then in August he won his first PGA Tour event at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C. in a playoff against Jordan Spieth.
At the 2018 Masters he was paired with Rory McIlroy in the final group. He would dispatch his rival early and later withstand charges by Rickie Fowler and two-time Masters champion Jordan Spieth to don the coveted green jacket.
His win here seems at odds with his other finishes in Augusta in which his next best tournament was a tie for 22nd in 2015. In 24 major championship starts, Reed has only three other top-10 finishes. He has seven professional wins, including the 2019 Northern Trust Open and tied for second in the first tournament of 2021.
When Reed gets hot it seems he cannot be beaten. It appears as if he will’s the ball into the cup. Certainly, he has to be among the favorites to put it all together at the 2021 Masters.
Brooks Koepka | World Golf Ranking 12
Most golf fans have probably assumed the burly Brooks Koepka, with the soft touch around the greens, has been a regular winner on the PGA Tour. But the four-time major championship winner has been slowed by injuries for most of the past two years before breaking through at the Phoenix Open earlier this year.
Koepka took the Phoenix title in style from Xander Schauffele and Kyoung-Hoon Lee, starting the final round five strokes back and winning by one with a final round of 65. It was his first win since the FedEx St. Jude Invitational in 2019.
The West Palm Beach, Fla. native took his game to the professional level at the European Challenge Tour in 2012, where he won his first tournament. Koepka has won 14 professional tournaments worldwide, including seven on the PGA Tour. He began his remarkable record of major championship victories at the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, Wis. and sucessfully defended his title in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, making him the first golfer to win consecutive U.S. Opens since Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989.
Koepka won his fourth major at the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Long Island. The PGA of America awarded their 2019 Player of the Year award to Koepka based on his three victories, including a major and a WGC victory.
After an unpredictable 2020 season, Koepka is certain to be among the favorites when the field tees it up on April 8.
Tiger Woods | World Golf Ranking 48
Tiger Woods’ name was set here among our top picks to win the 2021 Masters Tournament the week of his terrifying traffic accident in Los Angeles, the same week that this magazine went to press. We chose to honor his brilliance on the golf course and all that he has meant to Augusta and to the Masters by saving his spot among our favorites.
Of course, we are saddened that he won’t be competing in the 2021 Masters – we don’t know about the future. But Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods retains his place among our greatest Masters champions. We pray for his recovery and for his family. We look forward to cheering for him any time he returns to Augusta and we hope that is for many years to come.
Article appears in the April 2021 issue of Augusta Magazine.