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Winner of The Masters might be blowing in the wind

It’s sunny and in the 70s this week in Augusta, Georgia. What it will be like at this time next week is anybody’s guess. Weather in the South can turn on a dime in November, and players at this year’s Masters need to be prepared for anything.

COVID-19 has pushed this year’s tournament back seven months, and every scenario will be strange. Not only are the calendar and climate different, but the signature azaleas will not be in bloom. And the crowds whose roars echo through the pines will be absent on a quiet, spectator-free venue.

“I’ve heard it can be beautiful in November. I’ve heard it can be quite cold,” said Rory McIlroy, still in search of his first Masters win to complete a career grand slam. “I think it’s really the luck of the draw what weather we get. It’s something we’re just going to have to adapt to.”

Whatever the unknowns, Justin Thomas said there still will be plenty of knowns going into The Masters.

“It’s still Augusta,” Thomas said. “You still have to miss it in the same spots. You still have to take advantage of the holes that you usually do. The only difference is we don’t know how it’s going to play.”

It could be firmer and faster, or it could be wet and slow, Thomas said.

“We’re going to go there not knowing what it’s going to be like and we’re just going to have to take it for what it’s worth,” he said.

Players will drive up Magnolia Lane in search of a coveted green jacket. Who will drive away next Sunday with it remains a mystery, particularly when so many of the favorites arrive with huge question marks about the state of their games.

Since the 2020-2021 season began two months ago, the list of winners on the PGA Tour has been anything but headliners. Hudson Swafford, Martin Laird, Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay all have victories. Veterans Stewart Cink and Sergio Garcia finally triumphed again. Patrick Cantlay has a win and is ranked ninth in the world, but he’s never been a factor in a major championship so far in his career.

So just where do the top players stand heading into Augusta?

Dustin Johnson

Nobody was hotter in late summer than the world’s top player. He had two wins, two seconds and a sixth in his last five events. Then he arrived in Las Vegas three weeks ago and caught coronavirus. He hasn’t played since, although he is in the field in Houston this week. Can he pick up where he left off, or will there be rust?

Jon Rahm

Since July, he has two wins and five top-10 finishes. And even though he is ranked second in the world, he has never won a major. And no course tests your patience — which Rahm sometimes lacks — as much as Augusta.

Justin Thomas

His last five months have been a cycle of contending but not closing. And when it comes to the Masters, he has never had a top-10 finish.

Rory McIlroy

Since June, his best finish is a tie for eighth at the U.S. Open. The pattern is generally three good but not great rounds and one mediocre effort. That won’t work at Augusta.

Collin Morikawa

He’s been off since winning the PGA Championship with three missed cuts in six starts. And he’s never played Augusta, where the key is putting, the weakest aspect of his game.

Bryson DeChambeau

Since winning the U.S. Open, his only start came in Las Vegas where he shot one great round during an otherwise pedestrian week at TPC Summerlin. With his distance, he’s capable of anything at Augusta.

Tiger Woods

He is the defending champion and Augusta brings out his best. But in six events since July, his best finish is a tie for 37th. Another run at a green jacket seems highly unlikely.

Greg Robertson is a freelance reporter who covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at robertsongt@gmail.com

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