Dustin Johnson favourite to join elite trio in US Masters history books - plus tee-off times

The build up to the Masters is usually dominated by a handful of names, whether that is Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy or Bryson DeChambeau.

Dustin Johnson selects a club on the fourth hole during a practice round for the Masters. Picture: AP/David J. Phillip

But not this year. Just 145 days after the 84th Masters concluded with Dustin Johnson’s record-breaking victory, the 85th edition will get under way with the “firm and fast” conditions at Augusta National at the top of the agenda.

“Anything you learn today, this week, forget it,” was the succinct advice offered by Jon Rahm to Sebastian Munoz during last year’s final round as the Colombian went on to finish 19th, one of a number of first-timers who enjoyed November’s softer conditions.

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Higher up the leaderboard, Sungjae Im contended to become the first player to win on their debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 before having to settle for a tie for second with Cameron Smith, who became the first man in history to break 70 in all four rounds.

Rory McIlroy hits out of a bunker on the third hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament. Picture: AP/Gregory Bull

Johnson made history himself with a record-winning total of 20 under par, surpassing the previous best of 18 under set by Woods in 1997 and equalled by Jordan Spieth in 2015.

So whether it is solely as a result of the weather or down to the desires of the Augusta powers-that-be to defend the course, the 88-man field can be sure of a different test this week.

“The November one I kind of set aside,” said world No 10 Patrick Cantlay, who was one-shot off the halfway lead in the coronavirus-delayed event.

“I thought it was fantastic that we were able to just get the event in that year, and I think Dustin’s 20-under record will be pretty safe for many years to come.

Justin Rose chips to the second hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament at Augusta. Picture: Curtis Compton via AP

“This week I expect it to get really firm and fast, and I think that’s when this golf course shines.”

Another change from November sees the return of spectators to Augusta National, with a limited number of what tournament organisers insist on calling “patrons” allowed on site each day.

“You can see it in my face,” US PGA champion Collin Morikawa said with a wide smile when asked for his reaction. “We love it. I really miss it.

“It was great to see fans slowly come back over the past month and a half. It’s definitely going to line some fairways differently, which is actually going to be nice. We missed it and we’re truly happy they are back.”

Johnson remains favourite to join Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win back-to-back Masters titles despite some indifferent recent form by his standards, with a rejuvenated Jordan Spieth, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm close behind.

Meanwhile, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley insisted a specific “Masters ball” would be a last resort in the battle to limit hitting distances.

The game’s governing bodies are set to limit clubs to a maximum of 46 inches and are seeking feedback from manufacturers on two other proposals related to equipment standards. The fifth hole at Augusta National was lengthened by 40 yards ahead of the 2019 Masters and the par-five 13th could also be extended, but Ridley hopes more drastic action will not be required.

“As I’ve stated in the past, each year we look at every hole of our golf course,” Ridley said in his annual pre-Masters press conference. “Fortunately we do have the ability to make any number of changes to protect the integrity of the course. At the same time, we hope there will not come a day when the Masters, or any golf championship, will have to be played at 8,000 yards to achieve that objective. This is an important crossroads so we will continue to urge the governing bodies and all interested parties to put forward thoughtful solutions as soon as possible.

“I know there’s been some talk in the past of possibly a Masters golf ball – that would be highly unlikely and in my view be an absolute last resort.”

He added: “We have had a long-standing position of supporting the governing bodies and I was very encouraged when I saw the areas of interest that were published by the USGA and R&A recently.

“Our position would be to support the governing bodies and then, if there is no action taken for whatever reason, then we need to look at other options with regard our golf course and what we can do to continue to challenge these great golfers and maintain the design integrity that was initially adopted by Mr (Bobby) Jones and Mr (Alister) MacKenzie.”

Augusta National will play to 7,475 yards for this week’s Masters.

First-round tee-off times:

USA unless stated:

(a) denotes amateurs

13:00: M Thompson (US), H Swafford (US)

13:12 S Lyle (Sco), M Jones (Aus), D Frittelli (SA)

13:24 I Woosnam (Wal), J Herman (US), S Cink (US)

13:36 S Munoz (Col), H Stenson (Swe), R Streb (US)

13:48 B Langer (Ger), W Zalatoris (US), J Long (Eng)*

14:00 B Harman (US), I Poulter (Eng), B Todd (US)

14:12 C Schwartzel (SA), Si Woo Kim (Kor), C Conners (Can)

14:24 D Willettt (Eng), J Niemann (Chi), K Kisner (US)

14:36 J Day (Aus), M Wolff (US), C Champ (US)

14:48 H Matsuyama (Jpn), H English (US), A Ancer (Mex)

15:06 B Watson (US), B Koepka (US), V Hovland (Nor)

15:18 S Garcia (Spa), W Simpson (US), C Bezuidenhout (SA)

15:30 D Johnson (US), L Westwood (Eng), T Strafaci (US)*

15:42 X Schauffele (US), J Rahm (Spa), R McIlroy (NI)

15:54 P Reed (US), D Berger (US), P Casey (Eng)

16:06 V Singh (Fij), M Laird (Sco)

16:18 L Mize (US), J Walker (US), B Gay (US)

16:30 C Ortiz (Mex), M Hughes (Can), B Wiesberger (Aut)

16:42 M Weir (Can), CT Pan (Tai), R MacIntyre (Sco)

16:54 JM Olazabal (Spa), M Wallace (Eng), L Griffin (US)

17:12 V Perez (Fra) J Kokrak (US), M Leishman (Aus)

17:24 F Couples (US), F Molinari (Ita), C Osborne (US)*

17:36 Z Johnson (US), K Na (US), G Woodland (US)

17:48 S Lowry (Ire), J Rose (Eng), M Kuchar (US)

18:00 B Horschel (US), T Hatton (Eng), R Palmer (US)

18:12 P Mickelson (US), T Fleetwood (Eng), S Scheffler (US)

18:24 P Cantlay (US), S Im (Kor), M Fitzpatrick (Eng)

18:36 A Scott (Aus), B DeChambeau (US), M Homa (US)

18:48 T Finau (US), L Oosthuizen (SA), J Thomas (US)

19:00 J Spieth (US), C Smith (Aus), C Morikawa (US)

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