Masters takeaways: Will Zalatoris is on the cusp of greatness
A new champion has been crowned at Augusta, and Hideki Matsuyama is no doubt busy checking himself out in his new green jacket.
32 players hit more birdies than Matsuyama this week, but he made very few mistakes and that was key to coming out on top. He ranked No. 1 in the field for scrambling, and only dropped nine shots over the four rounds – three of which came on the final four holes.
With the Masters in the bag and three more golf majors on the horizon, here are five things we learned after four days at Augusta.
Experience is key
There have only ever been three winners on debut, and it takes an average of six Masters appearances for you to win the green jacket – but this year really hammered it home. Matsuyama was making his 10th appearance at Augusta this year – previously finishing in the top 10 twice and posting the best amateur score in 2011.
10 of the top 11 players on the leaderboard were making at least their fourth Augusta appearance. Every single one of those players had been here at least three times before, with Patrick Reed, Marc Leishman, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Rose all with at least seven appearances here already.
Will Zalatoris is the exception rather than the rule after a fantastic Augusta debut and a place in the top two.
Zalatoris aside, this is further evidence that Augusta experience is a must – and Augusta form is even more valuable. Of the top nine finishers, eight of them had already been in the top 10 at the Masters, and six of them had been in the top five.
Zalatoris is on the cusp of greatness
What a couple of years it has been for Zalatoris. He may look like Happy Gilmore’s caddy, but he is one hell of a special talent. His rise to superstardom has been rapid.
In his first Korn Ferry Tour start in 2019, Zalatoris finished 41st and was outside the top 2,000 in the world. Over the next year or so, he worked his way up to the top of the Korn Ferry Tour and into the top 120 in the world – gaining an invite to the U.S. Open in September last year. Zalatoris finished sixth and bagged three to-20 finishes that month as he gained special temporary status on the PGA Tour.
Rolling into Augusta, Zalatoris defied the debut doubters and put in a fantastic performance to finish 9-under-par and runner-up. The highlight of his week was the back nine on Friday as he posted a score of 5-under as he turned for home and put down a marker for the tournament.
Zalatoris continues to excel under pressure, and he will be hotly tipped going into the PGA Championship.
DJ’s score of -20 in November may never be beat
The good folks at Augusta do not like when someone comes and dismantles their golf course. When Tiger Woods won with a score of 18-under par in 1997, the winning score the next year was nine-under. When Spieth won with 18-under in 2015, the winning score 12 months later was just 5-under. Dustin Johnson’s record-breaking 20-under-par has now been followed by a winning score of 11-under.
It’s a record DJ may hold for an exceptionally long time. Not only were conditions apparently easier in November than the usual April slot, but the powers that be in Augusta do not want this to be known as a shoot-out.
As demonstrated this week, the course is to be feared. Only 20 of the 88 players finished with a score under par for the week, and that’s the way traditionalists believe it should be.
The Diaper Dimension is real
Jon Rahm’s pre-tournament appeal was obvious – after all, the Spaniard is one of the best in the world and has a game suited perfectly for a challenge like Augusta. But I fancied him to win it even more after the birth of his first child, a baby boy, the weekend before the tournament.
The Diaper Dimension theory is based on the fact that a golfer’s performance improves once they become a dad, and I’m a big believer in it. Rahm backed that theory up here with a solid performance and is worth backing at the next major.
Rahm turned up at Augusta late and barely got a practice in before teeing up on Thursday. He shot three rounds of level par and then finished with a fantastic 66 just as he started to warm up. He was absolutely buzzing in interviews talking about his new baby, and with a bit more preparation going into the PGA Championship he could be a great early bet.
Jordan Spieth is back
After winning the Open Championship in 2017 by three strokes it all went downhill for Spieth. Winless years in 2018 and 2019 were followed by another winless 2020 as he fell out of the world’s top 50 and struggled for any kind of form. Unthinkable when you consider this is the guy who led wire-to-wire in the 2015 Masters when he set the course record, and followed it up with a win in the U.S. Open a couple of months later.
But now, Spieth is returning to form. Before the Masters this year he had played six tournaments and finished in the top five in four of them, including his win in the Texas Open, ending that four-year drought.
At Augusta he finished third with a very solid score of 7-under-par, with a belting 68 on Friday. Nobody found more greens in regulation than Spieth this week (77%), and he made 18 birdies across the four days. A sloppy ninth hole in his opening round and a difficult round of 72 on Saturday may have cost Spieth a green jacket this time, but he is back in form again, and a serious player in the year’s remaining majors.