The Masters is back in its traditional April locale, just five months after Dustin Johnson claimed a green jacket at a tournament unlike any other. Now, with the azaleas in bloom, golf's finest are back at Augusta. Nature is healing. Here's what you need to know before the tournament begins.
What's new for 2021?
Patrons, for one thing. After a very quiet November, Augusta National is letting in a limited number (the club won't say how limited) of badge holders to this year's tournament. There won't be grandstands, and patrons won't be able to leave their seats and return later. The smaller gathering won't be able to create the chill-inducing roars from Rae's Creek of years past, but the noise will definitely exceed last year's near-silence, when someone digging into a bag of Masters-branded chips a hundred yards away could distract the players.
Even though more patrons will enter the gates, COVID-19 isn't yet done with Augusta National. Guests at the ultra-exclusive Berckman's Place club on the grounds must present a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arrival, but if you didn't already know that, you're probably not invited.
The Par 3 tournament, always a favorite but also always tightly packed with patrons, will not be held again this year to allow for social distancing.
What are the key storylines?
Jordan Spieth, Jordan Spieth and ... oh, yeah, Jordan Spieth.
The 2015 Masters champion won his first event in nearly four years on Sunday at the Valero Texas Open, and that's giving his fans hope that his long victory drought may be over. Spieth's odds at BetMGM ticked up a touch, to +1100.
Johnson comes in as the favorite (+900), and after his dominant victory last year, it's not hard to see why. He's on a run of five straight top-fives at the Masters, and he ought to be in any conversation this year.
Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas all go off at +1100, and any one of them is capable of making a Sunday charge ... though, crucially, at least one of them is likely to have a Thursday-Friday flameout, too, and go home early. That's the joy of Augusta.
Keep an eye on Brooks Koepka (+2500), who's coming off knee surgery and believes he's ready to play at Augusta. Also watch out — with caution — for Rory McIlroy (+1800), who's chasing that ever-elusive career Grand Slam. McIlroy has struggled lately, fighting with himself, his swing, his coach and the universe, but he has shown he knows how to get to the top of a leaderboard at Augusta. Can he stay there?
Alas, no Charley Hoffman this year, which means we won't get the usual Hoffman Thursday charge. But we can count on some lesser-known names to make the charge before the weekend, and we'll know their stories by Saturday.
Augusta National posts tee times around midday Tuesday of the tournament. While the groupings aren't yet known, it's likely we'll be going back to the traditional full-day start off of only the first hole. Last year's November tournament meant that darkness fell much earlier, and so players started off of both #1 and #10 in an unfamiliar dual start.
How to watch
The Masters app and masters.com are your go-to sites for the most in-depth coverage of the tournament. You can create personalized "playlists" of your favorite players and watch every shot — yes, even on the near-mythical fifth hole — of every round.
The app will also include live streams from Amen Corner; holes 4, 5 and 6; holes 15 and 16; and daily Featured Groups. Oh, and there's a pretty fun little fantasy golf game there too, if that's your thing.
When the television broadcasts begin, here's where to go:
Thursday/Friday: Live coverage from 3-7 p.m. ET on ESPN
Saturday: Live coverage from 3-7 p.m. ET on CBS
Sunday: Live coverage from 2-7 p.m. ET on CBS
Early Augusta forecasts had predicted a rain-free Masters, which meant the greens were going to be firm and fast. Now, we're looking at about a 50 percent chance of showers Friday and Saturday, which will slow down the proceedings just a bit. Temperatures are slated to be in the high 70s, with winds at less than 10 mph ... in other words, scoring conditions ought to be ideal for firing at pins and going low. That is, unless Augusta National decides to dry out the greens a bit. Time will tell, but the long-range forecast looks like we should be in for a pleasant, if occasionally damp, Masters week.
The Champions Dinner
Dustin Johnson once said he'd serve sandwiches as part of his Champions Dinner, but the menu's out and it's a touch higher-class than that. Filet mignon and sea bass are the main courses. Peach cobbler's always a winner, especially in Augusta. Best part: the "pigs in a blanket" appetizer. That's some good Southern eatin' right there.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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