Local Favorites Dominate the Augusta Field – BY DERRICK THOMAS

pga tour, harris english
Harris English holds the champions trophy after the final round of the Tournament of Champions golf event, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, at Kapalua Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii. (Matthew Thayer/The Maui News via AP)

April 5, 2021 –
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – It’s no secret that golf has a rich tradition in Georgia.  Underrated, however, may be the recent excellence of collegiate golf in the Peach State.  Both the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech boast respected golf programs, but many will be surprised to hear that 11 of the 88 players in the 2021 Masters field attended either UGA or Tech at some point.  Since it’s not too difficult, I’ll do the math for you.  That’s one in eight players – or 12.5% of the field – from these two schools alone.  Certainly a point of local pride.

There are six competitors in the 2021 Masters field that list Georgia as their alma mater.  Patrick Reed would bring that number to seven, but after a stint at UGA, Reed left for Augusta State.  If you do consider Reed to be a Bulldog, then he may be the best chance for either of these universities in 2021.  A Masters Champion just three years ago, Reed is currently ranked 7th in the Official World Golf Rankings, and he finished tied for 13th or better in each of the three majors played last season.  If he’s able to avoid any penalties, his excellent putting can always give him a chance.

The most legitimate chance for a real Dawg lies with fan favorite Bubba Watson.  A 12-time winner on the PGA Tour, two Green Jackets already crowd Bubba’s locker, winning here in both 2012 and 2014. However, the big lefty has just two top-5 finishes since 2019 and hasn’t won on tour since 2018 (when he won three times).  It will take some 2012-like heroics for Watson to mount a charge this week, but he still has the ability and local knowledge to play this course at a high level.  Being left-handed at Augusta National doesn’t hurt, either.

St. Simons resident and fellow-lefty Brian Harman has played well recently.  In his last two events, Harman tied for third at The Players Championship and barely missed out on the final four of the WGC Match play (tied for 5th).  The 34 year-old vet tied for second in the 2017 US Open, but he only has two Masters appearances under his belt, his best result being a T44 in 2018.

Also a former Bulldog, Harris English finds himself in the same boat as Harman.  He’s shown recent promise, finishing fourth in last year’s US Open and winning the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January, his first title since 2013.  Also like Harman, this will be English’s third Masters start.  His best finish was a tie for 42nd in 2016.

Kevin Kisner has quietly built a fine career on the PGA Tour. A three-time winner, the 37 year-old finished tied for 7th in the 2017 PGA Championship, and he was also runner-up at the 2018 British Open.  Kisner has been cut only once in five tries at Augusta. His best finish was a T21 in 2019.  At 152nd in strokes gained off-the-tee this season, he just may not have the length to compete at Augusta National.  But Georgia fans won’t soon forget that 2005 National Championship.

Atlanta resident Brendon Todd has seen a career resurgence in recent years, winning back-to-back titles in 2019 (his first since 2014).  He has never finished in the top-10 of a major tournament and got cut in each of his first two Masters appearances (2015 and 2020). Worth noting he’s currently 56th in the World Golf Rankings and was in the top-40 as recently as September.  At 35, this may be his best shot at a solid Masters result.

Hudson Swafford will appear at Augusta for the second time after recording his second career win at Puntacana in September.  The 2006 Dogwood Invitational champion failed to make the cut in 4 previous major starts, but at 33, he is currently 38th in FedEx Cup points.

Four former Yellow Jackets also find themselves in this year’s Masters field. That is tied for second most (with Arizona State), behind only Georgia’s six (or seven, if you count Reed).

Matt Kuchar headlines the group for Tech and has the most legitimate chance to make a run at a top finish.  Kuchar has built a great record at Augusta, dating back to 1998, when he was the Low Amateur. He has missed two cuts in 14 appearances and has four top-10 finishes, including a tie for third in 2012.  The 2016 Olympic bronze medalist has nine career victories and has finished in the top-10 of every major championship at least once. But at age 42, his chances of seizing that elusive major title shrink every year.

Local favorite Stewart Cink will enjoy his second appearance at Augusta since 2014.  In fact, the Atlanta resident has just seven major tournament starts since that year. He has one win since his 2009 British Open championship, but it came in September of last year, and earned the former Yellow Jacket an impressive 19th shot at a Green Jacket.  It’s hard to consider Cink a legitimate contender this week, but the 47 year-old’s career may have gotten its second (or fifth?) wind since his son Reagan joined him as his caddy.

And then there is 1987 Masters Champion Larry Mize.  The Augusta native makes his 38th appearance in 2021.  Mize worked at Augusta National as a youngster.  That local knowledge likely came in handy when he dropped a 2-under 70 in the first round of the 2020 Masters – at age 62.

On the other end of the spectrum is 2020 US Amateur champion Tyler Strafaci.  The 22 year-old already played in the US Open back in 2018, and he plans to turn pro after the Walker Cup in May.  He won’t win this tournament – at least not in 2021…

While this group already owns three Green Jackets (four with Reed), it’s difficult to find a true top-tier contender among them heading into this year’s event.  A few are past their prime, while others are just beginning to realize their potential.

Nevertheless, between the existing legacy and great potential this group possesses, we could easily see a few local favorites near the top this weekend at Augusta.

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