By Andrew Both
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – Players applying late finishing touches to their Masters preparations were forced to cut things short when thunderstorms rolled in on Wednesday afternoon, setting the stage for a soggy start to a tournament 19 long months in the making.
A handful of players were still on the course at 3 p.m. local time when the siren wailed to signal dangerous approaching weather, among them Matt Kuchar, who casually strolled up the 18th hole in the company of a couple of friends.
A dire forecast for heavy rain overnight and into Thursday morning suggests Augusta National’s vaunted drainage system will be fully tested.
Bryson DeChambeau remains a warm favourite to add to his recent U.S. Open victory, though his odds are nothing like a short-priced Tiger Woods in his heyday.
DeChambeau, who has spoken about perhaps using a 48-inch shaft driver, the maximum allowed, was spotted on the range earlier on Wednesday tinkering with a more standard 45-inch one.
Whether he puts the longer one into play this week might be of interest only to golf equipment junkies, but it has the potential to change the modern game.
The longer the club the faster it can be swung, and the further it can be hit, though the trade-off in loss of accuracy has to date discouraged anyone from wielding the 48-inch weapon competitively.
Whatever driver DeChambeau chooses, however, he will need a deft touch around and on the greens at a course where experience counts for much.
Others with legitimate hopes of slipping into a Green Jacket include fellow Americans Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, Spaniard Jon Rahm and Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy.
Defending champion Woods, meanwhile, finds himself in the unaccustomed position of being almost an afterthought, a longshot based on his recent mediocre form.
Nineteen long months after ending a decade-long drought to claim a 15th major title, the 44-year-old Woods is at an age where great performances are still possible but consistent excellence harder to attain.
That the Masters is even being played will be a welcome sight for golf fans around the world.
Usually held in early spring, it was the first major championship this year to be postponed as the coronavirus swept across the United States.
The PGA Championship was subsequently pushed back from May until August, the U.S. Open from June until September, and the British Open cancelled altogether.
The Masters, as with the majors preceding it, will be played without spectators, but a global television audience will lap it up, even if the pink azaleas and white dogwoods that usually provide a colourful backdrop are missing.
But a Green Jacket is still on offer, and at the end of a disrupted season there could hardly be anything more fitting.
(Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Ed Osmond)