Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas to play Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
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No other major golf tournament is as synonymous with its date and location as the Masters. Every April the sport makes it annual pilgrimage to Augusta National in Georgia where the best players in the world contend for the Green Jacket amid the blooming azaleas. But not this year.
The Masters has been played in April every year apart from the inaugural event in 1934 which ended in late March. But due to the global coronavirus pandemic, the tournament has now been moved from April 9-12 to November 12-15.
Masters chairman Fred Ridley said in a statement: “We want to emphasise that our future plans are incumbent upon favourable counsel and direction from health officials. Provided that occurs and we can conduct the 2020 Masters.”
So, it’s not definitely going to be played… but let’s keep our fingers crossed. A Masters in November rather than April is better than no Masters at all. The only time the event has ever been cancelled was between 1943-45 because of World War II.
Instead of its traditional place as the first major of the season, the Masters will now be the last of just three this season after the Open Championship was cancelled.
But with the other majors also being pushed back, and the Ryder Cup remaining in its scheduled date, the Masters – if all these tournaments are played – will now cap off a period of golf more action-packed than the sport has ever seen.
First of all, golf fans will be salivating at the prospect of two Masters tournaments in the space of five months: one in November and one in April. But autumn is where things get interesting.
The three events which make up the FedExCup Play-offs are now scheduled to take place on successive weekends, concluding with the Tour Championship on September 7. September 17-20 will be the US Open; September 25-27 the Ryder Cup, and then the Masters in November.
That’s the season-ending, money-list deciding Tour Championship, the Ryder Cup and three majors… in 10 weeks!
Augusta National said it intends to invite those professionals and amateurs who would have qualified for the tournament if it had been played on its original April date. It’s field of 96 players are now set in stone, regardless of what happens between now and November.
The final qualifying criteria was to be the top 50 in the world on March 30, but instead the most updated world rankings, which were frozen on March 20 due to the coronavirus pandemic, were used.
Of the current top 50, only four players were not otherwise exempt. World no. 44 Collin Morikawa will make his Masters debut, as will no. 45 Scottie Scheffler and no. 47 Christiaan Bezuidenhout. The luckiest late addition, though, was Graeme McDowell.
The Northern Irishman was 51st in the world when the Players Championship began on March 12. That event was cancelled after one round, but the world rankings ran for one more week even though no golf was played. The complicated rankings system then pushed him up to number 49 before the rankings then froze.
The climate in Georgia is on average cooler in November than in April. (21°C average high compared to 25°C). But the bentgrass greens should still play firm and fast in the cooler weather.
But colder conditions could make the course tougher. Back in 2007 when temperatures never got higher than 10°C for the third round, scoring was the highest since 1956.
Also there’s the possibility of a northerly wind blowing up in November. This could mean at three of the four par 5s players could have the wind in their faces which could limit birdies and eagles.
And for the tournament’s organisers, there is a logistical concern. There is around three-and-a-half fewer hours of sunlight in November compared to April, so getting all 96 players around the golf course won’t be easy!
The Masters in November will be less colourful, but still beautiful. Autumnal shades of green will replace the usual red, pink and white of the fames azaleas. The 13th hole alone has over 1,500 azalea bushes.
Though we have seen this before – in 2012 when all the flowers bloomed a week early and were gone by the time the first player teed off.
Augusta National is closed every year in May and doesn’t re-open for members members until October. The club’s staff will now have to get its overseed of perennial ryegrass timed correctly to get the course up to tournament conditions just weeks after the usual October re-opening.
Then they’ll have just under 5 months to get it ready again for the 2021 Masters, which is two months shorter than usual.