(CBS DFW) — Dustin Johnson set a record in his November Masters win at Augusta National. He shot 268 (20-under) for the tournament on the par-72 course that saw Tiger Woods win in 2019 with 275. While Jordan Spieth’s 270 in 2015 had been the best score of the last 20 years, it’s not uncommon for the winner to shoot in the 280s. Zach Johnson won in 2007 with a four-round total of 289, which is actually 1-over par.
Conditions at the start of the tournament suggest that neither Johnson nor anyone else will come close to his last score. In practice rounds, the course played as firm and fast as it has in years. This means the steeply sloping greens become that much more difficult, guiding good putts toward the hole and bad putts away from it. Contrast these conditions with the soft conditions in November that helped in Johnson’s record performance. Augusta National, in its current state, is much tougher. And that benefits the world’s best players.
In particular, it benefits those players who are particularly handy with the irons. That means players like Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth.
The course is firmer and faster for a couple of reasons. Early spring has more sunlight in that part of the country, which dries everything out. Also the most recent overseed is further in the past. Overseeding, which is the process of planting grass seeds over existing grass to keep the course playable, requires lots of water, which softens conditions.
The club has some control over the difficulty of course conditions. But they may not have to take the matter into their own hands (if they even want to). The current forecast shows the partly cloudy conditions Thursday, but a stray shower or thunderstorm could soften things up on Thursday night. Friday has a 34 percent chance of afternoon thunderstorms, and Saturday has a 65 percent chance all day. More rain could show up Sunday as well. Temperatures will remain in the low 80s with a slight wind.
Precipitation would soften up the course and allow for more scoring. But if the rain slides past Augusta and the forecast stays dry, scoring opportunities could be limited. According to Fred Couples, who won the Masters in 1992, “If it stays dry, it’ll be as difficult as the course has played in a long, long time, and that’s what I think we need to have.”
Then again, Augusta National can still be set up for scoring even if natural conditions are working in opposition.
As of Thursday afternoon, with most most players in the clubhouse, Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama were tied for the lead at 3-under.
Watch the Masters live Saturday, April 10, 3:00-7:00 p.m. ET and Sunday, April 11, 2:00-7:00 p.m. ET on CBS.