Difficult to master

Sports | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 8 Apr 2021

Augusta National has served a warning to the world's finest golfers with firm and fast conditions like some have never seen ahead of today's start of the 85th Masters.

Five months after Dustin Johnson shattered the course record with a 20-under par 268 in rain-softened conditions, the Masters is back in its typical April setting and serving up lightning-fast greens with firm fairways to roll balls into danger.

"With firm greens, this golf course needs to be respected," three-time winner Phil Mickelson said. "And I think it has been a long time since it has had to be respected."

Reigning US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, whose power-driving game could benefit from long rolls on many holes, says he will focus on his irons into notoriously undulating Augusta greens.

"I've never seen it this fast, this quick, this early, but I certainly love the challenge," DeChambeau said. "We had a hole location on 17... if you just got it past the hole, it would roll off the front of the green. Literally it moves a dimple and it's gone."

Sergio Garcia, the 2017 winner, makes his 22nd start at Augusta National and he's seen nothing like this. "It's going to be a challenging Masters," the Spaniard said. "The way it's playing right now, there are some holes, some pin positions ... some of them are almost impossible to get to."

Johnson, 36, will be trying to join Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus as the only back-to-back Masters winners. "With it firm and fast, it's just a really hard golf course," the American said. "Any hole at any time can jump out and get you."

Four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy said the course puts emphasis on accuracy and "being precise with your iron play."

A reduced number of spectators are allowed this week, the first at any Major since 2019.

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