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The 21 players who can win the Masters

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Each year for the Masters, I create a filtering process to help determine the players who are most likely to win the green jacket based on criteria that has strongly predicted outcomes at Augusta. I usually get the list down to roughly 23 players.

Last year, Tiger Woods was one of my 22 players that could win the Masters. Tiger was at 14/1 odds, but two of the top contenders, Brooks Koepka (25/1) and Francesco Molinari (22/1) were also on my list of players who could win the Masters.

Before I discuss my picks for this year’s Masters, I want to go over what I call the “critical holes” for Augusta National. The critical holes in any tournament are the ones where the top finishers typically gain the most strokes on the field, as well as where the greatest deviation in scores exist. One of the interesting aspects about critical holes is that they often change over time due to changes in the course conditions, course design or a change in player strategy, which can create a smaller deviation in scores.

This year, the projected critical holes are No. 8, 13, 14, and 15.

The 15th hole, Fire Thorn, should be considered the most pivotal hole on the course as over the last five Masters the top finishers in the event have gained 0.546 strokes per round on the hole. The next closest hole in terms of the top finishers gaining strokes is the 14th hole, Chinese Fir, where the top finishers have only gained 0.274 strokes per round.

Moving on to the tournament, I filtered out the amateurs and all first-time professional attendees. The Masters has only been won once by a first-time attendee: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

Abraham Ancer
John Augenstein (a)
Christiann Bezuidenhout
Cameron Champ
Tyler Duncan
Abel Gallegos (a)
Lanto Griffin
Max Homa
Sungjae Im
Jazz Janewattananond
Sung Kang
Jason Kokrak
Nate Lashley
Yuxin Lin (a)
Lukas Michel (a)
Collin Morikawa
Sebastian Munoz
Andy Ogletree (a)
Carlos Ortiz
CT Pan
Victor Perez
JT Poston
Andrew Putnam
Scottie Scheffler
James Sugrue (a)
Nick Taylor
Erik van Rooyen
Matthew Wolff

Out of the professional first-time invitees the data ranks Jason Kokrak as the best fit, Matthew Wolff the second-best fit, and Cameron Champ the third-best fit. Champ is one of the more fascinating players for the Masters because he has arguably the fastest ball speed on Tour, but he has the lowest launch angle on Tour (6.2 degrees) and produces roughly the Tour average in terms of apex height. Augusta is generally a high ball hitting golf course as low-ball hitters that were superior players and ballstrikers have notoriously struggled at Augusta. It will be interesting if he can carry the trees on some tee shots with his super-low launch angle.

I also filtered out eight past champions I do not believe can contend at Augusta National anymore

Fred Couples
Trevor Immelman
Bernhard Langer
Sandy Lyle
Larry Mize
Jose Maria Olazabal
Vijay Singh
Mike Weir

The Zach Johnson debate

Every year I do my Masters picks, it’s always pointed out that I do not pick former Masters Champion Zach Johnson due to his lack of length off the tee. Augusta National greatly favors long-ball hitters. They can play the par 5s more like par 4s, and typically the longer hitters can also hit the ball higher so they can get their long approach shots to hold the green more easily.

When Johnson won the Masters in 2007, the event featured record-low temperatures in the mid-40s and wind gusts of 33 mph. This made it very hard for any player to reach the par 5s in two shots and allowed Johnson to get into a wedge contest on the par 5s, his strength.

This year, the forecast calls for temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s. There is some rain in the forecast. Rain and wind can be tricky in projecting possible winners of an event as it is dependent upon the course design and how exactly the rain and wind is impacting the field. In the past at Augusta, rain has provided a small advantage to shorter hitters. This is believed to be due to helping the shorter hitters hold the green on long approach shots.

The forecast calls for light winds. Over the past 20 years, the winds have given some shorter hitters the advantage because there is a tendency for shorter hitters to be better with their wedges and short games around the green. Wind makes it more difficult for players to reach the par 5s in two shots and causes more missed greens in regulation and thus the advantage shifts to better wedge players. But unless the forecast or wind changes, there is no sense in not filtering out players that are too short to win at Augusta National.

Rafa Cabrera Bello
Matthew Fitzpatrick
Justin Harding
Shugo Imahira
Zach Johnson
Kevin Kisner
Matt Kuchar
Andrew Landry
Graeme McDowell
Kevin Na
Ian Poulter
Chez Reavie
Webb Simpson
Brandt Snedeker
Brendon Todd

A part of the game that is just as critical as distance is the trajectory height a player can create. Last year, I filtered out seven players for hitting the ball too low. Out of those seven players, the best finish was Si Woo Kim at T-21. I use a combination of max height, carry distance, and launch angle to determine if the following players hit the ball too low to win at Augusta.

Lucas Glover
Charles Howell III
Si Woo Kim
Patrick Reed

Since the inauguration of the event, there have only been two winners of the Masters that have previously never made the cut: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and Gene Sarazen in 1936. Let’s filter them out as well.

Dylan Frittelli
Matt Wallace

I will also filter out the players who missed the cut at Houston. Historically, players that miss the cut the week prior have a substantially lower likelihood of winning the following week compared to the players that made the cut in the previous week or did not play at all.

Sergio Garcia
Phil Mickelson
Charl Schwartzel
Jordan Spieth
Henrik Stenson
Jimmy Walker
Lee Westwood

Lastly, I have filtered out the weak performers from the “Red Zone,” approach shots from 175-225 yards. While Augusta is known for its greens, the winners are determined mostly by the quality of their approach shots throughout the event. In fact, 10 of the last 11 champions have hit at least 49 Greens in Regulation during the week.

Jason Day
Tommy Fleetwood
Adam Hadwin
Billy Horschel
Xander Schauffele
Cameron Smith
Bernd Wiesberger
Danny Willett
Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods will go down as the surprise filtered-out player, but he has not hit the ball well from the Red Zone in recent performances and his ball speed has dropped to roughly 172 mph. With a slow down in speed, it’s not uncommon for iron play performance to follow.

That leaves the following 21 players who can win the Masters

Byeong Hun An (400/1)
Patrick Cantlay (25/1)
Paul Casey (80/1)
Bryson DeChambeau (8/1)
Tony Finau (28/1)
Rickie Fowler (50/1)
Tyrrell Hatton (28/1)
Dustin Johnson (9/1)
Brooks Koepka (16/1)
Marc Leishman (150/1)
Shane Lowry (80/1)
Hideki Matsuyama (28/1)
Rory McIlroy (12/1)
Louis Oosthuizen (66/1)
Jon Rahm (10/1)
Justin Rose (66/1)
Adam Scott (66/1)
Justin Thomas (11/1)
Bubba Watson (28/1)
Gary Woodland (125/1)
Corey Conners (200/1)

Here are my personal top-10 picks

Bryson DeChambeau (8/1)
Dustin Johnson (9/1)
Jon Rahm (10/1)
Rory McIlroy (12/1)
Brook Koepka (16/1)
Tony Finau (28/1)
Tyrrell Hatton (28/1)
Hideki Matsuyama (28/1)
Justin Rose (66/1)
Adam Scott (66/1)

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2018 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Pingback: 5 things we learned Friday at the Masters – GolfWRX

  2. JoeB

    Nov 11, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    What about Francesco Molinari?

  3. ScottM

    Nov 11, 2020 at 9:21 am

    “The Masters has only been won once by a first-time attendee: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.”

    Wrong, wrong, wrong – why do people keep repeating this?

    Horton Smith was a first-time attendee when he won the inaugural tournament in 1934. As was Gene Sarazen a year later.

    Look at the 1934 results on the official Masters website:

    “Smith remains one of three players to win in his first start at Augusta National Golf Club.”

  4. Pingback: Lee Elder: Honored, honorary starter at ANGC this year | Garcia out with COVID-19 | Why can win the Masters (and why Tiger can’t) – GolfWRX

  5. Travis

    Nov 10, 2020 at 4:41 am

    Your comment about those who miss the cut the week before is also false. Jordan Speith was cut the year before his win.

  6. freeze

    Nov 9, 2020 at 9:16 pm

    players hit the ball too low to win at Augusta. Puts Patrick Reed in that category who won at Augusta 2 years ago, complete fail

    • Dan

      Nov 10, 2020 at 12:13 am

      Other multi time winners s thy hit it “too” low:
      Palmer
      Player
      Floyd
      Jimmy Demaret
      Jose Olazabal
      Faldo
      Crenshaw

      I mean, I understand the point he’s trying to make in the article but statistics are only a stepping off point.

      • mike

        Nov 10, 2020 at 9:25 am

        Isn’t Augusta a completely different course by now since all those on your list won? Plays a lot different with the extra length I would imagine, and that is probably where you need the height. Its longer and firmer now.

        • Ty Web

          Nov 10, 2020 at 4:45 pm

          Mike makes a good point Dan. There is not a single player you listed that can win.

    • Chris

      Nov 11, 2020 at 10:44 pm

      Thank You!! I was going to make the same comment!!

  7. Dan

    Nov 9, 2020 at 7:59 pm

    I’ll take the rest of the field against your top 10…

  8. J

    Nov 9, 2020 at 4:29 pm

    Rahmbo.

  9. Garrett

    Nov 9, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    I know this is pretty much a good article, but you eliminated recent champions with your logic!! I mean, Patrick Reed and Tiger literally JUST won the event. You should give them (and others) their own category – the “these guys are so good they defy logic” category.

    • Rich

      Nov 9, 2020 at 10:25 pm

      He did not eliminate Tiger and Reed for having won The Masters before. Go back and reread. They fell into other categories. The former winners he eliminated are older guys.

    • Richie Hunt

      Nov 11, 2020 at 8:02 am

      Just because they won doesn’t mean that they will win, again. Tiger’s play at last year’s Masters is far different than it has been since the return from the Tour suspending play. He’s lost about 7-8 mph of ball speed and his iron play has been very bad.

      Reed is hitting the ball very low right now and his iron play has not been all that hot. Recency trumps credentials.

  10. William

    Nov 9, 2020 at 2:58 pm

    I really like Louie Oo. and root for him to do well. But, is he not both short and low? How does he make the list? Good from “red zone”?

  11. Blade Junkie

    Nov 9, 2020 at 1:49 pm

    where’s Molinari ?

  12. Miamistomp

    Nov 9, 2020 at 1:47 pm

    fInau -no way
    Morikawa and Redd I think have a chance

  13. Pingback: Masters 2020 staff picks – GolfWRX

  14. Bubbert

    Nov 9, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    As much as I like Finau (and I do) he could find ways to lose even if he was the single contestant teeing up…

  15. ChristianR

    Nov 9, 2020 at 12:30 pm

    Garcia out for Covid.
    Rose been very near to win two times, I agree but lately not so much game from him aside couple of good rounds in his latest event.
    Really curious on Bryson approach.

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5 things we learned: Saturday at the U.S. Women’s Open

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Five golfers reside under par, after 54 holes at the 2024 US Women’s Open. The champion will be one of those five golfers. Their names, in order, are Minjee Lee, Andrew Lee, Wichanee Meechai, Hinako Shibuno, and Yuka Saso. In a departure from #5Things tradition, we’ll address each of the five, on what she did on Saturday and what we expect that she will do on Sunday. It’s a fun exercise, and it may gain some traction, but that’s for down the road. For now, let’s take a look at five golfers we think will figure in Sunday’s outcome.

1. Minjee Lee

The most debillitating facet of being in a three-way tie for the lead, and being the highest-ranked golf among the trio, is what I just typed. They and we and you and I expect that Minjee should continue to play well and earn a second US Open chalice. The problem is this: Minjee has improved each day: from 70 to 69 to 66. I’ll say this~if she posts 65 or better on Sunday, she wins by a half-dozen shots. No one will come close to 10-under par.

What Lee has done best, is shrink her bogey tally with each played round. From five on Thursday, to three on Friday, to one on Saturday. Again, if she continues to improve in that category, and plays a bogey-free round on Sunday, she again wins by six or more. It’s more likely that she will find herself in a dogfight with a game adversary. Does she have the grit to see her way out of that maelstorm? We’ll find out on Sunday.

2. Andrea Lee

The kid from California played in the final pairing on Saturday, and survived. Andrea had a turbulent front side, with three birdies and two pars. She settled the oars on the inward half, never sniffing a bogey. Her 67 moved her from solo 2nd to a tie for first. She’ll again tee off in group the last, albeit with a different playing partner.

Andrea Lee will have to outplay Minjee Lee, her fellow competitor in the final twosome, as well as the other three golfers with a chance at the title. A few years have passed since she won her only LPGA title, and the physical memory of how to win, is always at risk of fading over time. Andrea Lee has the opportunity to become the golfer that she worked to be, to replace the “prodigy” label with one that reads “champion.” The recipe for just how to effect that switch is a closely-guarded one. Will she sniff it out on Sunday?

3. Wichanee Meechai

Not 100% certain how this kid is still around. In the back of my mind, Moving Day would most likely have been Moving-Out Day, but Meechai is still around. Day three was a boring round of golf, with three birdies and two bogeys, alongside 13 scores of par. News flash: boring golf wins US Open cups.

Wichanee will play in the penultimate pairing on Sunday, and she will do so alongside Hinako Shibuno. She won’t have the pressure of teeing off in the last game, even though she sits tied with those who shall. We’ve been bemused and amazed all week with the tenacity of the Thai golfers, so why shouldn’t she find one more round in the 60s on Sunday, and bring home the biggest prize of her life? On the PGA Tour, it’s the PGA Championship that identifies the unexpected; on the LPGA, it’s often the US Open. Sunday might be another one of those resolutions.

4. Hinako Shibuno

Shibuno is in the least-desirable position of the top five. She posted the low round of the tournament on Saturday. Her torrid 66 consisted of seven birdies and three bogeys. If this were any other year and course, we would have higher hopes for her chances on Sunday. This is 2024 and Lancaster, and no one escapes without two or three bogeys on the card. That’s the problem for Shibuno. She is two shots behind the leading triumvirate, and odds are that one of them will post one or two-under par on Sunday. That would compel the Japanese champion to record, at most, another 66 to have a shot at a major title. Will Lancaster give up a 66 on Sunday? I do not think so.

5. Yuka Saso

They say that, statistically, Yuka Saso is holing more putts than anyone else in the field this week. Well, putting, err, puting the ball in the hole with efficiency is the essence of victory in golf, so … it makes sense that Saso still has a shot. She has posted 68-71-69, so she is due for “that” round, it seems. If she’s going to find one at Lancaster, it will be on Sunday. I’ll be brazen with my prediction on this one: first or outside the top ten. She’ll either putt the eyes out of the hole on day four, or her run with the flattest stick will come to an end.

My guesses: fow low amateur, it’s Adela Cernousek. She proves that Friday was an aberration, shoots 69, and defeats Catherine Park by one for the silver medal. For Open champion, it’s Hinako Shibuno. The run of three missed cuts in this event has already come to an end. Shibuno seals it in the most dramatic fashion, with a victory.

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5 things we learned: Friday at the U.S. Women’s Open

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The midway point of the Women’s Open arrived on Friday evening. The cut fell at +8, with the leader at four-under par. World number one Nelly Korda fought valiantly to recover from her opening 80 and, at one point, was within a shot of the cut. She was unable to close under par, and missed the weekend by two shots. Among the world’s best, only Minjee Lee finds herself truly in contention. Lee is currently ranked 9th in the Rolex rankings; only Nasa Hataoka holds both a spot in the world top twenty and the the Open top twenty.

Some years, the course preparation at the US Open recognizes players already among the world’s best, while in others, it elevates players to that stature. 2024 at Lancaster Country Club promises to be one of the later. Players like Korda, Rose Zhang, and Lydia Ko missed the cut outright, while others like Brooke Henderson, Charley Hull, and Hannah Green, find themselves nine shots or more behind the leaders.

Over the weekend, viewers and attendees will familiarize themselves with Wichanee Meechai, Andrea Lee, Wei-Ling Hsu, and the splendid moniker of Asterisk Talley, an amateur. Rather than a coronation (unless Minjee wins a second Open) 2024 looks to be an unveiling of a new talent, and that’s one of the neat parts of major championship golf. Unlike team sports, where known commodities lead other known commodities to victory, medal-play golf welcomes the unexpected and the unknown on occasion. We’ve collected five, unexpected things to share with you on this Friday evening. Thanks for enjoying five things we learned on Friday at the US Women’s Open.

1. We will have a low amateur!

Since golf writers are much closer to golf’s amateur skill level than the professional one, there is a special place in our hearts for the amateurs who compete against the professionals. They might be professionals next year, or month, or week, but for now, they are the unpaid, the ones who take classes during the day.

After finding three birdies on her way to an opening 69, France’s Adela Cernousek struggled to find a single one on Friday. She never did, and as the round waned, her score edged close to 80. Had she gone that high, she would have reached plus-nine, and would have missed the halfway cut. Despite bogeys at 16 and 17, Cernousek was able to coax par out of the closing hole, and earn a weekend tee time.

Much closer to the top are Catherine Park, Megan Schofill, and Asterisk Talley. Park sits at two-over par, while Schofill and Talley both occupy rungs at one-over par. Not since 1998 has an amateur made a serious run at the title, and no one expects it from this trio. It would be nice, but at the very least, we’ll have a battle for the low amateur medal, which will also be nice.

2. Farewell to thee…

We won’t have the pleasure of seeing a number of the top golfers over the weekend. Defending champion Allison Corpuz, Nelly Korda, Brooke Henderson, Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Leona Maguire, and Rose Zhang all finished on the high side of the cut number.

It’s rare that so many, elite golfers stumble at the same moment in time, in so many different ways. Some had blowups on individual holes, while others lost multiple strokes in three-hole stretches. Let’s remember, though, that prior to 2015 at Lancaster, In-Gee Chun had not won a major. After her Open triumph, Chun won at Evian and the PGA.

Trust the process. Lancaster will identify a proper champion.

3. What about Minjee?

Does anyone play the game as well as Nelly Korda? Minjee does. When she is on, the Australian star and 2022 US Open champion hits fairways and greens like no other. As often happens, it comes down to the flatstick.

On Friday, Lee jumped up to a tie for the lead, before bogeys at 17 and 18 brought her back to even par. What she did on the front nine (her inward half) was telling: she made eight pars and one birdie, and moved back into red figures. Lee and 2022 champion Yuka Saso will form the penultimate pairing on day three, and one of them figures to have the lead after 54 holes.

4. Who is Whichanee Meechai?

To begin, she’s precisely the sort of golfer referenced above. Meechai has competed on every LPGA tour on the planet, but only has a fifth-place finish to show on the US LPGA tour. Meechai last won in 2020, on the Thailand LPGA circuit. In other words, she really shouldn’t be here, but here is exactly where she is.

Eleven birdies adorn Meechai’s two scorecards. Although there are seven bogeys along for the ride, there are no doubles or higher in any square. It’s a simple prescription, but one that gets harder to fill as the weekend advances. Meechai finds herself in a rarefied realm, but if she considers that she has nothing to lose by playing fierce, she just might hang around. I hope that she does.

5. Let’s follow Andrea

Andrea Lee is precisely the sort of break-out talent waiting in the wings of the LPGA theater. She was a top amateur and collegiate player, and has a 2022 tour victory on her wiki. Over the half-decade that she has been a professional, she has dipped her toes in the major-championship waters, but has not gained traction.

2024 feels a bit different. Friday brought 69, and birdie at 11 (the day’s second hole) moved her up the board. The devilish 12th hole stole back two strokes, and another bogey at 15 pushed her out of red numbers. As she turned to the front side, Lee faced her demons and demolished them. A holed approach for eagle at one was followed by three consecutive birdies, and Lee found herself at minus-four and in the lead. Although two bogeys came her way on the trip home, Lee signed for another 69 and a seat in the first row of Saturday’s third round. She’ll start two back of Meechai but, given her penchant for making up shots, that may not last for long.

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5 things we learned: Thursday at the U.S. Women’s Open

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In a golf world obsessed with numbers, length of rough and width of fairways match importance with total yardage and scores under par. In 2015, the 70th USGA Women’s Open was held at Lancaster Country Club for the first time. In Gee Chun emerged from a tightly-bunched pack to win by one over Amy Yang. Chun’s eight-under par tally was just about right. The best golfer in the field ought to be able to go two strokes under par, per round, for the week.

We find ourselves back at Lancaster for the 2024 Open championship. Lancaster is 30 yards longer this time around, and eyes are drawn to the nearly-waist high rough that guards fairways and greens in certain areas. Lancaster 2.0 is a meaner golf course, and not a golfer in the field would turn down the offer of eight-under par on Sunday evening.

Thursday’s round snuck completion in under the wire. The low round was 68, and the high score was 20 strokes more. Well-known golfers struggled, while unknowns jumped into the spotlight. We’ve distilled all the information and the stories to five things that we learned on Thursday at the U.S. Women’s Open.

1. Yuka is back!

In 2021, hard-hitting Yuka Saso won this tournament in a playoff. She mastered the Olympic Club in San Francisco, and defeated Nasa Hataoka in a three-hole overtime session, 11 to 12. Despite her penchant for crushing long shots, Saso understands what it takes to play a U.S. Open course. At Lancaster, she forced five birdies onto her card, and limited her bogey tally to three. Her 2-under 68 is good for a one-shot advantage over professionals Andrea Lee and Wichanee Meechai, and French amateur Adela Cernousek. Saso made bogey at her final hole, else she would sit at 67 strokes through 18 holes.

2. Big numbers, they happen!

When we go out for weekend rounds, it’s important to remember that the physics of the golf swing are complicated. So much has to go right for so many, moving parts. And that’s when the golf course doesn’t conspire against you. And that’s also considering that weekend golfers don’t play practice rounds nor hit countless shots in preparation for the weekend.

You see, even our best professional golfers have zero immunity to rub of the green. On Thursday, the par-three 12th hole had a hole location cut on the edge of the abyss. Downhill from back to front, sloping toward the creek that guards the front of the putting surface, treachery loomed for those who went long. After the world-number-one and current golfer on a heater, Nelly Korda, struggled through the wee hole. Mel Reid broke down precisely how it happened and how it might happen again.

3. Recent champs take different paths

We know how the 2021 champion fares: she leads! 2022 victor Minjee Lee isn’t far behind. The Australian matched five birdies with five bogeys, and sits two back of the leading score. Defending champion Allison Corpuz had a bit tougher time of it. She remained in the top half of the field, but just barely. The same 12th hole that bit Nelly Korda, got its hooks into Corpuz. A triple-bogey six at the wee monster undid all of her day’s good work. Corpuz signed for 75, and will need a pair of solid scores to work her way back into contention.

4. Andrea Lee in tie for 2nd

One shot off the lead is 25-year old USA golfer Andrea Lee. The one-time winner on the LPGA found just the right blend of bravado and strategy, to outnumber bogeys with birdies. Unlike others in the field, Lee found the short 12th to her liking: she made birdie there to return to red figures. After bogey at the long 15th, Lee did another “thing” that others could not. She closed with birdie at the daunting 18th, to post 69 on the day.

Lee has a pair of top-twenty, U.S. Open finishes over the past two seasons. After one round, the difference between 20th and 1st is three shots, and the margin may not stretch much over the next three rounds. Is it too much to expect a top-ten finish from Lee this year? No, it’s not. U.S. Open-style players are a different breed, and if these are the type of course conditions where Lee feels comfortable, watch out.

5. What’s next?

There’s zero chance (essentially) of precipitation coming to Lancaster Country Club over the next 63 hours. Observers noted that the putting surfaces will dry and firm naturally, which means that slopes and edges will prove more daunting in their assessment. Pair that with challenging recovery options from the rough, and 279 might be a winning score on Sunday night. That’s just one shot under par over four rounds, but burly Lancaster and its William Flynn golf course demand such excellence, under these conditions. The stroke of fortune, for the golfers, will be the absence of wind. As if the competitors needed another obstacle this week! Fortune will favor the brave, the patient, and the wise this week. Prepare for high drama in eastern Pennsylvania.

Featured image via the USGA

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