Why this year's untraditional Masters will be unlike any other
Tiger in tough defending title as DeChambeau aims to break Augusta
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The Masters in November: Not exactly a tradition
The Stanley Cup was won in September, the NBA Finals ended in October and now the green jacket will be awarded in November. But you didn't need me to tell you this year is weird. And really, the Masters are arriving at the perfect time, filling a gap where there isn't much else on the sports schedule.
Here's everything you need to know before the third and final golf major of the season begins on Thursday:
There are some other changes besides the dates. The biggest difference in 2020 is that there won't be any fans lining the holes at Augusta National — that means no "Tiger roars" intimidating other golfers on the course. The azaleas — those famous pink and purple plants that dot the course — won't be in bloom. And because of early sunsets, tee times begin earlier than usual at 7 a.m ET.
Tiger Woods could be in tough. The defending and five-time champion hasn't landed a top-30 finish over six tournaments since golf's restart. It's good news that his back has held up, but Tiger, 43, never sniffed contention at either the PGA Championship or the U.S. Open, the other two majors held this year after the British Open was cancelled. Even the knowledge and experience that lifted him to the 2019 championship at Augusta National may not play a factor in 2020 as November provides different course conditions than April. The public doesn't seem too keen on Tiger's chances either: his betting odds fell from 34-1 at one point to 47-1 as of today at the FanDuel sportsbook, indicating there wasn't much money placed on him to win.
Bryson DeChambeau is the betting favourite, but that might not mean much. For one, it's golf, and this year's Masters field is deep, if not top-heavy. There are too many players that could win to make DeChambeau at 8-1 a valuable bet. Also: the pre-tournament betting favourite hasn't won the Masters this decade. But the beefy DeChambeau isn't your average golfer. You may hear analysts talking about how the 27-year-old wants to "break" Augusta. DeChambeau added 40 pounds since last season in an effort to increase distance, and it already paid off with a U.S. Open victory. Now he'll attack the Masters, where longer hitters will be even more favoured in November when the cold prevents some carry.
Tons of contenders lurk just below DeChambeau. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas — listed in that order just under DeChambeau — have all won tournaments since golf's return while flirting with the No. 1 ranking. None have won at Augusta before (DeChambeau was the top amateur at 21st overall in 2016), but DJ tied for second last year while Rahm has two straight top-10 finishes and Thomas finished 12th in 2019, a career-best Masters outing. Rahm skipped his ball off a pond for an incredible hole-in-one at practice today.
Then there's Rory McIlroy. The Northern Irishman needs only a green jacket to complete the career Grand Slam, but he hasn't won a major since 2014 and owns just a pair of top-10 finishes in his last dozen tournaments. Still, McIlroy is listed at 13-1 to win. Jordan Spieth's star has fallen much faster — the 2015 Masters champ sits all the way down at 70-1, tied with 50-year-old Phil Mickelson.
The four Canadians in the field practised together on Tuesday. That would be Adam Hadwin, Corey Conners, Nick Taylor and 2003 champion Mike Weir. Conners, at 150-1, is the favourite of the bunch. The Listowel, Ont., native is hoping a decent showing at the Houston Open last week (tied for 24th) propels him at Augusta, where he'll play in the first group of the tournament at 7 a.m. on Thursday. Conners finished tied for 46th last year. Hadwin played into the weekend in both prior appearances in 2017 and 2018, while Weir has made only one cut since 2011 and Taylor will be making his Masters debut. Read more about the Masters here.
The NBA's return is official, but where will the Raptors wind up? Around midnight last night, the league announced its Dec. 22 return with a 72-game schedule. Some other key dates to know: transactions are likely to begin Nov. 16, the draft is on Nov. 18, free agency negotiations begin Nov. 20 (when you'll unofficially hear about signings starting at 6 p.m. ET) and those deals can be announced Nov. 22 at midnight. In that time, the Raptors should be busy. The team owns its first-round pick for the first time since 2017, when it picked OG Anunoby at No. 23. Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are free agents, but it's unlikely all three return.
And at some point, the Raptors will need to find a home. You remember the Blue Jays' fiasco, when the team settled for its triple-A Buffalo home after being rebuked by government officials. The same broad strokes apply here as Canada continues limiting travel and enforcing mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival due to the pandemic. Maybe the Raptors can receive the same exception the Blue Jays were denied. If not, Kansas City, Nashville, Buffalo and Tampa Bay have been mentioned as possible destinations. Read more about the NBA's return here.
A Canadian track coach was banned for life following a sexual harassment investigation. Evon Buchanan was accused of touching a pair of female athletes in an "unwanted sexual manner." After an independent probe into the allegations, Buchanan was expelled from Athletics Canada. Buchanan, who worked as a coach on Project Athletics, was originally suspended Sept. 11. Read more about the situation here.
Denis Shapovalov flamed out of the Sofia Open. The 21-year-old had made history alongside Felix Auger-Aliassime as the first Canadian duo to claim the top two seeds of an ATP Tour tournament. Both had first-round byes. You'd think that would set up a pretty interesting run, right? Wrong. Shapovalov lost in straight sets to 93rd-ranked Radu Albot in the second round on Tuesday before smashing his racket in a fit of rage. It was the final tournament of the season for the Richmond Hill, Ont., native, who ends on a four-game losing streak. Meanwhile, Vasek Pospisil is on to the third round after upsetting fourth-seeded Jan-Lennard Struff, while Auger-Aliassime faces 82nd-ranked Salvatore Caruso in his second-round match tomorrow. Watch highlights from Shapovalov's match here.
The White Sox knowingly hired manager Tony La Russa after he was charged with DUI. A Chicago spokesperson said the team was aware of the arrest that occurred one day before La Russa was named to the White Sox bench. The hiring was already subject to criticism, with reports owner Jerry Reinsdorf pushed it through to make up for firing La Russa in 1986. The 76-year-old hasn't managed since 2011, and in 2016 he questioned Colin Kaepernick's "sincerity" after the NFL QB kneeled in protest during the U.S. anthem. La Russa previously pleaded guilty to a DUI charge in 2007. Free agent pitcher Marcus Stroman indicated on Twitter he wouldn't sign with a La Russa-led team. Read more about the manager's latest arrest here.
Canadian boxer Tammara Thibeault had her 2019 Pan Am bronze bumped to silver. Colombia's Jessica Caicedo was stripped of the gold medal due to a doping infraction, which moved Thibeault up to silver. For the Canadian, the news was bittersweet. On one hand, she was "fed up" with bronze after winning the medal at worlds and the 2018 Commonwealth Games, so a move up the podium was welcome. On the other hand, Caicedo beat Thibeault in the Pan Am semifinals, essentially cheating her out of the chance to fight for gold. Now, Thibeault has her sights set on the 2021 Olympics: "You can expect me on the podium, it's just a matter of choosing the colour," she said. Read more about Thibeault's medal upgrade here.
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