Johnson set to defend as sense of normalcy returns to Masters

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The Masters returns to its traditional date this week as the year’s first major at Augusta National and Dustin Johnson is the man to beat on a layout that, while familiar, will play and look much different than the one he triumphed on five months ago.

Colourful, blooming azaleas set against emerald fairways and greens will be back on full display in stark contrast to the autumn foliage that created a rather unique setting last year when COVID-19 forced the Masters to be played in November.

And unlike the soft conditions that an in-form Johnson took full advantage of with blistered drives, laser-like approaches and solid putting en route to his record-setting performance, course conditions could prove much different this time around.

“If it’s soft again, yeah, you’d be able to shoot some low scores,” said Johnson. “But if it’s firm and fast like I have a feeling it’s going to be, the golf course plays way different and way more difficult.”

A win for Johnson, whose 20-under total last year broke the Masters record shared by Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, would put him in elite company. Only Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Woods have successfully defended Masters victories.

But world number one Johnson will have his work cut out for him, especially when you factor in the compelling games of his fellow competitors – notably Justin Thomas, new father Jon Rahm and reigning U.S. Open winner Bryson DeChambeau.

Thomas has improved in each of his five Masters starts, most recently a fourth-place finish in November, and he has heated up since, including a win last month at The Players Championship, golf’s unofficial fifth major.