Thursday at Augusta National: Who will set the first round pace at the Masters?

We take a closer look at the leading contenders to make a swift jump from the gates at the first Major Championship of 2021.

Excited?

Thursday at Augusta, the Masters - there's nothing quite like it, is there?

Not even Thursday at Augusta in November, as it happens.

It was great to have it amid the general gloom of 2020, of course it was, but it was also somehow not quite the same.

That said, even this edition isn't exactly what we've come to enjoy in the past (patrons numbers are limited and social distancing remains a thing), but the spring sunshine, the flora and fauna, the blue sky, the green grass, the sheer batty brilliance of Augusta National - it's something to put a smile on you face on a chilly April lockdown morning.

But who will be smiling as he heads up the hill to the 18th green holding a first round lead later today?

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Let's take a closer look at the leading contenders.

We've got two men with a strong history of fast starts, two men who fit the trends, and a fifth fellow who's spent the last six months outscoring his peers on Thursdays.

As the funny little man on the first tee rather confusingly says: "Fore please!"

Jordan Spieth

The man with past experience.

The American is flying high after last week's victory in the Texas Open and he has every right to think he has it within him to ride that wave this week.

We all know that he's a past winner at Augusta and owns four top three finishes in seven starts, but he's also claimed three solo first round leads in those seven visits.

In addition, he just really loves the Augusta challenge: "I've really fared well on the greens. When I get on these putting surfaces, whether I've come in putting well or even in tough putting years, the ball seems to find the hole here."

Best price 18/1 with Unibet.

Justin Rose

The past Master at making a fast start.

The Englishman is a two-time runner-up at Augusta National and has missed just one cut in his 15 visits to the property, but he has also shown a real fondness for Thursdays.

He's had one solo advantage, two shared leads, been second, fourth twice and was tied sixth last year.

Englishman Rose has missed only one cut at Augusta.
Englishman Rose has missed only one cut at Augusta.

Last month he told the Telegraph, of Augusta: "I know the place, know what it takes and can get it round there even when not at my best. Last year, I was playing absolutely rubbish, but when I birdied the second on the Saturday I was one shot off the lead. That gives me confidence that if my second major is to come anywhere it could well be there."

Best price 66/1 with Unibet.

Patrick Cantlay

The man who is quickest from the blocks this season.

The American leads the first round scoring averages on the PGA Tour in 2020/21 and he's also proved he can go low around Augusta National.

Admittedly he hasn't done it in round one yet, but he stroked a 66 in round two last year and a third round 64 in 2019.

He's another who adores the greens: "I love fast, old-school putting greens. And so this is the, you know, apex of that. It's the most undulated, in general, fastest greens we play all year. It feels easier for me to make putts when it's like that, and I look forward to that every time I come here."

Best price 28/1 with Skybet.

Bryson DeChambeau

The man playing his first round in the sweet spot.

Incredibly, six of the last seven pace-setters played on Thursday in groups 26-28.

It's not entirely coincidental because it's basically the late marquee groups, but it has to be worth considering and, although DeChambeau has a poor record in the tournament (no top 20 in four attempts), he has been first round co-leader before, when posting a 66 in 2019.

He's also excited about this week's predicted conditions: "I love firm, fast golf courses. Whenever it's firmer, faster conditions, whether it be Shriners, whether be Bay Hill or the U.S. Open or different golf courses I've won on, they have usually always been firm. So I think that plays into my hands nicely."

Best price 20/1 with Unibet.

Paul Casey

The man who is hoping to continue the Majlis-Masters connection.

Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic and then the Masters in the same year, but other winners at Emirates shone brightly in round one at Augusta.

When DeChambeau shot his 66 he was champion in Dubai, Alvaro Quiros was tied for the lead with a 65 in 2011 and Haotong Li was tied fourth in round one in 2018, the latter two at huge prices.

Casey was also the co-leader after 18 holes last November so he knows how to fire at the Thursday pins.

After his win in Dubai he didn't shirk when asked of his Masters chances: "I need a bit of help from Dustin, Rory, Bryson. But I've got a chance, you know. I've got a good chance."

Best price 40/1 with Skybet.

READ MORE: Golfing actor of many disguises Bryson DeChambeau returns to the stage at Augusta National