Tuesday 6 April 2021 5:13 pm

Sam Torrance Masters 2021 preview: The five players I expect to challenge at Augusta - and why I'd love to see Rory McIlroy or Lee Westwood triumph

Whether it’s in November or April, the Masters is special.

I enjoyed the last one as much as any other, despite it taking place in autumn rather than the traditional spring conditions.

But I’m very excited for this week’s 85th outing at Augusta, which I expect to play harder than it did five months ago.

Read more: Sam Torrance: Justin Thomas underlines Masters credentials with sublime showing at Sawgrass

When Dustin Johnson donned the Green Jacket, he did so after setting a new 72-hole record score for the tournament of 20-under par 268.

The cumulative scoring average for the field was also the lowest ever, at 71.752.

When someone has claimed the Green Jacket with a very low score in the past, however, Augusta National has often got much tougher.

Tiger Woods shot 18 under to win his first Masters in 1997; 12 months later, Mark O’Meara won with nine under.

Jordan Spieth matched Tiger’s score in 2015; the following year, five under was enough for Danny Willett to triumph.

The course looks to be hard and fast, which is when it is at its most dangerous. 

In soft conditions like we saw last year, the greens are very accessible but just a little firmness can make it so tough to keep the ball adjacent to the flag. 

Unless there is a big upset, I expect this year’s Masters winner to come from a shortlist of five very strong players.

My top five Masters contenders

Defending champion Dustin Johnson has to have a great chance of retaining his crown.

The Masters was a huge win for him and he has already won again since, at the Saudi International in February.

Johnson is yet to hit top form this year and his driving hasn’t been as reliable as usual, but returning to the scene of his triumph can inspire him. 

It’s a wonderful feeling coming back to a course where you’ve won before. 

Everything that unfolds over the week is easier to handle if you’ve been there and done it before – and the world No1 has.

If I had to put money on the Masters, the other man apart from Johnson I would bet on would be Justin Thomas.

I love the way Thomas plays. He has a beautiful rhythm and can definitely win this week, no question.

He has all the ingredients on paper, won the Players Championship earlier this year and has improved his finish in each of his five visits to Augusta.

Jon Rahm is another whose track record at this event demands attention.

The Spaniard, who has just become a father, has placed in the top 10 in his last three appearances at the Masters.

Rahm can shape it both ways, which is a huge advantage on a course where some holes demand a certain shot – it’s almost impossible to fade it off 10, for instance.

New father Jon Rahm has finished in the top 10 on his last three visits to the Masters
New father Jon Rahm has finished in the top 10 on his last three visits to the Masters (Getty Images)

Parenthood can only help him. The birth of his baby boy will free his mind from lots of pressures and may provide some extra motivation.

I have no doubt that Rahm will win Majors and he can most certainly do it here. 

At last year’s Masters, Bryson DeChambeau was accompanied by the sort of hype not seen since Tiger’s emergence.

It didn’t bear fruit in the end but he is such an intelligent player that he will have seen where he went wrong. I don’t think he’ll make the same mistakes again. 

DeChambeau has a plan that he adheres to. He knows where he is going and wants to be the best player that ever lived. 

He approaches golf in a completely different way to any other player – to try to get inside his thoughts you need to be Einstein – but he’s doing ok so far. 

Slightly slimmed-down, DeChambeau seems to be controlling the ball better now and I’d put him right up there in favouritism. 

Rory McIlroy, still chasing that career grand slam, has to be among my top five as well.

McIlroy has recently begun working with coach Pete Cowen and that could provide the very small tweak that he needs. 

My dad used to be able to sort me out in just one sentence. I went from not wanting to look at a golf course to not being able to wait to get out there.

Rory hasn’t won since 2019 so is relatively under the radar this year. It could be his time.

Why I’d love to see Westwood or McIlroy win 

That is my top five, but below them are a few others to keep an eye on.

Collin Morikawa is just 24 but already a Major champion, having won the US PGA last year.

He has spoken about his Masters debut, how he expected to win but had learned a lot from it. 

Morikawa has a great mindset and a fantastic game. 

Jordan Spieth has put himself in the conversation with a first win since 2017 last week.

He has a wonderful history at the Masters, with that 2015 win coming in between two runner-up finishes. But then it is just that – history – and those good times were a while ago.

I can’t wait to see how Viktor Hovland, a huge star of the future, gets on. Of the other Europeans, an outsider to watch could be the in-form Victor Perez.

And then there is Lee Westwood, aiming to become the oldest Masters winner ever, aged 47.

He definitely has the mental strength to do it. That might sound strange, given that he has never won a Major, but I really don’t think he’d be fazed if he were in contention down the stretch.

Lee Westwood, 47, is aiming to become the oldest ever winner of the Masters
Lee Westwood, 47, is aiming to become the oldest ever winner of the Masters (Getty Images)

He went toe to toe with Willett five years ago, chipping in for an eagle at 15 to get to within one of the lead and then hitting a glorious shot at 16 that for some reason came up a club short.

But Westwood was never flustered and I don’t see him folding. If he gets a chance this time then I think he might take it.

I’d love to see him do it. I’d also love Rory to finally complete the career grand slam. 

If pushed – and if they can’t share the title like Seve and Langer at the Lancome Trophy in 1986 – then I couldn’t be happier than to see McIlroy finally wear the Green Jacket on Sunday night.

Sam Torrance OBE is a multiple Ryder Cup-winning golfer and media commentator. Follow him on Twitter @torrancesam.