Ninety-five golfers who are in the field at the 2020 Masters are not going to win the tournament. The one who does will get a disproportionate amount of attention and adulation, and that will be warranted. But for those other 95 golfers, they will drive back down Magnolia Lane empty-handed and bummed out heading toward the end of the golf year. That is the reality of major championships.
For some, this will mean more than others. Amateur Abel Gallegos, for example, likely won't spend his Thanksgiving lamenting the one that got away. For a teenager to get a couple of competitive rounds at Augusta National is a win in and of itself. For guys like Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm, however, there will be a sense of missed opportunity (unless one of them wins, of course).
There are several reasons for this. The first is that because of the money and power in the game today, players' careers are likely to be at least a little bit shorter than they used to be. This means fewer runs at the majors. The second is that there is a wheelhouse for Masters champs that shows that most first-time winners win before they reach double-digit Masters played (more on that below). The third reason is that golf -- with all the money being fed into it -- is only going to get more competitive over the next 10-15 years, thus making the Masters even harder to win.
As for that stat about winning Augusta early, of the 51 golfers who have won the Masters, the average attempt in which they win the first time is their sixth Masters played. Only eight golfers have won their first past their 10th attempt. Only Sergio Garcia has won in anything past his 15th attempt (this is Rory McIlroy's 12th attempt, in case you were wondering).
When I think about the mounting pressure of being a superstar who has never won the Masters, there are a few guys who come to mind who will feel it most if they don't get the job done this November. That's not to say winning and not winning is some sort of binary joy and disappointment. Not at all. But you only get so many rips at a major championship, much less a Masters.
These five players -- unless they win -- will look back on this one and feel at least a twinge of regret because of some combination of how well they're playing right now, how well they normally play at Augusta and rarely those things coincide with Masters starts.
1. Jon Rahm: There are myriad reasons for this, but the foremost is that he's (by far) the best player in the world without a major championship (and he might be the best player of all time without a major). He's also playing terrific golf and has a strong history here. Rahm won't lament this one because of his age like somebody like Dustin Johnson, but the convergence of this kind of elite level of play (probably the best in the world over the last three months) with the most important major might not happen as much as he thinks over the next 15 years.
2. Justin Thomas: Rahm gets the nod ahead of J.T. because the latter already has a major (2017 PGA Championship), but the same things that are true of Rahm are true of Thomas. He's playing some of the best golf of his career, and this will be his fifth turn at Augusta National, one off the average of first-time winners.
3. Rory McIlroy: This is an age and experience thing more than anything else. Rory is not playing as well as he was coming into last year's Masters, but if he gets through this one and next April's (his 12th and 13th attempts), then only three golfers have won their first beyond their first 13 attempts (Billy Casper, Mark O'Meara and Garcia).
4. Xander Schauffele: Of the top favorites, he's playing the most beyond his regular skill set. In other words, he's on an absolute heater even though he hasn't won since the beginning of 2019. Also, the temperature on him not having won a major will start to get turned up in the next year or two.
5. Dustin Johnson: He gets a bit of a pass because of his positive COVID-19 test, but this is his 10th Masters, and he's moving into his late 30s. There's no sense of desperation quite yet, but he probably only has about 5-6 runs at it at the very, very top of his game.
Obviously, you could also include older players like Justin Rose and Lee Westwood on this list. But I'm not listing them because one (Rose) is not playing well and the other (Westwood) seems to have moved into this post-caring about the Masters mindset that Ernie Els exemplified late in his career. At some point, you get past being mega-upset about not winning, and you're just enjoying the ride. I think that's probably where Westwood has landed in his mid-40s, even though he would undoubtedly be thrilled to win the golf tournament.
This is also devoid of context. If McIlroy shoots 64 on Sunday and loses in a playoff to Louis Oosthuizen, there will likely be less disappointment there than if he misses the cut altogether (or maybe not).
Regardless, as we sit just over a week out from Round 1, those are the five guys you would probably pick out and -- if they emerge on the other side without a jacket -- say, I bet they feel like they let one they were playing well enough to win slip away. I bet they would like to have that one over again.