News of surgery for Brooks Koepka's "right knee cap dislocation and ligament damage" landed on Sunday evening, and though he has not made a final decision on playing the 2021 Masters -- which starts in a little over two weeks -- it seems unlikely that the four-time major champion will be teeing it up at Augusta National.
Koepka was not the favorite for the Masters when he withdrew from The Players Championship a few weeks ago with the right knee injury, but maybe he should have been. He's been beaten by just 17 golfers in the last three Masters combined, and missed out on a playoff with Tiger Woods in 2019 by a single stroke. He's finished in the top 13 in 12 of the last 14 majors.
You can toss a bit of a resurrection for his career on top of that. His T7 at the 2020 Masters last November was one of just four top 10s since the 2019 Tour Championship before Koepka broke through with a Phoenix Open victory in February. It seemed to loosen the bonds of injury and doubt we are so unfamiliar with when it comes to Koepka.
"Those dark places, a lot of tears, questioning yourself, and in dark places mentally," said Koepka at the time. "You've got to come out of that. I'll tell you what, it takes a lot of effort just do get out of those places."
Koepka followed it with a T2 a few weeks later at the WGC-Workday Championship, and it seemed all was right in the world of somebody who lives to play the biggest tournaments in the world. I said after that WGC event that if the U.S. Open was the next week, Koepka should be the favorite and would probably win. However, this injury -- which Koepka says he incurred while spending time with his family in Florida -- changes the equation.
Koepka is still listed as a 12-1 favorite at William Hill for the Masters, but that will either change or come off the board completely and begin to tilt the tournament more toward Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy.
Think about how different that 2019 Masters would have looked if it was played this time around. If Koepka indeed withdraws -- and I can't imagine after releasing photos like this on Twitter a few weeks before Augusta that you're actually going to play -- gone are two of the top four from that board as Tiger Woods will also be a no-show as he rests and heals in Florida.
All of a sudden you have a Dustin Johnson-Xander Schauffele playoff in 2019 (I realize this is an oversimplification of what would have happened) instead of the Koepka-Woods dynamic. Golf is a game of "what-if?" scenarios, and that one is especially juicy.
More pertinently, though, if Koepka withdraws two of the bigger presences on leaderboards will not be present. Tiger's name on a board moves eyebrows (even among players), and Koepka's does the same, maybe even more so at this stage in his (and Tiger's) career.
Coincidentally, we go back to a Koepka quote a few years ago at the PGA Championship (which he won) for a synopsis of why majors are the easiest tournaments to win.
"There's 156 [players] in the field, so you figure at least 80 of them I'm just going to beat," Koepka said. "You figure about half of them won't play well from there, so you're down to about maybe 35. And then from 35, some of them just -- pressure is going to get to them. It only leaves you with a few more, and you've just got to beat those guys."
Koepka is likely no longer one of those guys J.T. or D.J. or Rory (or Jordan Spieth?!) has to beat at the 2021 Masters. That's bad news for the biggest event of the year but good news for the prospects of those in contention for this year's green jacket.