Who will be golf’s next first-time major champion?

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In this special end-of-year Fourball the NCG team discuss their favourite moments of 2020, where they would like to see the British Masters held, and who will get over the line in 2021

It was a strange year on tour – but a thoroughly entertaining one nonetheless. In this special end-of-year edition of Fourball, I’ve set three questions for Hannah Holden, Dan Murphy and Steve Carroll, including who they think will be golf’s next first-time major champion. But first…

What was your favourite moment of 2020?

Alex: Special mentions to Sophia Popov for winning a major while outside the top 300 in the world, and the ridiculous finish at the US Women’s Open, and to Jordan Spieth for having me punch the air by holing a mid-range par putt to make the cut on the number at Augusta, but there was one standout moment that had me on my feet in the small hours of one Monday morning in August.

First we had that long, curling, swirling effort from Dustin Johnson to force extra holes at the BMW Championship…

…only for Jon Rahm to seal the victory with a mind-blowing 66-footer of his own in the play-off.  

Try and convince me that wasn’t the most thrilling 15 minutes of tour action this year.

Hannah: Watching Bryson DeChambeau after the restart – and his transformation. It was so exciting to see the changes he has made to his game and to see so many eyes on our sport for the right reasons.

Then of course he rounded it all off by winning the US Open and sticking it to his critics.

Dan: I loved turning on the European Tour coverage every week in the summer and autumn to find Lee John Westwood at -3 with a determined expression on this face thumping another drive down the fairway and then exchanging a joke with his caddie and playing partners.

In a year when we have all longed for normality, this was a weekly warm bath.

Steve: It’s been such an odd year that nothing really feels like it’s had the impact it should – just shows you how important fans are. Selfishly, DJ winning his Green Jacket was pretty special. Not so much for him tearing up afterwards but because I’d backed him at 12/1. Cheers. 

Danny Willett will host the 2021 British Masters at the Belfry. Where would YOU take it if it was up to you?

Alex: I’ve long been a campaigner – by which I mean annoyed my mates over a beer – for Royal North Devon to host The Open. It’s a magnificent piece of land, as anyone who has been there can attest, and the birthplace of this sport in England.

But with the R&A seemingly not interested I’ll take my British Masters there please. I’ve already started working on the one-way system in and out of Westward Ho! 

Steve: I can’t say Close House, can I? Even though Covid robbed me, and every other member/spectator, of another stroll down memory lane last July. 

If we’re looking for somewhere new, and it was down to me, I’d want some sort of heathland paradise. I’m always singing the praises of Swinley Forest, although I fear it might be a little on the shorter side for the European Tour’s finest.

So I’m off down memory lane and to a former Open venue. Yes, that Open was staged in 1920 but Royal Cinque Ports has had the Mackenzie & Ebert effect bestowed on it in recent years. It’s about 7,400 yards off the tips, it’ll look great on TV and, if there’s a bit of weather, it could make some very good golfers look a bit silly. Everything I’m looking for in a tournament, really.

Hannah: Well it has to be a Yorkshire course, doesn’t it? How class would it be to see the European Tour players back teeing it up at Ganton? I think the last time they were there was before I was born.

I’ll hand hosting duties to Marcus Armitage. Mainly because after the year we’ve just had we could do with a good laugh in 2021.

Dan: I won’t be constrained by reality, so let’s head for Cruden Bay and not make any attempt to toughen it up beyond hoping for baked fairways and a decent breeze. Who cares what the winning score is? Let’s just enjoy the players scratching their heads at some of its unconventional challenges.

I’d also invite Aberdonian Paul Lawrie in an attempt to convince him that golf fans really do love him and appreciate his career as he begins life as a senior golfer.

We had two first-time men’s major champions in 2020. Are you expecting anyone “new” to get over the line in 2021?

Alex: Justin Thomas looks more and more comfortable round Augusta so not there. After missing the cut in his Masters defence, Dustin Johnson will win the PGA to move within one of the Grand Slam, and the US Open is at Torrey Pines so Tiger Woods already has that one in the bag. 

So that leaves the Open Championship. Now it might just be the fantasist in me or the fact it’s at Royal St George’s 10 years after what happened last time – or, indeed, a combination of the two – but something is telling me it’s Lee Westwood’s time. 

Or Xander Schauffele. Probably Schauffele. 

Dan: With the likes of Schauffele, Cantlay, Jon Rahm, Matthew Wolff, Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Sungjae Im and Matt Fitzpatrick all in the world’s top 20, there has to be a very good chance of more first-time champions in 2021.

Two-thirds of all men’s major champions are one-timers and I suspect that ratio may rise even higher in the years ahead as it becomes ever more difficult to separate yourself from the rest. Royal St George’s seems to have developed a habit for providing us with first-time major champions – think Bill Rogers, Sandy Lyle, Ben Curtis and Darren Clarke – perhaps that is the place to look for a breakthrough winner.

Steve: I’ll go with Patrick Cantlay. He looks a decent contender at the Masters, and really could have won in 2019. He was then right there at halfway in the November edition before fading.

Eventually, finding himself in the hunt in a major isn’t going to send him into some sort of panic – although you’d never notice with the way he plays – and he’ll win one of these by half a dozen.

Hannah: After Wolff’s performance at the US Open it’s hard to imagine he will stay major-less for long. But there are so many to choose from you wouldn’t rule out four new major winners in 2021. For some reason I can’t stop thinking about Hovland winning the Masters.

Want to have your say? We’d love to hear from you. Let us know in the comments below, or you can tweet us.

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