It can seem somewhat patronising to talk about elite sports stars having something to prove. After all, they are better than 99.999% of us at their craft. So, when we talk about three players with something to prove in 2021, it is with the paradoxical caveat that they actually have nothing to prove at all.
You get the drift, though. We want to pinpoint a couple of things that will hopefully work out better for these top golfers, all of whom are currently in the world’s top ten. So, take our criticisms with a pinch of salt:
Where he needs to improve: Streakiness
Exactly a year ago, McIlroy was back in the world number one spot after a five-year hiatus. He was playing ultra-consistent golf with several consecutive top ten finishes and generally seemed to be in the form of his career. However, golf’s enforced postponement appeared to take the wind out of his sails, and McIlroy looked a different prospect when tournaments resumed in the early summer. McIlroy’s 2020 could act as a microcosm for his career. At times supreme – better than anyone on the planet – and other times looking hapless. McIlroy has been a professional for 14 years now, and we might just have to accept that he is a streaky player. But what he and his fans would give to be able to sustain the great side of his game for longer periods. McIlroy has started 2021 quite well, looking almost his old self when finishing third in the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi. He will hope to get into a rhythm by the time the Masters comes around in April. But with the Northern Irishman, who knows?
Where he needs to improve: The Majors
Hatton may be the newly-minted world number five, but his record in Majors in 2020 reads: Cut, Cut, Cut. In 2019, it was: 56th, 48th, 21st and a sole top ten finish – 6th in The Open at Royal Portrush. 2018 was much better, with two top ten finishes. But he was cut in four consecutive Majors in 2017. Hatton is becoming an elite player, and he has demonstrated on several occasions that he can tame the best courses and beat the best players. But he will be the first to admit that his game has been all over the place at the Majors. Augusta has proved particularly difficult for Hatton, who has yet to finish in the top 40 at the Masters. He is rated as a 28/1 chance with MansionBet golf betting to win the Green Jacket, and you would be inclined to agree with those high odds. With Hatton, you get the feeling there will be a kind of eureka moment, where he cracks the majors and never looks back.
Where he needs to improve: He can offer more than power
It’s not fair to say that Bryson DeChambeau was found out at Augusta in the Masters last November, but his game seemed ill-suited to a course that can punish mistakes. It has always been too simplistic to say that DeChambeau is all power and no finesse, but you have to wonder where he would be without that awesome driving capability, particularly if the PGA follows through with its threat to limit players’ distance.
However, it is notable that many of the world’s top players no longer seem to be too bothered about catching up with DeChambeau in terms of driving distance. Players like Tony Finau have effectively said it’s not for them, and they will instead focus on their short game. That’s exactly where DeChambeau needs to find some improvement, perhaps more so than any other player in the world’s top ten. DeChambeau thinks about his game a lot, though, so don’t be surprised to see him come up with some dastardly plan to adjust those metrics.