Dustin Johnson, the world No 1 and favourite to win this 81st Masters, is a big doubt to play in Thursday's first round after injuring his back falling down the stairs in his rental home on Wednesday afternoon.
With the Par Three tournament cancelled for the first time in its 57-year history due to storms, Johnson 32, returned to his lodgings and it was there where the freak accident occurred. His manager, David Winkle released a statement which stunned a sport making the final preparations for one of its showpiece events.
"At roughly 3pm today, Dustin took a serious fall on a staircase in his Augusta rental home," Winkle said. "He landed very hard on his lower back and is now resting, although quite uncomfortably. He has been advised to remain immobile and begin a regimen of anti-inflammatory medication and icing, with the hope of being able to play tomorrow."
What could be in Johnson’s favour in the race to be fit is that he has been drawn in the last group, which tees off at 2.04pm. If is deemed not healthy enough to play, it would, of course, be a bitter blow for both the tournament and the player himself.
The Masters has already lost Tiger Woods to an on-going back problem, on the 20thanniversary of his game-changing victory here, and to see the game’s best player also withdraw would cast a huge shadow over the event.
Johnson’s game revolves around his extraordinary power and clearly his hopes will be weakened, even if the medics manage to get him to the first tee. He is said to be shaken up and, if he makes it, it will be interesting to see if the experience has affected his famously laidback persona.
Johnson, who won last year’s US Open, has been in dominant form, winning his last three tournaments, including two World Golf Championships, and has been heavily tipped to follow up his sixth and fourth in the last two Masters.
Johnson, who has re-dedicated himself to his profession after anundisclosed six-month ban from the PGA Tour for testing positive for recreational drugs in 2014, practiced briefly at the course before it was evacuated. He spoke with reporters and, eerily, speculated on the fickle nature of sport.
"Yeah, I've got a lot of confidence in my game right now, especially with the way I've been playing the last few tournaments," he said. "But, you know, anything can happen."
Much of the build up to this Masters has been focused on whose best would prevail and Thomas Bjorn, the Europe Ryder Cup captain, declared that Johnson and Rory McIlroy have the talent to distance themselves from the rest.
“I think Rory is the only one who can stand up to Dustin the way he has been playing. Jason [Day] and Jordan [Spieth] come very close but Rory is the only one who can match and even beat him if he gets his game going,” Bjorn said. “If he and Dustin get going with their 'A' games then they will be very difficult to keep up with. The question is Dustin’s best v Rory’s best and I think Rory has something in him. He’s just more graceful; it just looks so natural. Dustin is a bit more of a powerhouse.
“A lot of it would come down to the course and I think Rory should manage Augusta better than DJ. This was the major we all thought he would win first and it does suit Rory perfectly.”
There must be two fears with McIlroy, neither of which is his results sheet, which has yet to include a win this year but which shows quite enough promise. The first is the weather. While the rain-softened conditions will suit, the gusts are forecasted to reach 30mph on Thursday and with a late tee-time he could experience the worst of it. McIlroy is much improved in the wind, but he is far from a specialist.
Then there is the anxiety he admits to feeling at this major. McIlroy is at his finest when he has that relaxed swagger and is dictating the mood. He needs a good start and to coast from there.
Obviously McIlroy’s chances, and those of his rivals would be enhanced should Johnson fail to recover. All eyes on Thursday will focus on Spieth when he plays the 12th, the famous par three where he took a quadruple bogey 12 months which ultimately caused him to lose to England’s Danny Willett. But one eye will be kept on the Augusta gates to check if Johnson is able to take up the challenge.