It’s The Masterrrrrs!!!

Thought for the Day
Never hold a vacuum cleaner and a cat at the same time

This is going to be a Masters like none we have seen before. The azaleas, pink dogwood and magnolia are not going to be in flower in quite the same way as they are in April, the ground is soft and so, once again, the behemoths who hit the ball into the next county will flourish.

It’s no surprise therefore that Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, the two most outrageously long hitters on the American tour, are pre-tournament favourites, both because of the distance they hit the ball and recent form. DeChambeau, of course, won the last major, the US Open, back in June and virtually lapped the field, finishing as the only competitor under par, a full six strokes ahead of runner-up Matthew Wolff. But Johnson was tied 6th and has been in the top-10 of the last four Masters he has played (he missed 2017 through injury). Furthermore, in April last year (and doesn’t that seem a long time ago) he was runner-up to Tiger Woods, missing out on a playoff by one stroke.

That’s it then – nip down to the bookies and get your money onto either or both, sit back and on Sunday evening count your winnings. And if this was a tennis tournament and we were talking about Federer, Djokovic or Nadal, such confidence would not be misplaced. As we know, the best tennis players in the world win far more often than they lose but, happily in my view, the reverse applies in golf. Which is why trying to forecast the winner of any tournament, especially a major, is a mug’s game.

At Augusta National, for example, since 2008 we have seen unexpected winners in Sergio Garcia (2017), Angel Cabrera (2010), Trevor Immelman (2008), Charl Schwartzel (2011) and Danny Willett (2016). None of that last trio have recovered from the shock of donning a green jacket and have come nowhere near that level of achievement since. For some, winning their first major becomes the stepping stone to greater glory but for others (Mike Weir, Keegan Bradley, Gary Woodland, Lucas Glover, Todd Hamilton, Ben Curtis et al), it is a once-in-a career high, followed by terminal decline.

It is also noticeable how often, particularly at Augusta National, the winner backs into the spotlight, courtesy of a calamitous finish by someone else. Last year, for example, Francesco Molinari was in complete control for 56 holes before unravelling down the stretch – when Ken Venturi said that the Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday, he knew whereof he spoke. Molinari, you will recall, was having the year of his life, having won the Open at Carnoustie in 2018, facing down Tiger Woods on the last day; having tasted victory in America for the first time and being the only European golfer to take five out of five points in the Ryder Cup.

And then he came to the beautifully treacherous par three 12th hole and chunked his ball into the pond before, for good measure, doing the same again on the 15th. It was eerily reminiscent of Jordan Spieth in 2016, who also found aqua on 12 and then hit the absolute worst chilli-dip in history from the dropping zone on his way to blowing the five-stroke lead with which he started the back nine. That experience has left deep scars that are yet to heal.

The rollcall of such collapses is long. Jack Nicklaus’ unforgettable sixth Masters and 18th major in 1986 should have gone to Seve Ballesteros. Leading by one the Spaniard was in prime position to go for the par five 15th in two but dithered over whether to hit a 4 or 5-iron. He eventually selected the 4-iron, tried to take a little bit off and found water. On the 18th, Greg Norman needed a birdie to win and par for a playoff and was well set, having hit a glorious drive. The Great White Fish Finger then blocked his second into the gallery on the right (a shot he could often find when the pressure was greatest) and made bogey.

In 2010 Angel Cabrera won in a playoff that he only squeaked into because Kenny Perry bogeyed the last two holes of regulation play. And there’s always, of course, our own Rory McIlroy who, in 2011, started the final round with a four-stroke lead and imploded, shooting 80 and finishing tied 15th. Pride of place, however, must go to Ed Sneed who, in 1979, bogeyed each of the last three holes to fall into a playoff with Fuzzy Zoeller and Tom Watson which, not surprisingly, he didn’t win. And of course, Scott Hoch in 1989 missed a two-foot putt for victory at the second hole of a playoff with Nick Faldo.

The one glorious failure I‘m not going to dwell on is that of Greg Norman (again) in 1996 when he conceded a six-stroke advantage to Nick Faldo on the last day – his slow-motion car crash of a round is too painful for even a cynical journalist such as me to relive.

Assuming no such disasters this year (but don’t count on it), Brooks Koepka seems to be finally getting back to form after a troublesome knee injury and Patrick Cantlay has been playing well. As for Rory – he needs to eliminate the one bad round he seems to have every tournament; especially on the first day, which always puts him playing catch-up. The best hope for British success might be Tyrell Hatton, who has been thriving on the PGA Tour. But if I write from the heart and not the head, victory would go to Lee Westwood who, at age 47 is playing some of the best golf of his life and who loves Augusta National. If only dreams came true.

PS: I haven’t mentioned Tiger Woods on purpose because he isn’t going to win

Quote of the Week
At my first Masters, I got the feeling that if I didn’t play well, I wouldn’t go to heaven.
Dave Marr

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