Champion Golfers lead Masters charge
It’s time to head down Magnolia Lane, because the first major of the year is upon us with the Masters set to begin on Thursday.
Will it be the returning Tiger Woods, world No1 Dustin Johnson, in-form Justin Thomas or Career Grand Slam-chasing Rory McIlroy who slips on the Green Jacket on Sunday night? We take a look at what to look out for in Augusta this week.
Whether it’s the pristine greens, white bunkers, or even the pine needles, Augusta National is one of the world’s most instantly recognisable courses. It’s beauty and difficulty in tandem is perhaps summed up best by ‘Amen Corner’ spanning the 11th, 12th and 13th holes.
Intersected by Rae’s Creek, there’s water at every turn and is the part of the course that tends to be windiest. With the patrons housed away and only caddies in their white boiler suits for company, there is a deceiving serenity that has caught out even the game’s finest players, ending their week in the blink of an eye.
Two Champion Golfers will partner each other in a mouth-watering draw for the first two days. Reigning Open Champion Jordan Spieth is one of the favourites and, having achieved more in four years at the Masters than some do in a lifetime, it’s easy to see why they fancy the 24-year-old.
He may not be in the form that led to his superb victory at Royal Birkdale last year to lift the Claret Jug but Spieth scored a wire-to-wire victory by four strokes in 2015 to become the tournament’s second-youngest ever winner.
Standing next to Spieth on the opening tee is the quiet under-dog Louis Oosthuizen but write him off at your peril. The 2010 Champion Golfer of the Year finished second here in 2012 to Bubba Watson and is gradually finding his best form again.
Tiger’s roaring back
After missing the last 11 majors, the world is eagerly anticipating the return of Tiger Woods. The former World No1 has been battling a persistent back injury but has returned to full fitness and chasing a fifth Green Jacket.
In practice on Monday, the patrons were up to 12 rows deep around every green on the front nine. Woods played with compatriots Fred Couples and Justin Thomas. The three-time Open Champion duly rewarded them when he chipped in at the second hole from 60 feet.
If the 42-year-old wins on Sunday, some may view it as the greatest sporting comeback of all time.
Best of the rest
There are so many strong candidates throughout the field, it is almost impossible to predict what is going to happen. Dustin Johnson, the world No1 for 59 consecutive weeks, missed the Masters last year after falling down stairs and injuring his back on the eve of the tournament.
He will be desperate to shine this week as will compatriot Justin Thomas. The world No2 has been the form player of the last 12 months since winning the PGA Championship. Thomas has won three titles since then, enjoyed two second place-finishes and was a beaten semi-finalist at his most recent outing – the WGC Dell Match Play.
2014 Champion Golfer of the Year Rory McIlroy leads the European charge as he bids to complete the Career Grand Slam, while England’s Justin Rose will hope to avenge last year’s play-off defeat to Sergio Garcia and win the Green Jacket.
Elsewhere, 2013 Open Champion Phil Mickelson is back to his best and headlines a fascinating group including Rickie Fowler and 2017 Open runner-up Matt Kuchar.
Don’t count out Zach Johnson. The 2015 Champion Golfer of the Year is a former Masters Champion too, winning his first major there in 2007.
Since the Masters began in 1930, eight players have gone on to win The Open in the same year.
Ben Hogan was the first in 1953 and his accomplishment was soon followed up by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson respectively.
Englishman Nick Faldo became the only European player to do it in 1990 before Mark O’Meara in 1998 and, most recently, Woods in 2005 when he won on a play-off at Augusta before capturing the Claret Jug at the Old Course at St Andrews.
Doing the double may be rare but the winner on Sunday will be instantly installed as one of the early Open favourites.