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How Champion Golfers have performed at Augusta

It’s Masters week, the first Major of the year, and we’re all set to kick-start another summer of golf.

There will be no shortage of Champion Golfers out there at Augusta National, looking to slip into the famous green jacket, with Champion Golfer of the Year Francesco Molinari chief among them.

But do the history books favour them in their bid to taste glory among the azaleas?

Well, in total, only fourteen men have both lifted the Claret Jug and donned the Green Jacket over their careers, Jordan Spieth the latest to join the exclusive club after his triumph at Royal Birkdale in The 146th Open.

But if Molinari were to pick up where he left off at the back end of last season and do the business down Magnolia Lane and around Amen Corner, he would join an even more elite group of golfing lore.

Champions in Green

While 14 have claimed both titles at some point during their lifetime, just four of them were able to do so as reigning Champion Golfers: Arnold Palmer in 1961/62, Seve Ballesteros in 1979/80, Tom Watson in 1980/81 and Tiger Woods in 2000/01.

The first to complete the feat – Palmer – did so in dramatic style, winning The 90th Open at Royal Birkdale a shot ahead of Welshman Dai Rees in a low scoring affair that saw just the final pair finishing under par.

And he had to do things the hard way once again when it came to Augusta, beating out Gary Player and Dow Finsterwald in a three-way 18-hole playoff.

Palmer wasn’t done there, however, as he retained his Champion Golfer of the Year title with victory at Royal Troon but couldn’t quite double up on the Masters as he finished tied ninth in the 1963 edition, with Jack Nicklaus claiming his first of six Green Jackets.

Watson, too, had form as he teed off at Augusta in 1981 as Champion Golfer of the Year, having already claimed both the Claret Jug and the Masters in the same calendar year back in 1977.

Confidence was clearly at a premium for the Missouri native as he mounted an impressive comeback on day three, turning a four-shot deficit to Jack Nicklaus into a one-shot lead, before a steady final round of 71 saw him home.

Seve found life a little easier going when he achieved the double in 1980, first taking his maiden Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes by three shots before winning the Masters the following April by four.

While Woods capped his eight-shot victory at St Andrews in 2000, and the title of golf’s youngest career Grand Slam winner, with yet another triumph at Augusta National at next time of asking for good measure.

Molinari at the Masters

Molinari will be keen to emulate the achievement of Spieth when he gets his Masters underway on Thursday, when the American last year became the 21st man to follow up Open victory with a top-five finish amid the pine needles, nine of them notching second-place finishes.

But he must be wary of the fate that has befallen the reigning Champion Golfer of the Year down the pristine Georgia fairways, with six of the last nine failing to make the cut at the following Masters.

It’s a figure that has seen a dramatic spike in recent years, with only 12 of the last 60 reigning Open winners in situ failing to reach the weekend at Augusta – Molinari will hope to be more Spieth than Stenson, who missed the cut at the Masters in 2017, nine months after he had raised the Claret Jug.

The Italian’s lifetime best at Augusta is a tied-19th back in 2012, and while the numbers don’t quite favour Molinari in his quest to better that figure, if he can get past the cut, then Champion Golfers of the Year have tended to fare relatively well over the last half-century.

In the last 50 Masters Tournaments, 20 reigning Open Champions have carded a top-ten finish at the close of play, a result that would no doubt prove a feather in the cap for the Turin native.

As far as recent examples go, however, Molinari wouldn’t go far wrong to follow that set by Spieth, the 25-year-old backing up his 2017 Open win with a third-place finish at Augusta National last year: the Champion Golfer will likely look to bend his opponent’s ear this weekend.