This year’s first major – The Masters – kicks off this Thursday, 7 April. While the top-3 in golf’s world rankings; Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy dominate the headlines, such is the current form of many other proven performers that today’s so-called “Big Three” won’t have it all their own way. So, who are the other genuine contenders, and what type of game is best suited to the uniqueness that is Augusta National?
Augusta National’s defence is its greens. Their undulations are complex and when this is combined with their speed, it adds up to the most testing greens the pros play.
This course demands careful analysis in determining exactly where, relative to that day’s pin placement, the ball should come to rest on any given green. Next is to execute the very shot that has the ball finish as close as possible to that spot. Finally, putt the ball with the right amount of pace, and on the right line. And therein lies two keys to winning the Masters – approach shots and putting.
Most amateur golfers have no idea what it’s like to putt on genuinely fast greens. Stimpmeter speeds at the Masters are thought to be around 12 – 14 feet, although this information is not released. By comparison, the local Mountain Shadow course, about seven-plus years back, was reckoned to be amongst Pattaya’s fastest. At their best they would have run at circa10 – 11 feet. The slopes on Augusta’s greens are far more severe than television shows them to be and they are fast, knee-trembling fast.
The effect these putting surfaces have on scores cannot be overestimated. Any flaws in a player’s putting stroke will be agonisingly exposed. The challenge from tee to green still exists, obviously. But fairway width is generous, and if the ball finishes in the second cut – Augusta has no rough – chances are the player can still reach the green. The test, therefore, is for the player to place his drive in a position from where the approach shot can best be played, with a lofted club. In short, be long off the tee, hope for a reasonable lie, determine where on or before the green to land the ball, and hit it there – with as pure a strike as possible.
As to who will win, well, that is a far harder question. Consider the following:
Length: The course has been lengthened by 500 yards over the last five years. At 7445 yards it is genuinely long. It normally has roll. Enough of it will permit the use of a more lofted club for the approach shot, and that could be vital. It has an unofficial course rating of 78.1.
GIR: Greens in Regulation is a crucial part of scoring well at Augusta. In the last eight years, six of the winners have ranked 1st or 2nd for tournament GIR. Rather reinforces the need for pure ball-striking.
Experience: History states first-timers rarely win at Augusta. The first two Masters aside, it has only been done once before – Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. Just knowing what it’s like to be at Augusta National gives experienced pros an edge over those who don’t. Augusta has rules that both pros and patrons don’t experience elsewhere. Get caught using a mobile, or videoing a swing on the range, and you are escorted off the course, immediately. Out on the course proper, knowing where to put your approach shot is critical. For example, it took a player as accomplished as Rory McIlroy six attempts before he managed a top-10 finish. The importance of experience cannot be over-estimated, on and off the course.
Putting: Enough has been said.
Of course there are many other factors worth considering, but limiting these to length, GIR, Masters experience and putting, my top ten, in terms of attractive odds (paddypower.com) would be:
- Jason Day; 6/1. Tied for 2nd in ’11, third in ’13 and won last two starts. Hot hot.
- Jordon Spieth; 7/1. Defending champ with lowest-ever winning score of 18-under.
- Rory McIlroy; 8/1. This for a career grand slam. Needs to find his putting stroke.
- Bubba Watson; 10/1. 2nd at Doral, won Riviera and two of the last four Masters.
- Adam Scott; 11/1. Looks stronger than ever, and with a short stick. Form hot.
- Phil Mickelson; 18/1. 3-peat winner. Tied 2nd last year. Knows course, form good.
- Henrik Stenson; 33/1. Tied 18th last year, but knows the course and in good form.
- Louis Oosthuizen; 33/1. Runner-up in ’12. Game well suited to course. Form good.
- Charl Schwartzel; 35/1. Won in ’11. Undergoing resurgence in form this year.
- Angel Cabrera; 200/1. Past winner. Does nothing all year then arrives at Augusta.
No mention of Rose, Fowler or Dustin Johnson? I don’t think the odds offered are good enough to warrant inclusion.
To the Augusta National Golf Club, who forgo broadcast fees so the viewer gets a near commercial-free coverage of top-level golf; on behalf of those of us who get to watch the Masters live on TV, thank you.
One final observation: How does a golfer consistently give 40 yards in length and still win? I don’t know, but Lydia Ko does. A very impressive performance this morning in the ANA Inspiration that gives her successive major wins and back-to-back tour titles.
Ko to her caddie when facing an 86-yard approach to the par-5 18th, “I’m going for the pin, half a yard left.” “Good,” confirmed the caddie. The ball stopped directly left of the hole – 12 inches away. She won by one shot.
Enjoy the Masters