Golf: What to expect at the Masters 2017
Victory here heralds arrival and possible greatness, like it did for Tiger Woods in 1997 and Jordan Spieth in 2015.
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April marks the arrival of the iconic Augusta Masters, with golf professionals marching on, hoping to master the greens — the hallowed turf (terra firma) at eighteen greens and to win that famous Masters green jacket.
One feels the green not merely beneath one’s feet, but also in the magnolias, azaleas and the towering pines — mirroring the players' dream of winning just once, of trying to achieve greatness in golf.
The painting of the US map in yellow, with a red flagstick indicating the location of Augusta, has become a recognised brand for many (especially Rory, much like winning the Wimbledon was for Ivan Lendl, and US Open for Bjorn Borg).
Victory here heralds arrival and possible golfing greatness, like it did for Tiger Woods in 1997 and Jordan Spieth in 2015.
But for the latter, last year’s final holes (five-stroke lead wiped by six strokes overshooting over four holes) caused a famous meltdown (recalling Jean Van De Velde's act at British Open in 1999).
Augusta’s aura is associated with the still intact aura of its creators — the great Bobby Jones who defined golf with his gentlemanly persona, great grooming and impeccable conduct on and off the course. He was the only player to win the calendar Grand Slam of golf.
In addition, the club still sticks to restricted memberships (blacks and women admitted in 1990 and 2012 respectively), restriction on jostling, running and the use of mobile phones. Plus the tradition of championship dinner and both inner room and lawn ceremony, helped by last year’s championship, keep the aura alive.
Jordan Spieth has helped two players wear the green jacket and was once himself helped in the last three years.
So, if he tumbles this year, it would be the first time that he wouldn’t be present during the ceremony in the last three years.Dustin Johnson.
Hope we don’t see another collapse of Spieth or anyone else (like of Greg Norman in 1996 and Rory Mcllroy in 2011) this year.
Spieth’s shake-up at Amen’s corner (Herbert Warren Wind named it so in 1958) and others before remind how the players and spectators must wish well while treading the treacherous turns from the 11th to 13th holes.
The fortunes can go either way — for Spieth it went southwards, whereas for golfing great Jack Nicklaus it went north, generating roars and lifting him to his last major triumph.
During the trek through these three holes, the players' mind and concentration are tested with howling winds, water traps on the side and the deceptive front of the green of 12th and an apparent easy par five 13, which can truly lead one to believing in the unlucky 13.
The short 12th hole named Rae’s Creek with water led to that hole turning into Waterloo, no less, and of cracking Spieth's game where he scored a quadruple bogey, his quadriceps quivered causing tentative steps and swing.
His loss metaphorically indicated that he was no longer Under Armour — the brand he made famous.
Golf can be cruel and so unforgiving that only the steely players can tread on the treacherous paths. Take Spieth’s case – last year, only 30 minutes of lapse, out of about 900 minutes on course, in concentration and clarity in conceptualising the trajectory cost him the championships and crisis in confidence from which he is still to recover (he stated so in this years’ practice rounds).
Even the glorious uncertainties of cricket come nowhere close to golf's famous meltdowns.
This will also be the first year when one of golfing gods, Arnold Palmer, would be absent; his death just before last year’s Ryder Cup inspired the US team to reclaim the Cup.
Recall my article on US Open where I had alluded to the role of beard in last year's winners. It looks like beard’s lucky charm has returned with Dustin Johnson becoming world number one after growing a beard again.
Though always difficult to predict in golf, my guess is that besides Dustin Johnson, younger guns yearning for greatness will count strongly.
Hideki Matsuyama, who won four out of five final tournaments last year, can take him to the top so long as he keeps still on the back of his top swing.
John Rahm stands out for his risk-taking and strong swing and has been in contention in the WGC playoff with Dustin Johnson among others.
Spieth, Jason Day, Rory, Ricky Fowler have the games to back up their ambitions, but it would be surprising if Spieth overcomes the demons of last year; Jason Day could win if he can focus like he did two years ago — currently affected by mother’s grave illness; Rory’s inconsistency has plagued him for a while and last year’s Fedex Cup victory was aided by some lucky hole ins; Ricky Fowler has always counted but has not yet shown that he can turn around on the last day except once in the Players tournament.
Dustin’s length of the tee and stellar putting is becoming an asset though he still sometimes can show lapse of concentration. There will be surprise in some names missing the cut due to predicted high-speed winds affecting approach shots’ accuracy around the sloppy and steppy greens.
Mickelson has experience on his side, but age is a factor, although Jack Nicklaus did that in 1986 and Tom Watson almost did at 59 years in the British Open a couple of years ago.
Bubba Watson is hardly bubbling with confidence, taking his last two years' results into account.
Last year’s winner, Danny Willet, became a sentimental favourite to benefit from Spieth’s meltdown — after it became clear that he nearly didn’t take the flight due to his wife’s delivery date during the playing week. However, he hasn’t lived up to the billing ever since.
Sergio Garcia can win if challenged closely by an American as that brings out the best in him as we saw last year in the Ryder Cup against Mickelson, and against Tiger Woods in PGA two decades ago.
The tournament will also grapple with the surrounding debate of golf scores being subjected to spectator’s correction and that too when the day of play is over — as it happened to Lexi Thompson in last week's ANA tournament where a four-stroke penalty was imposed on the final day and on final holes.
Imagine the chaos, if spectators start reviewing the replays of DRS in cricket, or ball-crossing the goal line in football.
Some serious thought must go into reforming and restricting such intrusions by non-referees and judges.
There is no tournament like the Masters. Ask the master Bobby Jones who designed it; ask the masters who won and those who missed the chance and still others aspiring to win.
The mystery of how they master the Masters will remain.