The Masters: Preview

Spring never comes around fast enough. The dark winter months give way to a combination of sun, rain, rebirth of plant-life and, for the sporting public, The Masters Tournament of golf. The first major of the year is perhaps golf’s most exciting and iconic event. Augusta National Golf Club is the venue for a tournament that is steeped in tradition and remains the tournament prized by most golfers over all others. The only major event that returns to the same venue every year, the rituals, landmarks and honours are known the world over, from the green jacket to Amen Corner. Media coverage has always been particularly in depth over the years, setting the scene in its entirety, the scents of the azaleas, the beauty of the camellias, the magnificence of Eisenhower’s oak and the immaculate shrubbery. This ambient perfection is the scene at which the world’s best golfers will battle from Thursday.

While indisputably one of the most beloved and famous courses in the world, Augusta National has drawn fierce criticism from many for its ‘selective’ membership (to put it lightly). It has only alleviated some of these concerns in the last two decades with black members first being admitted in 1990 and their first female members in 2012. Conversely, it mandates minimal commercial interruption during television coverage of the tournament and limits camera coverage to maintain its scenic beauty.

Unsurprisingly, the build-up has been intensely concentrated on the man aiming to become the second youngest player ever to win the career slam, the Northern Irish world number 1 Rory McIlroy. The bookies’ favourite, he won a title in only his second event of this year in Dubai but has not played a great deal of competitive golf since missing the cut in his most recent tournament. By his own admission, to win the Masters he needs to improve his touch and feel around the greens as the putting surface at Augusta is notoriously fast and contoured. Victorious Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley believes Rory may need several years to mature his ability to be patient on and around the greens.

A combination of injuries and a spectacular loss of form since his well documented emergence of marital indiscretions in 2009 has meant that Tiger Woods has dropped out of the top 100

Being installed as favourite for any golf tournament is one thing, but due to the fact that golfers cannot truly affect each other’s performance, every individual event is almost impossible to predict accurately. Any member of the top 50 is capable of producing the golf of their life for a solitary event. Rarely in the last ten years have any of the top five favourites for the Masters actually finished the job and there have been seven different champions in the last eight years. Only Tiger Woods in his heyday appeared to master the art. Even Woods himself is now struggling to reach levels of respectability. A combination of injuries and a spectacular loss of form since his well-documented emergence of marital indiscretions in 2009 has meant he has dropped out of the top 100.

Victorious Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley believes Rory may need several years to mature his ability to be patient in and around the greens

Two-time winner and defending champion left-hander Bubba Watson will be looking for further glory, alongside a returning-to-form Dustin Johnson and streaky world no. 4 Jordan Speith. Naturally, the crafty Phil Mickelson should never be counted out, with substantial experience and the game to match the intense challenge the course offers. Ricky Fowler, the young American who has yet to emerge from the shadow of McIlroy has had strong results in majors in the past year and ranks highly among the contenders for his natural talent. Aside from McIlroy, the British charge is led by Justin Rose and Lee Westwood, who has four top 10 finishes in the last five years, though his putting could still be a barrier for him in attempting to break his major duck.

The major which never disappoints is as thoroughly unpredictable as ever. It will no doubt ensure an exciting four days for golf enthusiasts and casual observers alike right up until the early hours of Monday morning.

Stephen Kenny

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