Golf | 05 Apr 2017 | By Michael Vlismas
The Masters Tournament Demands Everything
Major golf rips at the nerves, hearts and souls of all professional golfers as the most strenuous examination of skill in this game. And then there is the Masters. There is a reason Jack Nicklaus has won the most Masters titles of six and is the greatest golfer in Major championship history. It’s the same reason that Arnold Palmer made four of his seven Major victories Masters titles and is arguably the most important golfer in the history of the game. And it’s the same reason that the third name on that list, also with four Masters titles, is the one golfer who dominated more than any other – Tiger Woods.
There is also a reason the world number one hasn’t won the Masters since Woods in 2002. And a reason that as good as Dustin Johnson is, you have to go all the way back to 1976 and Hubert Green to find the last player who won the Masters off the back of three consecutive victories.
The reason is, as 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel will tell you, you cannot hide at Augusta National. As the first Major of the year, the Masters sets the tone for Major season. Johnson is the overwhelming favourite at an Augusta National where he’s finished sixth and fourth the last two years. Rory McIlroy is as hungry as ever to complete the Grand Slam at the age of 27. Jordan Spieth wants to bury the memories of his Masters collapse last year. Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm - the storylines are endless.
The Masters also sets the Tone for Careers
And as much as the Masters honours its champions, it can also taunt them. “I knew I was good enough to win the Masters, but when it actually happened, there was no-one more surprised than me. Suddenly you go from being a European Tour winner to winning the biggest tournament in golf and the hype around it was massive,” Schwartzel said.
“For the first bit you’re riding such a wave of confidence that you’re almost just playing with confidence because you’re the Masters champion. But when you go through a bad patch, you think that you can’t be playing this badly because you’ve won the biggest golf tournament in the world. What’s wrong with you? It spirals the wrong way. When expectations are high and you’re not achieving things, the fire in you turns the wrong way and you’re getting in the way of yourself.”
Ernie Els knows full well the meaning of getting in the way of yourself at the Masters. With six top-10s at Augusta National, Els has yet to slip on a green jacket. He finished second in 2000 and 2004 and has had six top 10s here. But he’s missed the cut twice in the last three years, and hasn’t made a cut on the PGA Tour this year. This week, Els is playing on the last year of his five-year exemption for winning the Open in 2012. And he’s talking about having one last look around Augusta this week.
As much as the Masters honours, it also haunts in the minds of men like Els.
Louis Oosthuizen heads into this year’s Masters as the best performing South African over the past three years. After finishing second in 2012 to Bubba Watson, Oosthuizen led the South African challenge as he finished 15th last year, 19th in 2015 and 25th in 2014. Oosthuizen more than most is impossible to predict when it comes to Major performance. He missed the cut three times in the Open before winning it in 2010. He missed three consecutive cuts in the Masters before nearly winning it in 2012. And in the US Open he missed the cut in 2010, finished ninth in 2011, and then missed the cut the following year.
Branden Grace is still finding his feet as Augusta National, having missed the cut the last three years.
Trevor Immelman completes the South African line-up as a winner here in 2008 but having missed the cut the last three years.
It will be a tall order to try and stop what looks like a strong American challenge for this year’s Masters, with Johnson and Spieth leading the way here. But the good news is that South Africa has a very good record in the Masters, winning more green jackets than any other country outside of America.