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The Masters, the ultimate temple of golf

Siddharth Shriram  |  Augusta (Georgia) 

These clear azure blue skies are as good as those are anywhere in the world. At Augusta National, amid the fastidious greenery and the giant loblolly pines, pine-scented ozonic breezes energise the vast army of spectators (called patrons at the Masters), to trek up and down (and it is unbelievably up and down) to keep track of one’s favourites.

Improbable leader is harried by three-time Masters winner Phil Mickleson, who has about 300 professional rounds of experience, besides innumerable practice rounds, while Hanson and Oosthuizen have less than 20 between them. It should be a walkover, but that’s not how things happen on the final day at the Masters. However, because 19 of the 21 past winners have come from the last pairing, Mickleson has the edge as he is trailing only by one. He is known to pull off miracle shots requiring immense creativity and risk-taking, because he knows every blade of grass, bush, tree, bend, break and bounce on this course.

Per contra, this is Oosthuizen’s first weekend at the Masters, having missed the cut in the last three. So, what does he know and have? How to drive it straight, that he has nothing to lose and that his hunger to win is tempered with the inevitability of reality that farmers are known to have; ergo, no stress.

The Westwood challenge appears to have faded and, maybe, he does not have a major in him at all. He really needs to have a big lead going into the final round, so that he can squander a portion of it and still win. This is unlikely to happen on any US PGA tour event, leave aside a major. However, with Rory having blown up with a couple of doubles on the first half (resignedly saying “this is just one of those days”), and Garcia uncharacteristically lacking the stomach for a fight (admitting he is not good enough at age 32 to win a major, though the fact is that he can keep improving until he is 50 at least), the only serious European challenger is Padraig Harrington. He is showing a lot of courage and having shot a four under in the last five holes, he could quickly float to the top of the leader board to challenge the “defenders”. Harrington feels “defending” anything on the course is very tough indeed. Thus, Schwarzl fell away “defending” his title, while both Tiger in “defending” his expectation of winning another major and Rory in “defending” the aura created by the media swarm that he was the next chosen one, have belied expectations. Now, is in the lead, which he has to “defend” and has to “defend” against challenges to his fourth Green Jacket. This leaves an opening which Harrington is aiming through. All this is what makes golf such a beautiful game.

The much predicted Rory-Tiger face-off proved a damp squib. While Rory can move his 300-plus-yard drives left or right at will, his terrific temperament will set him up for many wins in the future. While he essentially has a good time while playing, and, of course, he would like to win, one gets the feeling that he believes there’s much more to life. It’s different with Tiger Woods. His sole aim seems to be to get into the record books with 19 majors. He has perhaps begun to feel, but not yet to admit even to himself, that time and relative talent may be running out. He would not be amenable at all to the advice of a great past champion who would say, “Just enjoy yourself Tiger; golf is a game; life is a game; and if you take this cheerful attitude, you will succeed at your game. Your problems are in the mind and you are lacking the vital quality that Hogan had ...the spiritual”!

The alternate spirited American challenge is from Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson. Both are graduates from Georgia, are excellent gentlemen and have courteous manners. Matt’s quiet competence and warm smile and Bubba’s booming drive and unorthodox golf swing set-up (he has apparently never taken a lesson. What do you think, Tiger?) can quickly clutter the leader board. However, the leader board is famously greasy as the kiss (if you land on the right spot, you can be set up for a birdie, eagle or a smart par save) or kick (land on the wrong spot and you can drift off 40 or 50 feet away for a potential 3 putt) greens can take away your fortune just as they can give it.

Freddy Couples’ challenge was always going to falter, but remain valiantly strong, and all the love emanating from the adoring fans would not be enough to allow him to win. He will, no doubt, take away some great memories to cherish in his sunset years, and until then carry his present devastating form next week onwards to further dominate the Seniors Tour.

Hideki Matsuyama, who won the silver cup as the low amateur in 2011 had the opportunity to repeat this year until he imploded with an 80 in perfect playing condition and allowed Patrick Cantlay to pick up the silver cup for the low amateur for 2012. These two are likely to compete for this trophy for the next two years, as, it appears, they might like to turn professionals only after graduation. Kelly Kraft, the other amateur in the fray, could not wait and turned professional today. Japan’s tap of producing great young golfers is well open and the pipeline is strong. We will see many youngsters tread and go further on the path beaten by Isao Aoki, Ryuji Imada and Shigeki Maruyama.

278 (10-under) - Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) 68-72-69-69, Bubba Watson (USA) 69-71-70-68 (Watson wins on second hole of sudden-death playoff); 
280 Lee Westwood (ENG) 67-73-72-68, Matt Kuchar (USA) 71-70-70-69, Phil Mickelson (USA) 74-68-66-72, (SWE) 68-74-65-73; 
283 Ian Poulter (ENG) 72-72-70-69; 
284 Adam Scott (AUS) 75-70-73-66, Justin Rose (ENG) 72-72-72-68, Padraig Harrington (IRL) 71-73-68-72; 
285 Jim Furyk (USA) 70-73-72-70; 
286 Kevin Na (USA) 71-75-72-68, Graeme McDowell (NIR) 75-72-71-68, Sergio Garcia (ESP) 72-68-75-71, Fred Couples (USA) 72-67-75-72, Hunter Mahan (USA) 72-72-68-74; 
287 Bo Van Pelt (USA) 73-75-75-64, Ben Crane (USA) 69-73-72-73; 
288 Geoff Ogilvy (AUS) 74-72-71-71, Charles Howell (USA) 72-70-74-72, Brandt Snedeker (USA) 72-75-68-73, Fredrik Jacobson (SWE) 76-68-70-74, Francesco Molinari (ITA) 69-75-70-74
Selected others:
289 Jason Dufner (USA) 69-70-75-75;
290 Keegan Bradley (USA) 71-77-73-69, Vijay Singh (FIJ) 70-72-76-72; 
291 Luke Donald (ENG) 75-73-75-68, Angel Cabrera (ARG) 71-78-71-71;
293Tiger Woods (USA) 72-75-72-74, Rory McIlroy (NIR) 71-69-77-76, Henrik Stenson (SWE) 71-71-70-81; 
294 Martin Kaymer (GER) 72-75-75-72; 
296 Charl Schwartzel (RSA); 
301 Trevor Immelman (RSA) 78-71-76-76.

The message is clear. Do not come to the Masters with the expectation to win. Come here to respect this temple of golf, pray here by playing and learning from the various situations and conditions you will find yourself, and also from your worthy opponents, enjoy yourself and let the result happen.

The author is chairman, Honda Siel Cars India Ltd, and co-chairman, Usha International Ltd

First Published: Tue, April 10 2012. 01:20 IST