View From The Fairway - The Masters Won't Be The Same
Here is Derek's latest View From The Fairway!
THE week before The Masters is normally a time of great excitement and anticipation for yours truly. It is traditionally the first major of the season, held at the spectacular Augusta National in all its spring splendour. It marks the beginning of the proper golf season. This year it is being held in November and, to all intents and purposes, brings the curtain down on an extraordinary year. The Open was scrapped, the US PGA Championship was won by Collin Morikawa and the US Open was won in amazing fashion by Bryson DeChambeau. This year sees Tiger Woods defend the title he won in such emotional circumstances in 2019. The scene is set for a wonderful tournament, especially with the likes of Tyrrell Hatton heading to Georgia as a genuine contender. So why can’t I get worked up about the tournament? I will, of course, be glued to the TV for all four days and will tune in to watch all the build-up. But if ever there was a tournament that will suffer because of the lack of spectators, it is The Masters. One of the things that makes this such a special golf tournament is the roars that echo around the course on the final day as somebody holes a huge putt or hits the 13th or 15th green in two to set up an eagle opportunity. There will still be plenty of drama unfolding before our eyes but it just won’t be the same without its special atmosphere.
Daniel Berger is ranked 13th in the world, Viktor Hovland is comfortably inside the top 30. But neither man will be in the field at Augusta. You might wonder why. The field was set for a tournament that was due to be held in April and, at the time, both men were well outside the top 50. The Masters only has a field of around 90 players. Isn’t it a real shame that the men in green jackets couldn’t have demonstrated some flexibility to allow golfers such as Berger and Hovland into their tournament? Berger will feel especially hard done by as he has performed brilliantly since the PGA Tour returned during the summer. Ironically, both men will be there in April 2021.
Confused? You should be. What chance have we got of understanding the Government’s latest restrictions when Michael Gove tells us that it is still permissible to play golf in two-balls, only to be contradicted minutes later by another spokesman. I don’t consider myself to be a stupid person but, for the life of me, I just don’t understand the logic of being told that we can meet outdoors with somebody who is not a member of our own family and can go for a walk with that individual but we can’t play 18 holes of golf with that same person. We all get the fact that during this latest lockdown our clubhouses will have to close but I am still waiting for somebody to give us a sensible explanation as to why our courses have been closed once again. And yet, the Premier League and the EFL continue, as does rugby league, tennis, Formula One etc. And rugby union, which has seen huge numbers of positive Covid-19 tests, is preparing to return. The PGA Tour and European Tour also continue to stage tournaments, with golfers playing in three-balls along with caddies, the media and officials. Is it any wonder that club golfers feel that they are being victimised?
What a difference a year has made in the life of Francesco Molinari. He won The Open in 2018, as well as the BMW PGA Championship, and finished the year ranked fifth in the world. And the good times continued at the start of 2019, with victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. And then came Augusta and The Masters. The Italian led when he stood on the 12th tee but his challenge came to grief when his tee shot finished in Rae’s Creek and he walked off with a double-bogey. He also found a watery grave at the 15th and eventually finished fifth as Tiger Woods took advantage of Molinari’s collapse to win his 15th major. Molinari finished the year ranked 18th in the world. He suffered injury and a complete loss of form. He has made just five starts in 2020, missing four cuts, and currently stands 87th in the rankings. Sometimes golf can be a cruel game.
Callum Shinkwin lost his playing privileges at the end of 2018. The Englishman is not the first golfer to be kicked where it hurts by this game that we all love - and he won’t be the last. It is how you react that matters most, and instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for himself, Shinkwin chose to knuckle down and work hard. And lo and behold, he got his reward when he won the Cyprus Open at Aphrodite Hills, beating Kalle Samooja in a playoff. It was Shinkwin’s first victory, and there are many who believe that this success could open the floodgates for him. Samooja was also looking for his maiden victory, having lost in a playoff at the European Masters in 2019. It will be fascinating to follow the progress of both players.
Speaking of unlikely winners, Brian Gay surprised even himself when he beat a decent field to claim the Bermuda Championship at the age of 48. He is not the first forty-something to triumph this year - Stewart Cink also returned to the winners’ enclosure for the first time in years at the Safeway Open. And for a time in Bermuda it looked like Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington might be the man to beat. Sergio Garcia, whose game fell off a cliff after he won The Masters, has also won again. As has Martin Laird. These unlikely victories were all thrilling, surprising and heartwarming in equal measure. Gay was looking towards the Champions Tour but can now focus on the PGA Tour until the end of 2023. Laird was in danger of having to head to the Korn Ferry Tour and relative oblivion. Garcia would have been dreading heading back to Augusta but will now believe that he can win the Green Jacket again. And Darren Clarke, who has shown no form whatsoever for longer than he can remember, will no doubt still be celebrating his unlikely success at the TimberTech Championship on the Champions Tour, beating Bernhard Langer and Jim Furyk by a shot. It was his first victory since he claimed The Open Championship at Royal St George’s in 2011. What a difference four days can make. Is it any wonder that this sport keeps drawing us back?
At the risk of repeating myself, I really do hope that the European Tour can find a way to return to Aphrodite Hills. As we have seen over the past two weeks, it is a truly spectacular venue, boasting glorious views and some breathtaking holes. The players loved the course and the island of Cyprus - and it is a part of the world that guarantees wall-to-wall sunshine.
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