The year of the young guns - Augusta awaits
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
THIS could be the year of the Young Guns at Augusta. Patrick Reed, Harris English, Russell Henley, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth will feature on just about everybody's list of potential winners.But The Masters is a tournament that favours experience and that probably rules out all of the above apart from McIlroy and Day.
Three years ago, McIlroy went out last on the final day with a four-shot lead. He was still in front after reaching the turn in 37, but then his game unravelled completely as he came home in 43 shots.He took seven at the 10th after missing the fairway by fully 90 yards; he three-putted the 11th; he four-putted the 12th; and he hit a horrible hook at the 13th. His dream had become a nightmare. Although he was only 21, many predicted he would never come back from such disappointment. Barely two months later he won the US Open at a canter.
Day finished in a tie for second with Adam Scott in 2011, shooting a 68 that was 12 strokes better than McIlroy's horrific 80. And he finished third at Augusta last year.The Australian won the recent Accenture World Matchplay championship, beating Victor Dubuisson in an extraordinary final. It confirmed that he is in the form of his life. But he has missed the last two events because of a thumb injury.
Ever since Tiger Woods won at Augusta in 1997, it has become a work in progress, with holes extended, bunkers moved, and trees removed and replaced. And when the players arrive this year they will notice another change. Eisenhower's Tree, the main feature of the 17th hole, is no more. It was destroyed during the winter storms that have wreaked havoc in America. The tree was so-called because President Eisenhower, an Augusta member, struck it almost every time he played the hole. He hated it so much that he asked the committee to chop it down. They refused. But nature has had the final say. Not that the tree, or its absence, would be of any concern to McIlroy, Day or anybody else in the field this year, although the 17th hole will be easier without it.
McIlroy is now engaged to Caroline Wozniacki. He won the Australian Open in December, and should have won the Dubai Desert Classic and Honda Classic, both of which he began with 63s. As he tried to close the deal, there were signs of nerves, but McIlroy will have learnt from those disappointments, in precisely the same way that he learnt from his Masters meltdown.
He has started to climb the world rankings again and will be confident of winning a major in 2014. If he manages to collect the Green Jacket, it will mean that only The Open will be missing from his CV - not bad for a 24-year-old.
Day, who was runner-up to Justin Rose in last year's US Open, will have something to say about that. He is one tough cookie. In November he lost eight relatives, including his grandmother, in the typhoon that swept across the Philippines. He promptly won the individual and team prize in the World Cup, alongside Adam Scott, who is the current Masters champion.
He won the Accenture the hard way, having to beat Thorbjorn Olesen, Billy Horschel, George Coetzee, Louis Oosthuizen and Rickie Fowler before being taken to the 23rd hole by "Houdini" Dubuisson.
After winning the WGC Cadillac at Doral, Reed claimed that he is now one of the best five players in the world. Yes, he has won three times in under a year. Yes, he has raced up the world rankings. And yes, he will be a member of Tom Watson's Ryder Cup team. But one of the best five players in the world? No way.
Reed won a lot of collegiate golf and has taken to the PGA Tour like a duck to water, but he hasn't played in a single major. That's right, not one. Let's see what he has to say for himself after he has been to Augusta and playing in The Masters for the first time. If he makes the cut, he will be doing well.
Spieth will win a major, and soon. But it won't be The Masters. If you are looking for one of the young guns to burst through, then English might be worth a flutter. He drives the ball well, but, crucuially, he has a superb short game.
There will be a lot of money on Scott to successfully defend his title. After coming close so often, winning that elusive first major seems to have lifted a huge weight from Scott's shoulders and he is now one of the most consistent performers at the sport's biggest tournaments. Indeed, it would be a surprise it he wasn't in the mix coming down the stretch. But he does have a habit of throwing things away with final-round collapses.
It's a shame that Woods won't be Augusta. Even if he had made it to the first tee, it is unlikely that he would have been in any sort of shape to challenge for his 15th major. Increasingly, it is because of his ongoing battles against injury that he makes the headlines these days. His latest back operation means he is also a doubt for the US Open. And it seems certain that he will only make the US Ryder Cup team if Tom Watson decides to give him a wild-card pick. Even if he did, would Woods be up to playing five rounds of golf in three days? Almost certainly not.
Meanwhile back among the azaleas, McIlroy will feel it is time to win his third major. If it weren't for his injury woes, I would be telling you to put your money on Jason Day, with Charl Schwartzel as likely as anybody to be challenging him on the final day.
You can be certain of one thing - it will be another cracking Masters.
Image Credit - Masters Facebook Page
Derek Clements is a sports journalist with a particular passion for golf with over 12 years of experience covering golf and other sports including Chief Sub-Editor on the sports desk of The Sunday Times. To contact Derek email direct via [email protected]
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