Here’s hoping for the sake of Jordan Spieth’s sanity that his agent puts a hammer through the TV screen at his client’s rented mansion in the gated Augusta community where he will spend this Masters week.
If not, then the world’s number six ranked golfer will find himself tortured by Golf Channel’s tape-looped obsession with last year’s blow-up on Amen Corner, a slicing, chunking horror show that cost Spieth his, ahem, unassailable five-shot lead and a second Green Jacket.
Barely an hour has passed these last few days without yet another sighting of that infamous “pitch” (let’s be kind) from the drop zone on the 12th which produced a divot the size of a fireside rug and a ball flight that resembled a Messerschmitt heading for the drink.
As Spieth faltered so Danny Willett found the courage to match his talent to fashion an unlikely but deserved victory.
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Notch one up for old Mother England, without a victory around Augusta National since Nick Faldo in 1996, and for Europe too, which hadn’t been represented at the Butler Cabin presentation ceremony since Jose Maria Olazabal won his second Green Jacket in 1999.
Willett seemed a little overwhelmed by what he achieved that week and hasn’t been heard from much since, not unless one counts his brother Pete’s vivid but diplomatically unhelpful contribution to Europe’s Ryder Cup hammering at Hazeltine a few months later. But as the old saying goes, form is temporary, class is permanent. Willett will be back, just not this week.
But what of Spieth, whose response to missing the cut in Houston last week was to resort to the royal “we’, as in, “we strike fear into others”. There is a difference between the private and the public persona, but it seemed the American was speaking from the heart.
He really does believe in himself. ‘Bigly’, as the 45th President might say.
There is no question Spieth’s form has shaded since his annus mirabilis of 2015, when with a bit of luck he could have won all four majors, but that must be weighed against his record around Alistair MacKenzie’s masterpiece.
He’s won once, lost narrowly to a Bubba Watson playing out of his mind and then endured last year’s torture. If the Augusta National lay-out is golf’s ultimate game of chess, then Spieth is Bobby Fischer – cussed, cocky and talented.
To my mind, he is the man to beat. Which isn’t to say he won’t be beat. Dustin Johnson has donned a Woods-ian cloak of invincibility these past months, winning his past three PGA Tour events with the swagger of Eastwood in a Sergio Leone western.
He is the favourite, deservedly so, but he would be an even stronger fancy around a track that did not put so much emphasis on short-game imagination.
He has improved immensely from 100 yards and in, but how will he cope with the questions posed by Augusta’s unforgiving run-offs and its triple-breaking putts? If he finds a way, then Spieth will have found his match. If not, then there are plenty of others ready and able to step up.
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Willett’s victory last year aside, Augusta National has shown a hometown bias in recent times, in which case expect the likes Rickie Fowler – who has the talent and guts to win a Masters – and Brandt Snedeker, who has three top 10 finishes in the Masters, to run with whatever Yankee-doodle advantage they are given.
Some will fancy Justin Thomas, already a three-time winner on the PGA Tour this season and the coming man of American golf. But he’d better swap a little of his brute force for some more subtlety if he wants to play his way into contention.
As for the European challenge, few will look past Rory McIlroy, still on the hunt for that career Grand Slam. What is there left to say about the Irishman and Augusta National, except that they are two icons, blessed and beautiful, the Brad and Angelina of professional golf.
We all want a happy ending and pray to God that this glorious relationship does not founder under the dead weight of expectation. Will this be Rory’s year?
If it is, then he’ll have to beat his demons and then he’ll have to beat Spieth…
Four to watch at Augusta National
Jon Rahm – 25/1
The best player in the world under the age of 23 and on current form is probably the second best player in the world of any age, behind Dustin Johnson. The young Spaniard gave DJ a run for his money in the final of the World Matchplay a couple of weeks back before losing on the final hole.
He can golf his ball, no doubt. However, can he defy the unwritten Masters rule that say rookies (Fuzzy Zoeller aside in 1979) must pay their dues before getting measured for a green jacket? Probably not. But, he is too good and too confident not to contend.
Phil Mickelson – 25/1
A three-time winner around Augusta National and a perennial presence on the Masters leaderboard. He can’t go on forever, but he will surely contend on Sunday at least one more time before the sun begins to set on his career.
Jack Nicklaus won here, aged 46. Phil is 46. Just sayin’.
Tyrrell Hatton – 50/1
If Danny Willett can, Tyrrell Hatton can. The Englishman is as talented as he is unassuming. He keeps the ball in play and, vitally in the context of Augusta National, he chips and putts like a God.
A regular contender these days against even the strongest fields (hence the world ranking of 15) he might be end up best placed European finisher not called McIlroy.
Soren Kjeldsen – 100/1
The Dane is enjoying a late career revival that defies the tendency of modern golf to favour power over all else. He can barely hit the ball out of his shadow, he is as physically imposing as your average golf journalist (which is to say not in the slightest), but yet he battered McIlroy into submission in their match-up at the recent World Matchplay.
He finished sixth here last year, so he has proved he can cope with Augusta’s peculiar challenges. He won’t win but he could keep his backers interested all the way to Sunday afternoon.
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* All price correct at time of posting.