It never rains, it pours and Australian golf – whose 79-year US Masters drought ended last year with Adam Scott’s unforgettable triumph – is now looking at the possibility of back-to-back successes at Augusta National.
Such giddy talk, which would once have been dismissed as over excitable hype, is only permissible now because the local golf scene has never been in such rude health.
Australian players have won four of the last seven US PGA Tour events – and that figure would have been five had Scott not blown a huge lead down the stretch at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Four out of seven on the world’s toughest tour? Never have we come close to that sort of sustained success before.
In Scott and Jason Day, Australia boasts the No.2 and No.4 players in the world – and either of them could claim the No.1 ranking this weekend with a strong showing around the verdant fairways and slick greens of America’s most famous course.
Only three players have won the Masters in successive years: Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods. Is Scott ready to join that exalted company? The answer lies, as always, in that extended and soon-to-be-banned instrument which he calls a putter.
And without being too unkind to the likes of Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby, Aaron Baddeley and other Australian winners on the US Tour over the past 15 years – whose record in the majors was positively woeful – these days we have guys who are not just happy to show up at Augusta, but genuinely believe they can win.
The Australian representation this week, for the first of the year’s majors, is seven – Scott, Day, John Senden, Matt Jones, Steve Bowditch, Marc Leishman and the highly rated WA youngster, Oliver Goss, who gets a guernsey courtesy of his runner-up finish in the US Amateur.
England and South Africa also have seven starters.
As tradition demands, Scott had to devise a menu for the Champions dinner on Tuesday night, attended by 32 former winners. Whereas Scotsman Sandy Lyle startled the conservative tastes of America’s golfers in 1989 when he produced a plate of haggis and turnips, and South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel went one better by cooking up a monkey gland sauce for one of his beef dishes in 2012, Scott chose the slightly safer option of Moreton Bay bugs – although the description produced a few raised eyebrows in a country where bugs are things you spray with an insecticide.
Only three players have won the Masters in successive years: Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods. Is Scott ready to join that exalted company? The answer lies, as always, in that extended and soon-to-be-banned instrument which he calls a putter. If that’s working for him (and it wasn’t at the Arnold Palmer event), then he’s a great chance to go back-to-back, given that his tee-to-green play is invariably out of the top drawer.
Day, meanwhile, has two top-three finishes at Augusta, a sterling record in majors and is coming off a last start win in the Accenture Match Play event seven weeks ago. But he injured his thumb about that time and has not played a tournament since, casting some doubt on his preparation. Still, he reckons he’s 100 per cent fit and there’s no more gritty competitor in the field.
They are our best chances in a limited field of 97 players – which is considerably smaller than at the other three majors.
Craig ‘The Walrus’ Stadler will be teeing up, as will Ben Crenshaw, Tom Watson, Ian Woosnam, Larry Mize, Sandy Lyle and a bunch of other greybeards who will have to play out of their skin just to make the cut.
That number includes a dozen guys who have absolutely no chance at winning because they are only invited back as former Masters’ winners. That means Craig ‘The Walrus’ Stadler will be teeing up, as will Ben Crenshaw, Tom Watson, Ian Woosnam, Larry Mize, Sandy Lyle and a bunch of other greybeards who will have to play out of their skin just to make the cut.
So we’re down to about 80 possible winners now, and that list can be further whittled down by the other automatic Masters inclusions each year: the US Amateur champion and runner-up; the USGA’s Mid-Amateur champion; the Asia-Pacific Amateur champion, the British Amateur champion and, wait for it, the winner of the US Amateur Public Links Championship who this year is someone by the name of Jordan Niebrugge.
So that leaves about 72 legitimate chances and if you believe that no first-timer can prevail at Augusta – not an unreasonable assumption given that Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 was the last debutant winner – then the number of realistic chances is closer to 50 or 55.
Many, however, believe that 25-year drought will be broken this year given how many precocious young talents have recently emerged in world golf. Jimmy Walker, who few had heard of 12 months ago, has won three times on the US Tour, while Patrick Reed – similarly anonymous last year – has prevailed twice. Another American, Jordan Spieth, continues to draw rave reviews while Frenchman Victor Dubuisson and Sweden’s Jonas Blixt lead the charge from the other side of the Atlantic.
None of them will feel the weight of history; all will be quietly – and not-so-quietly – confident about their chances.
And so we set the alarm clock for Friday morning, when the first pictures from Georgia flicker across our screens and that horribly schmaltzy accompanying music fills our loungerooms again, and wonder if the tournament can possibly top the drama and unbridled joy it provided last year.