I blame Jim Ferrier. Leading Jimmy Demaret by three shots with six holes to play in the 1950 U.S Masters the brilliant Sydney-born pro made a mess of the long, water fronted par fives on Augusta s back nine and handed Demaret his third Masters title. Since, Australians have threatened to win many times across the hills of the famous Georgia course created by architectural genius Alister MacKenzie but not a single one has donned the green jacket. Greg Norman came the closest. With a game made for MacKenzie s course it was staggering in hindsight that he never managed to win. The most painful loss of all was that day in 1996 when he succumbed to the relentless perfection of the Nick Faldo clinic that started with a fairway splitting opening tee shot and went all the way to the final green without even a hint of missing a single beat. Two years ago Adam Scott and Jason Day tied for second, defied by South African Charl Schwartzel s four birdie finish. Scott, playing with Day, looked a sure winner with three holes to play until what surely now is a curse on Australian golfers denied probably the most elegant player Australia has ever produced. Scott is one of only four Australian s in the field this week and clearly is the one most likely to avenge years of near misses. He had the Open Championship in his pocket when he stood on Royal Lytham s 15th tee last July but as Ferrier and Norman had done, he fumbled his way to a haunting finish. The scars of those painful losses cut deep and the question for Scott entirely centres on how he will manage a similar situation again. The obvious favourite is Tiger Woods but unlike this era of Grand Slam tennis it is no certainty that the four best players in the world will play for it amongst themselves at the end. There are far too many variables in golf for the outcome to be as predictable as it seems to be in tennis. All the indications are that Woods is close to playing his best golf but having said that it is hard to imagine him ever playing as well as he did in 2000 when he dominated the Opens on both sides of the Atlantic. Nor does have to play that well to win. Eighty percent of his play at Pebble Beach and St Andrews that summer would most likely be enough. It has, though, been some time (2005) since he has won at Augusta and since it has seemed that the putter was the club that let him down. MacKenzie made fearsome greens, just as he did at Royal Melbourne, but most have changed with varying degrees of subtly since and some, including the 7th, 10th and 16th greens, have been completely relocated. Nonetheless anyone hoping to win must place the ball onto the correct parts of the greens and then to putt without fear of three putting. In the nick of time Rory McIlroy found some decent form in San Antonio last week where he finished second behind Scotsman Martin Laird. Like many before McIlroy has struggled after changing clubs. Many think it a mistake but for every one of them there is a camp that argues that club technology is so good in this age than anything can be replicated to suit. Maybe, but changing everything all fourteen clubs and ball was something sure to involve risk. For tens of millions of dollars (hundreds even) the young and immensely Irishman obviously reckoned it was risk worth taking. His runner-up finish will have quieted the critics and more importantly refueled his confidence. The Masters is always a brilliant week. It is the best-run sporting event in the world if for no other reason that we won t see one commercial sign on or near the field of play for the entire week. It was how sport used to be and despite all the advances the spirit of Bobby Jones endures long after his death. The question though is whether Woods, who with Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Jones makes up the foursome of the games greatest players, can confirm that he is back right at the top of the game. Or can Scott, Day, Marc Leishman or John Senden break the curse of Jim Ferrier?
Author: Mike Clayton / Golf Australia