For the first time since the Norman era, Australia has the favorite for the Masters. Adam Scott is the world No. 2 and with the top-ranked Tiger Woods indisposed because of injury, the Queenslander and Northern Ireland&aposs Rory McIlroy are the popular picks for Augusta National beginning tonight. Scott is defending the title he won last year, ending the infamous Australian drought in Georgia with his playoff triumph over Angel Cabrera. He has enjoyed the year, and he has played well, but on Sunday night he will finally have to deliver that green jacket back to the club for safekeeping (winners get to keep their jacket for a year, then it is only to be worn on the grounds of ANGC). This time if Scott wins, or finishes second or third with not too many people between him and the title, he will assume the No. 1 world ranking for the first time. Needless to say, there is plenty riding on it. The popular Australian had Moreton Bay bugs served at the champions&apos dinner at the club on Tuesday, and pavlova from his mother Pam&aposs recipe, a particularly Australian theme along with the 2005 Grange red. He had also played a round at Augusta a few days earlier with his father Phil, a guiding force in his life as well as a professional himself. He has also taken up his place in the champions&apos locker room, since Augusta reserves one for its winners, sharing a locker with Gary Player, a three-time winner. “He (Player) gets a lot of mail, so there&aposs not a lot of room for myself in there, but we make it work,&apos&apos said Scott. “That&aposs okay. My stuff&aposs kind of scattered around a bit on the floor.&apos&apos There has also been the relative frivolity of Augusta&aposs famous par-three competition. But as of Thursday, Scott knows that it is time to switch on and play. He tees off at 10.41 am Thursday (12.41am Friday AEST) with American Jason Dufner and English amateur Matthew Fitzpatrick. “I feel like my game is at a point where if I play well, I have got a chance to win this tournament,&apos&apos Scott told the media this week. “That&aposs my goal that week. And the follow on from that would be world No. 1. I&aposve had a couple goes at that the last couple times I&aposve played and it hasn&apost worked out. I just think you just have to keep playing well consistently to be No. 1. “If I can keep chipping away at it, whether I win or not this week and get to No. 1, my goal is just to keep playing well. It&aposs not I don&apost tee up thinking I&aposm going to try to be world No. 1. It just works out. You&aposve just got to keep playing well. And for the guys who have been world No. 1, it&aposs been a process to get there and that&aposs where I&aposm at, at the moment, and I&aposm getting close. But it will take four great rounds this week.&apos&apos Of the seven Australians who made the limited field, Scott, world No. 4 Jason Day and Victorian Marc Leishman seem the best-placed to contend. Day would be one of the favorites on his recent form — he won the World Cup in December and the World Golf Championship matchplay in February — but a left thumb injury has hampered him for a month, leaving a doubt over him. But Day has contended twice before at Augusta, in 2011 and last year, when he led well into the final day, so if his hand does not trouble him, he will be dangerous. Similarly Leishman&aposs game suits the course; he led through the first round last year and was in contention right up until the 15th hole on the final day when he dunked his five-iron second shot into the pond in front of the green, trying to make eagle. He ended up finishing tied-fourth. John Senden, Matt Jones and Steven Bowditch all extracted their invitations by winning tournaments on the PGA Tour in the past six weeks, but Senden has struggled at Augusta in the past and the broad consensus is that Jones and Bowditch will need the run, in the racing parlance. First-timers tend to suffer for the &aposwow&apos factor at Augusta National (although Scott went top-10 at his first start in 2002 and Day was joint runner-up on debut in 2011). Then there is 19-year-old Oliver Goss, the Perth amateur who claimed a spot by making the final of last year&aposs US Amateur title. Goss, who is part of Golf Australia&aposs national elite squad, will be playing for the experience this week. McIlroy is our tip to win. He dominated for three days in 2011 at Augusta, leading by four shots, before imploding on the back nine on Sunday, starting with a tugged tee shot at the 10th that bounced into the cabins off a tree branch. He was gratified to learn upon recent arrival to the course that the ice storm that took out the famous Eisenhower Tree on the 17th fairway also disposed of the branch that ruined his tournament three years ago. “Whenever the members play, there is a guy that has a drinks cart on the 10th tee,&apos&apos he said. “He told me last Tuesday, Your branch, it isn t there anymore&apos.&apos&apos McIlroy has had his travails but this might be his time. “I&aposd be disappointed if I ended my career and wasn&apost able to go up and have breakfast in the champions&apos locker room,&apos&apos he said. “You can look at someone like Greg Norman (who never won the Masters). Or look at Ernie Els. He sees Trevor (Immelman) win, he sees Charl (Schwartzel) win, he sees all these young South Africans. Ernie should have won it in &apos04 when Phil Mickelson birdied two of the last three Mickelson had never finished like that to win one, and all of a sudden he does. I know Ernie probably goes back every year and feels like it&aposs the one that maybe got away.&apos&apos Then there is the veteran Phil Mickelson, who routinely plays well at Augusta, where his wide shots are not so heavily punished. Mickelson, who won the first of his five major championships 10 years ago in the 2004 Masters, has finished in the top-three at Augusta eight times, including three wins. For Scott, it is a huge challenge. Back-to-back victories at Augusta National are rare; in fact Jack Nicklaus (1965-66) and Tiger Woods (2001-02) are the only men to have done it. The good news for Australia&aposs favorite player is that he is in his prime, and he knows it. “I think everyone gets a window, and you might get more than one. But my window of opportunity, I really think is right now, and I don&apost know when it will close. So I just have to keep going as hard as I can right now, and if it lasts until I&aposm in my 40s, then that&aposs great. I think I&aposll have a lot of chances to win golf tournaments.&apos&apos The Masters is something special. For a reminder of what it all means to the players, Arnold Palmer stepped forward. The man who won four times at Augusta was asked about his first Masters, in 1955 when he was an amateur. “I parked a trailer there and I drove over to the club and the feeling was so overwhelming that I felt like I had died and gone to heaven, and I mean that,&apos&apos he said.
Author: Martin Blake / golf.org.au