Date: March 29, 2017
Author: Justin Falconer

FALCONER: The case for Marc at the Masters

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After snatching an early lead at Augusta National in 2013 in his first ever Masters, England’s David Lynn walked off the course with one impression.

“There’s a banana skin on every hole,” warned Lynn.

The biggest problem with the ‘banana skins’ at Augusta is that even the world’s best can’t always see them.

The swales, humps and contours on all 18 green complexes are the course’s main defence and ultimately decide who claims the green jacket each year.

Simply, no player putts poorly and wins the Masters.

Marc Leishman’s rock-solid win at the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational a fortnight ago handed the Victorian one of the last invites to golf’s grandest affair, but also provided a shot of belief that could see him do some damage in Georgia.

The 50-foot eagle on Sunday afternoon that handed Leishman the lead was the latest sign that the 33-year-old might have an eye for ‘banana skins’ like few of his fellow pros.

“I actually hit that putt on Tuesday and I missed it, I think, about three feet left,” Leishman told reporters on Sunday.

“It doesn't break too much. I read it and I was over that putt and I actually remembered that I hit that putt, so I backed off, took another practice swing and adjusted my read.

“Not like six inches. I adjusted it like two feet and then made it.”

Despite only making the cut once in four attempts, Leishman has always looked like a player that could win at Augusta.

More importantly, he feels like one – and it’s justified.

Leishman played alongside eventual champion Adam Scott in the final round in 2013 and after 76 years of no Australian winning the Masters, it looked like three might win it at once.

A bogey on 15 turned Leishman from contender to spectator, but the lad from Warrnambool continues to sound like a player who isn’t afraid of Alister MacKenzie’s subtle yet destructive layout.

“I feel like the imagination around the greens at Augusta, I like that. You need a lot of imagination and I feel like I’ve got that,” Leishman told Golf Link last November.

“Augusta’s very similar to Royal Melbourne, and Kingston Heath to a certain extent. You need to manage your game, you need to hit the right the right sides of the fairways because when the greens get firm, you want to be hitting into the hill on the green, not onto a side slope.

“You need to really control your spin, trajectory, shape, all of that. Growing up on the sandbelt, I feel like that helps me at Augusta.”

Scanning his own numbers from the week at Bay Hill won’t hurt Leishman’s confidence either.

No player hit more greens in regulation – proof his ball-striking is up to scratch for a trip to Augusta – while he led the field in strokes gained overall and was second for strokes gained with the flatstick.

In fact, Leishman sits second in the PGA Tour’s total putting category this season.

“The way I’ve been putting, I’m happy with that,” Leishman said on the ShackHouse podcast the morning after his triumph in Florida.

“I should do well on those Augusta greens but the thing is you never know, things can change in golf when you think you’ve got it down, it can jump up and bite you. You can’t get complacent.

“You’ve just got to get used to the speed of the greens, the undulations in the greens and hitting the shapes off the tees.”

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Leishman feels like he knows the course, despite having only played a relatively few 10 competition rounds there.

Three missed cuts in four career starts at the Masters suggests Leishman hasn’t been able to solve Augusta’s riddle, but the World Number 27 feels like he’s been studying the layout for a lifetime.

“I’ve got a pretty good memory with Augusta, as far as breaks on greens go,” Leishman said on Monday.

“It’s a course that you grow up watching on TV your whole life, basically. You know every hole.”

In 2017, Leishman may be Australia’s best hope at a second green jacket in five years.

Jason Day’s withdrawal from the WGC-Match Play and subsequent admission that he can’t concentrate on the golf course due to his mother’s illness will make an already difficult assignment even tougher – assuming he makes the trip to Georgia.

For the second year running Australia’s hoodoo-breaker Scott looms heading to the year’s first major, but his recent record suggests the form of 2013 is nothing but history.

In his 12 competition rounds at Augusta since securing our first green jacket, the Queenslander has broken par just twice.

A dip in form after claiming his third career PGA Tour win should put Rod Pampling out of calculations, the 47-year-old having made just one cut at a major championship in the last nine years.

And while Amateur Curtis Luck’s charge at a green jacket is inevitable, the track record of 20-year-old debutants at the Masters isn’t overly convincing.

The fearless West Australian will one day find himself in the thick of things at the course that suits his desire to manoeuvre his golf ball like few in his age group can, but history suggests it won’t be in 2017.

Just when it looked like 2015 champion Jordan Spieth needed only seven-and-a-half rounds to figure out how to plot his way around Augusta to near-perfection, he dumped two balls in the water and threw away a second straight green jacket.

Unfortunately for the then 21-year-old, his ‘banana skin’ surfaced at the worst imaginable moment.

Spieth’s implosion should serve as a reminder that Augusta National remains an eternal threat.

“It’s just a matter of knowing where you can miss it… and where the big red X’s are in the yardage book where you just cannot hit it,” said Leishman.

“A lot of those places you don’t know until you’ve hit it there, but I’ve hit it in quite a lot of bad spots around Augusta!

“Hopefully I’ll be ready.”