Date: March 20, 2013
Author: Martin Blake / Golf Australia

Preview: Fraser hunting masterful show in Malaysia

When Marcus Fraser tees it up in the first round of US$2.75 million Maybank Malaysian Open tomorrow, he will have more than this particular tournament on his mind. Melburnian Fraser, one of Australia&aposs unsung professional golfers of recent years, can grab a spot in the fabled Masters tournament at Augusta National next month with a strong finish in the joint European and Asian Tour tournament in Kuala Lumpur this weekend. As the world&aposs No. 61 player, he is within touching distance of a first appearance on the rolling, green fairways of Augusta. In many ways, an invitation to Augusta is validation for a professional player; in my experience, players generally will not go there (even as spectators) until they are invited, or their careers have expired. The top 50 on the official world golf rankings at the end of the round of tournaments completed on 1 April get the prized invitation to Georgia. After he reached the second round of the World Golf Championship Accenture Matchplay in the United States a month ago, beating a recent major winner in Keegan Bradley in the first round, he was up to 51st in the world, a career-best. But less than a month later he has dropped a few pegs, having struggled in the WGC tournament at Doral in Florida the following week. “I didn&apost play the following week after the matchplay, and I dropped five spots, then I dropped another four after Doral. I copped a hammering,&apos&apos he said. Realistically it will take a top three finish in Kuala Lumpur to put Fraser into the field for the year&aposs first major championship, but there is another option. There is a European Tour tournament in Morocco the week after, and his bags are packed just in case he needs to go to Africa. “If I play well this week and I&aposm not too far away from top-50, I&aposll go to Morocco the following week to see if I can get in,&apos&apos Fraser told Golf Australia in an exclusive interview. “If I play well enough this week and I get in, so be it. If not it&aposs a month off which is a bit of a positive as well! Look, it&aposs a good problem to have. Any time you have a chance to qualify for a major it&aposs a sign you&aposre moving in the right direction. From where I was a couple of years ago, I&aposm definitely going the right way.&apos&apos Like an Australian with a bent for golf, 34-year-old father of two Fraser has bittersweet memories of Augusta; waking early at home in the Murray River town of Corowa as a boy to see if someone could break the hoodoo at the Masters, and a fascination with the quaint traditions of the tournament. Greg Norman&aposs meltdown from a six-shot lead in 1996 under the hot breath of Nick Faldo sadly springs to mind for him. “That was just gut-wrenching,&apos&apos he said. “I&aposve watched it every single year, and it&aposs like the British Open. It&aposs a unique week every year. It still amazes me that no Aussie has ever won it, but I think they have a chance this year. Adam Scott and Jason Day are playing well, so that&aposs pretty exciting to think they have a chance.&apos&apos That Fraser would have even a hint of Augusta National is a measure of his improvement since recovering from a serious neck injury several years ago. He won the Ballantyne&aposs Championship in Asia in 2010 and reached the World Tour Championship in Dubai last year; he was also second on the Asian Tour order of merit in 2012, which gave him some starts in big tournaments in America such as at Doral. Fraser divides his time between the European and Asian tours. He has never followed the modern Australian tendency to head to America, which allows him a sliver of time to spend with his wife Carlie and their two young children, Archie and Lily, in the bayside Melbourne suburb of Beaumaris. “My wife has her hands full when I&aposm away,&apos&apos he said. “The family will travel to Europe with me this year but only for about seven weeks around the British Open through to the US PGA Championship. The most important thing for me is that the family are happy and comfortable.&apos&apos Fraser is planning on playing just 20 tournaments this year. Last season&aposs gruelling schedule was unplanned; he needed to keep playing because he had a chance of winning the Asian Tour money title, and suddenly found himself stepping out in 31 tournaments. “I&aposm going to drop a few tournaments out this year, play a little less and spend a bit more time at home watching the footy,&apos&apos he said. The good news is that he keeps improving. Beating Bradley, the 2011 US PGA champion, in the matchplay, was a watershed moment, particular since Bradley kept smoking it way past him. “I think there was one time he hit a two iron off the tee and I nuked a driver a few yards past him! He hits it a long way. Everyone hits it a long way these days, apart from me.&apos&apos Fraser&aposs strength is his putting; he is averaging just 27 strokes a round with the short stick this year which will cover up a few deficiencies. “To play in a tournament like the matchplay with the top 64 in the world, and to beat someone like Keegan, who&aposs a major-winner and a Ryder Cup player, it&aposs rewarding. It&aposs something I can draw on not only this year but next year as well.&apos&apos Only two years ago his career as a touring professional was threatened when he picked up his son after a round at an Australian Open at The Lakes, and felt a sharp pain in the neck. Ultimately it was diagnosed as a prolapsed disc; he lost feeling in his right arm and needed surgery. But he has made a full recovery, proven by the fact he bought a jet ski recently. On the day Golf Australia spoke to Fraser, he had driven to Wangaratta in northern Victoria to complete a jet ski course, and thinking of how he would explain it to his wife. “I just mentioned it as I went out the door,&apos&apos he said. “I hope she&aposll be still talking to me!&apos&apos Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club is a nice venue for a tournament that also boasts Englishman Luke Donald, South Africa&aposs Charl Schwartzel and Ireland&aposs Padraig Harrington in the field. Fraser is a star in Asia, and he likes the feel of the tournament. “I&aposve always enjoyed going to Malaysia,&apos&apos he said. “I went there a bit as an amateur and I&aposve got good memories. It&aposs one of my favourite tournaments of the year.”