Date: April 05, 2007

US Masters Preview

Bren O&aposBrien, Sportal Tiger Woods is never one to stand on ceremony. But 10 years ago he announced himself as one of the future greats of the sport with his stunning 12-shot win in the 1997 US Masters. Since then, he has been the primary obstacle in the way of anyone hoping to win the famous green jacket, including the best crop of Aussie golfers, possibly ever. The inability of any of the many Australians to tackle Augusta in April to actually win the tournament is one of the more famous droughts in the Australian sporting mindset. Greg Norman let his chance slip twice, in 1987 and 1996, and since then the best performed have been Mark Hensby and Rod Pampling (equal fifth in 2005) and Norman himself (third in 1999). But never has Australian golf been so well poised for an attack on Augusta with four of the seven players in the Masters field currently in the top 11 on the US Tour money list. Adam Scott moved to No.3 in the world, and No.6 on the money list with his win in Houston this week, Aaron Baddeley is currently seventh on the money list, US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy is No.8 and Robert Allenby is No.11. Stuart Appleby has hardly had a poor start either, having collected $US725,935 through his first eight tournaments of the year. Most of that was gathered in Houston where he finished second to Scott. Nick O&aposHern and Pampling are the other two Australians in the field of 97, and given O&aposHern&aposs strong form in the past 12 months and Pampling&aposs experience around Augusta, both have to be considered genuine contenders. Ogilvy has taken the biggest step of any of the Australians in the past 12 months, not only collecting Australia&aposs first major win in 11 years at Winged Foot in June, but almost defending his 2006 WGC Match Play Championship, and then finishing third in the CA Championship at his latest start. He has only ever played once at Augusta, 12 months ago, where he finished a creditable 16th. Scott has failed to improve on the ninth place he finished in his debut Masters in 2002. He finished 23rd in 2003, missed the cut in 2004, and was 33rd and 27th in 2005 and 2006 respectively. But with the confidence of the three-shot win at the Houston Open, his second place at the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship, his win in the Tour Championship last year and two top 10 finishes at his past two majors, this could be the year for Scott to seriously challenge. Woods will be the person most likely to stand in the way. His form around Augusta, where he has won four times, is too good to ignore. Since that memorable win in 1997, he has finished in the top 10 six times, with his worst effort 22nd in 2004. He has won three of the past six Masters, while Phil Mickelson has won two of the past three. &aposLefty&apos may have had to wait a while for his first major three years ago, but his efforts last year show that he was never going to be a one-major wonder. In a stunning past eight years at Augusta he has never finished outside the top 10. After three consecutive thirds from 2001 until 2003, he banished his bridesmaid reputation with his win over Ernie Els by a shot. Last year, he was dominant, getting home by two shots over Tim Clark. But a sign of how important experience is at Augusta is that it took Mickelson until his 11th start at Augusta to win. Mickelson said this week that after his first-ever round at the course back in 1991, when he shot a 69, he thought he had it figured out. But over the next three years he realised how little he knew about the famous course, and in particular the greens. While the course is longer than ever, it will be on the short stuff where the tournament is decided, and Mickelson and Woods are the finest exponents of that in the game. As are internationals like Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson, but they should be mindful that only one European, Jose Maria Olazabal (1999), has won the tournament in the past 10 years. Vijay Singh, the champion in 2000, and South Africans Ernie Els and Retief Goosen are likely to be the other internationals in contention rounding Amen Corner on Sunday along with any, or many, of the seven Aussies. It should be another intriguing four days at Augusta National.