Thursday, April 05, 2007

spring is in the air.....

.....and I'm not referring to the mild and sunny weather we've been having recently (well, round these parts anyway), still less to any voodoo pagan ritualism involving cuckoos and snowdrops.

No, what I'm referring to is the fact that it's the US Masters this weekend - the first golfing major of the year. Not only is it a great and historic golfing tournament, but it's a riot of colour when the weather's good - as it usually is. Although if it isn't then they apparently park sun-lamps in front of the azaleas to ensure they're in full bloom when the TV cameras are on them, and if the weather's been particularly warm they pack them in ice to ensure they don't wilt over the weekend. It's the sort of thing colour television was invented for - apparently Nick Faldo was inspired to take up golf after sitting in his living room in Welwyn Garden City watching Jack Nicklaus win the 1972 Masters. Though as far as the passing of the seasons goes all it really proves is that it's nice and sunny in Georgia in April - not really much of a surprise.

My first US Masters memory is of seeing Jack Nicklaus win (his 18th and final Major) in 1986 - just as with the 1981 Ashes a fantastically tense and emotional finish that has, paradoxically, simultaneously kept me gripped to subsequent tournaments and mildly disappointed that most of them haven't been as good.

So who's going to win this year? What, you mean apart from Tiger Woods?

No, seriously. He's won something like 11 of his last 15 strokeplay tournaments, the course couldn't be better suited to his game, and he's got the wood (ooer) on every other player in the field, mentally. As someone once said about Nicklaus, "he knows he's going to beat you, you know he's going to beat you, and he knows you know he's going to beat you". Actually I've just looked it up, and it was JC Snead - who can probably be forgiven a touch of bitterness, as growing up playing against his uncle must have been pretty demoralising as well. If we leave Tiger aside, then it comes down to either another of the Big Five having a good week (probably Mickelson or Goosen), or one of the shorter hitters in the pack finding some absolutely miraculous form on the greens. Mike Weir was the last guy to do this, in 2003, so it can be done.

What about the Europeans? Well, those who have previous Augusta form like Olazabal and Langer are a bit long in the tooth these days, so you'd have to look to the younger contingent. It could be one of the Brits, which comes down to a choice between a long hitter capable of some streaks of sensational scoring (and equally some terrible ones) in Paul Casey, or Mr. Consistency in Luke Donald. I reckon Casey has the game, as long as he brings it with him. Otherwise it could be Henrik Stenson (pictured), the man who holed the winning putt in the Ryder Cup, though winners who haven't played Augusta several times before are rare. We could do with a European major winner, though - it's been seven and a half years since the last one, Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie.

While writing this I went and had a look at Doug's golfing predictions blog - turns out he's got some thoughts as well - if you're after a serious form guide I urge you to look there rather than at my vague ramblings.

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