The most eagerly anticipated day in the golfing calendar awaits as the Masters returns to its annual home at the stunning Augusta National Golf Club in the south eastern state of Georgia.
Even during a week where he is a non-participant Tiger Woods continues to dominate the column inches, as surgery on his ailing back means he will miss his first Masters tournament since turning professional. Another notable emission from the 2014 edition is the Eisenhower Tree, one of golf’s most enduring landmarks, which is absent from the seventeenth fairway since a severe ice storm blew through Augusta in the Spring.
The tournament remains wide open with reigning champion Adam Scott alongside Rory McIlroy as the bookies favourites to claim victory through the Georgia pines on this famous Alister Mackenzie design. McIlroy’s comeback from a horrendous 2013 season has been solid and impressive enough to yield all but victory, recent results include near misses in Dubai and the Honda Classic alongside encouraging form in the Texas swing of the PGA Tour. Yet the omens do not point towards a European victor considering that Jose Maria Olazabal was the last winner from Europe in 1999.
Matt Kuchar’s profligacy on the 18th at Houston last week saw victory evade him but strong recent form ensures the former players champion, who finished tied third and tied eighth here as well as low amateur in 1998, is a dangerous pick. A string of experienced Americans shall be competing, including Jason Dufner, Dustin Johnson and former champions Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson. Phil Mickelson aspires to rekindle his love affair around this track despite recent poor form and injury.
Many young pretenders feature in the mix. Jason Day, victor in the Arizona desert earlier this spring, finished tied second in 2011 and a poor stretch last year ensured Australia’s first Green Jacket fell into Adam Scott’s hands, but the Aussie always appears to contend in the majors. Patrick Reed already has three PGA tour wins to his name at the tender age of 23 while Jordan Spieth, a Web.Com tour player last year, arrives for his first experience of Augusta aged just twenty and thirteenth in the World.
England hasn’t enjoyed Masters success since Nick Faldo in 1996. US Open champion Justin Rose will seek to add to his major tally following his success at Merion, whilst Westwood, Poulter and Donald (all with near misses in majors) continue their attempts for a first victory in one of golf’s greatest spectacles. US Amateur Champion and young Yorkshireman Matthew Fitzpatrick makes his Masters debut..
Golf will remain as unpredictable as ever, with no winners in the last seven PGA Tour events from inside the world’s top 44. Whoever prevails come Sunday evening, The Masters remains one of sport’s most hallowed arenas and offers an early Easter treat for golf fans worldwide.
Image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal