By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
There’s something incredibly unique about Augusta National. No, not the lingering whiff of sexism, racial segregation and elitism – that’s still sadly too common around the golf clubs of the world – it’s the fact that it’s the only course that permanently hosts a Major.
While the Open, the US Open and the US PGA Championship are all played on courses that are basically the same year after year, they’re not actually the same, so building up a store of knowledge about a particular course takes much longer. But Augusta in April is a fixture in the calendar.
Providing you’ve not picked up an injury, dropped down the world rankings or suddenly become David Duval, it’s a fixed entry in the itinerary. The same every year. The same challenges, the same spray painted grass, the same pointless cries of ‘get in the hole’.
As such, showing you can master the course should make you a Masters contender. Even if he’s not in the best of form, a golfer who has done well at Augusta is worth taking note of. Likewise, other players may be able to hover up the unnecessarily over-sized trophies on the PGA or European tours all year long, but when it comes to those Georgia greens, they just can’t get it right. The Paddy Power Blog has had a look at some of this year’s ‘horses for courses’ and split them up into three categories.
#1 Proven horses for courses
These are the guys that have done well at Augusta in the past. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have enough green jackets to open up a men’s clothing boutique (admittedly with a rather limited range). They’re proven Augusta performers. They rarely miss the cut, regularly find themselves at the business end of things on Sunday evening and generally are solid options. They’re also among the favourites so it’s not exactly a shock.
To get a bit more helpful, we’ve cast the net wider and found some other options. Justin Rose is chief among them having never missed a cut in seven visits to Augusta and not being too far off the pace. KJ Choi always seems to get a mention as a decent outside bet for any major, but his Augusta record suggests maybe his best chance is the Masters. With two Top Six Finishes and a Top 10 to his name, he could offer value.
We’re not suggesting Fred Couples can win it, but his Augusta record is impressive. He’s missed just two cuts in 28 Masters tournaments (both due to an injury related slump in the late naughties), he’s come back strongly with a sixth, tied 15th and tied 12th. His knowledge of Augusta makes him an interesting bet at a big price.
Nick Watney is a more speculative bet. He’s rarely got into genuine contention for victory, but he hasn’t been too far off. There are inklings he’s up to the course’s challenges. He’s made the weekend on all five of visits to Augusta and got a couple of Top 10s to his name.
Angel Cabrera also qualifies as something of a master of the Masters. He’s finished inside the Top 25 in eight of his 13 Masters winning in 2009. If he’s feeling happy and well fed, there’s enough encouragement from his recent form to warrant a cheeky punt.
#2 Not the right horses for this course
On the flipside, there are some players who just don’t take to Augusta. Whatever it is about the course they just can’t get it right.
Steve Stricker sums it up. He’s Mr Boringly Consistent on the tour normally, but at the Masters, he’s more Mr Consistent Disappointment. He’s been no better than in the Top 50 or missed the cut a total of eight times in 12 Masters, a terrible record for a player who has been a permanent resident near the top of the world rankings for a number of years. His tied 10th in 2001 and tied sixth in 2009 hint that there might be some Augusta ability there, but generally he’s been more disappointing than everything U2 have done since about 1993.
Martin Kaymer is more in and out than a professional hokey-cokey-er, but at the Masters, he’s normally just out. Last year he finished tied for 44th and that was considered success in contrast to his four missed cuts in the previous years.
Another major winner with a surprisingly poor Augusta record is Northern Amer-irishman, Graeme McDowell. He’s had the weekend free on three of his five visits to Augusta and hasn’t shown to much of a liking for the course.
A whole host of one major men make up the other members of this category, some with more hope of adding to their tallies than others. If you think any of Ben Curtis, Paul Lawrie, Louis Oosthuizen or Lucas Glover can add another major prize to their CV, you might be proven right, but probably not at the Masters. Collectively, they’ve rarely figured in the Augusta shake-up. People with memories of Louis Oosthuizen’s second place finish last year may query his entry on the list, but his previous three missed cuts at the Masters are an indication that was more of a flash in the pan rather than a changing of the pan. Another good performance this year would see him off the list of Augusta flops, but for the moment, the former Open champion has questions to answer.
#3 The inbetweeners for courses
This is the most contentious of categories. It’s players who’ve shown flickers of Augusta form, but also mixed it up with some less successful visits. Rory McIlroy heads the list. The way he stormed through the first three rounds of the 2011 edition suggested he had the course in his pocket, but ultimately, he he’s yet to break in to the Top 10 in four attempts at Augusta. That record is likely to improve with experience, but for the moment, his course form has to be considered doubtful.
Everyone else could be broadly described as ‘you wouldn’t be surprised if they went close, but equally there’s a decent chance they’ll screw it up’. That pretty much describes Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia’s major hunts to date. They’ve done well at Augusta in the past, but they’ve also got some blotches on their copybook. Yes they’re about as mentally tough as toddler with low self-esteem, but they’re supremely talented and you would expect to get a good run for your money from them. If you’re looking for some sort of answer as to the wisdom of that view, they history books will just shrug and stare blankly at you.
Saying a former winner doesn’t play Augusta particularly well feels about as ill-advised as praising Maggie Thatcher in a town anywhere north of about Luton, but you could certainly say that about 2008 winner, Trevor Immelman. He may have a Green Jacket hanging up in the clubhouse with his name on it, but he’s also got a patchy record. He’s finished in the Top 50 category or missed the cut in half of his ten Masters Tournaments and done moderately well in the others he didn’t win. He’s not quite the course expert some may assume, but he’s got a Green Jacket so he probably doesn’t care.
Ian Poulter is a strange case and that’s not just a jibe at his fashion sense. Having never missed a cut in his eight attempts at the Masters, he’s clearly as comfortable with the course as he is with wearing a ridiculous pair of trousers. But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll see he’s rarely actually dominated the course. He does have two Top 10 finishes to his name, but he’s also got a more muddling record of three Top 25 and three Top 50 finishes to his credit. The fact he’ll be around for the weekend should be as nailed on as the chances of him wearing something gaudy over the four days, but the likelihood for actually challenging for the title is less certain.