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Lawrence Donegan’s US Masters 2014 preview: An old pro and a 60/1 newbie to light up Augusta

The acclaimed author and the Guardian’s former golf correspondent previews the race for the green jacket that starts on Thursday.

by Lawrence Donegan | April 7, 2014

Ho-hum, another predictable Sunday in the 2014 golfing year. An Aussie called Matt Jones wins the Shell Houston Open  after holing a 48-foot putt on the final green to force a play-off and then chipping in for a birdie to beat Matt Kuchar at the first extra hole.

Mr Jones is  the fourth Australian not named Adam Scott to win on the 2014 PGA Tour  and arguably the least well-known winner of the season so far. This is saying something in a season where the two most  “dominant” players are Jimmy Walker ( who has won three times ) and Patrick Reed (a two-time winner).

His reward for victory, apart from a cheque worth more than $1 million, is an invite to play in the Masters,  where he will compete against the best players in the world (or at least those who won’t be at home nursing a surgically repaired back) on a fiendishly difficult golf course.

Adam Scott 840

If Jones finds  this prospect daunting  then he can console himself with this – at least he doesn’t have to try and  make sense of the pre-Masters form book.

“It’s wide open,’’ suggested Rory McIlroy in the Sunday papers. “Not just the  Masters but golf in general.”

Young Mr McIlroy is not wrong. However, he is not entirely correct either.

This year’s Masters, as is the case with every Masters, is less wide open than any of the other majors.

Half of the field – the assorted amateurs, the past champions and Martin Kaymer (whatever happened to Martin Kaymer?) – can be dismissed. Another quarter, including  most of those players who made it to Augusta  by winning a PGA Tour event (yes, that means you Matt Every and Ken Duke), can also be discounted.

Rory McIlroy2 840

That leaves us with around 25 players who  might have a legitimate chance. Not so wide open after all.

Of those 25,  around six or seven  will be playing the Masters for the first time. Fuzzy Zoeller famously won as a rookie in 1979  but by and large this tournament demands its winners have experience of playing in it before.

Not that this has stopped excitable chatter. Patrick Reed’s victories earlier in the season (and his experience of playing the course as an amateur – he went to college at Augusta State) has seen his chances being talked up. The same goes for Jordan Spieth, the current holder of the “next great American star” title.

Yet, for this ‘expert’ at least, both could be eclipsed by Harris English, already a PGA Tour winner and easily the most underrated young star in golf.

Harris English 840

English isn’t flashy but he hits his miles, he hits it high, he putts brilliantly and has a temperament that makes Bernhard Langer look like John Daly.

In other words, he is the archetypal Masters champion.

A lack of experience will probably be his undoing but he  represents a wise investment for anyone looking to identify the leading rookie of the week, not to mention  find decent value for a top-six finisher.

Bikini wax greens

As for the Master champion himself – as ever it comes down to  experience, class and nerve.

The pre-tournament forecast is awful but the weather for the four days of the Masters is expected to be glorious. Early reports from the venue itself speak of a “classic” Masters set-up, with wide  fairways and bikini wax greens.

There will be no “flukey” winner this year. Only the best need apply, which means expect to find  the likes of Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott to be lurking around at the business end of Sunday. The same goes for Justin Rose and Lee Westwood, both of whom have a good record at Augusta without quite making it to the promised land of the Butler Cabin.

McIlroy, fresh from a terrific closing round of 65 in Houston, will be the choice of many – not to mention a worthy champion. But my suspicion is he will have to wait another year while another member of the game’s elite takes the prize.

Matt Kuchar 840

Matt Kuchar has  finished in the Top 10 in his last two US Masters appearances  and has missed only one cut in seven appearances.

He has the game and the temperament to tackle this Augusta National course and  the current  form to suggest this could be his week.  He  may have lost the play-off in Houston but when he steps on to the first tee on Thursday he can console himself with the knowledge that Matt Jones won’t chip in to beat him again. Not two weeks in a row.

Lawrence Donegan is the Guardian’s former golf correspondent. He is also author of the acclaimed book, Four Iron for the Soul, based on his experiences caddying for tour pro Ross Drummond. In the 1980s he was a bassist for the Bluebells and Lloyd Cole And The Commotions. Follow him on Twitter here.

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