The gift of a genius is to bend the world to his shape. Seve Ballesteros broke the American spell at the US Masters. For decades home players lorded it around Augusta National, winning all but of three of the first 40 editions of Bobby Jones’ spring classic. And then Seve triumphed in 1980.
That win was an intensely personal one for the brilliant Spaniard, who was forever at war with those in control of golf in States over injustices real and perceived. But it was also a watershed moment for Ballesteros’ peers in European golf. At last there was proof the Americans were not invincible.
By the end of the decade, the Green Jacket had become an essential item in the wardrobe of any ambitious European golfer. Seve won another Masters in 1983 and over the next 20 years Lyle, Faldo. Woosnam, Langer and Olazabal brought the European total to 10 Green Jackets.
American dominance at Augusta was finished and it has remained that way ever since, albeit that Europe has failed to produce a winner since 1999.
The US has won its share but so too have South Africa, South America and Australia. The southern hemisphere could challenge the pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy.
Australia’s Jason Day and former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa are the two names that are well quoted by the cognoscenti – but the undeniable sense is that the home nation will provide the Irishman’s stiffest competition.
Tiger Woods (50/1) will no doubt capture most of the media attention in the run-up to Thursday’s opening round but as the tournament begins he will be too caught up in his own struggles to compete with McIlroy.
That task will be left to another generation of American golfers arriving in Georgia this week expecting to win.
Bubba Watson (10/1) has won two of the last three Masters, a record that earns him highly fancied status every time he plays at Augusta National. But it says everything about the current state of American golf that the reigning champion is down the list when it comes to identifying the most likely home winner.
Dustin Johnson (16/1) fresh from an enforced sabbatical, recently won at Doral, a victory that reinforced the impression he is Bubba’s equal in natural talent. Phil Mickelson hasn’t had a top 10 on the PGA Tour since last summer but, lo and behold, he unearthed some form in Houston this past weekend. Both will arrive in Georgia thinking they can win.
There are also the usual American suspects, the likes of Brandt Snedeker (40/1) and Matt Kuchar (33/1). But the true strength of the American challenge rests with Jordan Spieth (10/1) (above) and Patrick Reed (35/1).
Reed is a throwback to the hard-boiled world of 1970s golf, a cussed competitor with not much respect for his opponents and an unflinching desire to win. Spieth has already announced himself around the hallowed turf of Augusta, coming second last year to Bubba.
Those two will believe they can win this week, which is half the battle at the Masters.
So too will Brooks Koepka (66/1), a graduate of the European Tour (above) who fits the description for any Masters winner. He hits the ball miles, putts well and isn’t scared of the big moment. This might not be Koepka’s year – he is a Masters rookie – but a top 10 place at 11/2 , and perhaps even better, is hardly stretching the boundaries of his talent.
Measure that boatload of American talent and ambition against what threatens to be the most meagre European challenge in years. The balance of power has shifted again, the world has circled back to 1980.
Then, it was Seve alone against the Star Spangled hordes. This year it is Rory on his own. The Americans are back and they are banging at the door, ready to kick it down and claim what they believe is their birthright – the dominant place in professional golf.