A compelling but flawed Masters

2013-04-20 00:00

IN the end the Masters was what it almost invariably is — a compelling piece of golfing theatre. This time the drama was delivered by two of the most attractive personalities in the game. The winner was the polite and charming Aussie, Adam Scott, who just over nine months ago collapsed so sadly in The Open Championship when it seemed all he had to do to win his first Major title was to stay alive.

That he was able to maintain his composure then under the pitiless scrutiny of the media and be both gracious and positive in defeat suggested that his chance would soon come again. So it did at the Augusta National golf course in appalling weather and under the fiercest pressure. Just when he had thought for a split second that he had won after he holed a curling 15 footer on the 18th green, the awful realisation dawned that Angel Cabrera remained on the course and could still deprive him of the victory that seemed to have been his.

As it was, Cabrera made the brilliant birdie that Scott must have dreaded and then all but stole the win from him on the first hole of the playoff when his chip from just off the front of the green did everything but go in. They both played the difficult 10th hole superbly but it was Scott who holed the winning putt after Cabrera had left his slightly longer putt hanging on the back edge of the hole.

The former caddie and part-time chicken thief from Argentina did not manage to win a second green jacket. But he did walk off the course with a host of fresh admirers who had rejoiced in the loose freedom with which he is able to play quite remarkable golf when he is on form. He was more than gracious in defeat and was honest enough to admit that, while he was happy for Scott, he would have been happier to win. Importantly, he looked genuinely pleased for the Australian.

For Scott, his win was the realisation of a lifelong dream and for his country a bright moment during what are for the Australians troubled sporting times. At last, they have a Masters champion Down Under after so many near misses, and we know how galling it has been for them to have watched the various South African successes over recent years.

Scott’s victory, achieved on the greens by wielding a long putter anchored to his body, has added further fuel to the desire of those who wish to see that technique banned. Four of the last six Major champions have used the technique that the R&A and the

U.S. Golf Association want it outlawed from the start of 2016. The claim by the PGA tour that there is no evidence that the anchored putters give no advantage to their users looks ever more specious.

Scott himself has always been a wonderful ball striker, but his progress was hampered by an indifferent putting stroke until he converted to an anchored long putter. Since he did so he has looked much more likely to fulfil the potential of a swing that was based on that of the early Tiger. Ernie Els is another whose game was in a state of disrepair until he too converted.

It was ironic that Tiger Woods, one of the biggest critics of the anchored putter on the grounds that the traditions of golf prescribe a free swing of the club, was party to the decision of the Masters tournament committee not to disqualify him for signing for a score that was lower than that which he had actually scored, penalty included.

He may well be the first golfer in modern times to have escaped disqualification for an infringement that goes to the heart of the game’s ethos that the golfer himself takes responsibility for ensuring that his play conforms to the laws of the game.

The cry from other golfers that Woods ought to have disqualified himself is not without merit. The history of the game is littered with examples of professional golfers who have called the rules against themselves, however inconvenient and costly it may have been.

By staying in the Masters, Woods illustrated once again that he thinks that the longstanding ethos of the game applies only to other golfers. He neglected a wonderful opportunity to show that he respects the game’s traditions.

Neither Woods nor the Masters has come out of all this with any distinction. The suspicion is that the green-jacketed jackasses wanted Woods to remain in their tournament for commercial reasons. They know that television viewership falls off by as much as 60% if Woods is not playing in a PGA event. The feeling is that any other golfer would have been asked to leave the hallowed premises. By retaining Woods in the event, they have sent the wrong message to golf at large and to the man himself.

It is deeply ironic that it was this Masters tournament committee that took it upon themselves to inflict their first ever penalty for slow play. They did this on a 14-year-old boy. It is only bullies that operate by picking on the defenceless and cowards who defer to the powerful.

Scott and Cabrera provided a wonderful end to the 2013 Masters, but one has to wonder if the gentlemen of Augusta National deserved such a thrilling denouement.

Any criticism of Woods for his role in the controversy that marred this Masters should be tempered by the fact that the unlucky incident that triggered it all ultimately cost Woods four shots. This was the difference between his final score and those of Scott and Cabrera. It is difficult to escape the conclusion, however, that Woods has learnt little from his domestic travails.

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