Monday 5 December 2016

Golfing heaven on earth leaves elite in hellish torment

Published 09/04/2016 | 02:30

Ernie Els misses a putt on the second hole yesterday (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Ernie Els misses a putt on the second hole yesterday (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Augusta National, created by God and nature, and crafted into a verdant masterpiece of golfing architecture by man.

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Its guardians, the members of one of the most exclusive golf clubs on the planet, spare no expense in continually adjusting and enhancing the course.

Every aspect - grass, trees, water, flowering bushes, sand, grooming and conditioning - combines to present a veritable haven of beauty and tranquillity.

So how, for one week every year, does heaven on earth turn into a torture chamber for so many of the world's finest golfers?

Paul McGinley, Ryder Cup winning captain, has direct experience of the subtle, unrelenting toll which Augusta National takes in Masters week.

Twice he played the tournament, first in 2002 when he finished 18th, and then in 2006.

The latter experience was short-lived as he missed the cut, but McGinley, who is here this week as a Sky Sports analyst, holds no grudges against a course that can drive players mad with frustration.

"There's a lot of mental anguish, and a lot of mental tests ahead for everybody over the next few days," he said.

"It's not so much dropping shots, it's how you handle the dropped shots, and it's your ability to bounce back when you make mistakes.

"In the last 19 years only three champions have ever made a double-bogey and won; in the last five years the average number of bogeys per winner is between six and nine.

"I know last year Jordan (Spieth) ran away with it, with a very low score. That won't happen this year.

"It's a course for minimising mistakes, taking advantage of the par-fives and shutting up shop in the rest of the places."

Ernie Els, four-time Major winner, got an early kick in the proverbials on Thursday with a nine, including six putts on the first green.

He said afterwards that he felt "a little dead inside".

Darren Clarke also suffered early frustration yesterday on that par-four first hole. His second shot, a pitch from the edge of the trees on the left side, flew the ball high and too long, bouncing on the green and running hard into the patrons just outside the ropes.

Luckily for Clarke, it rebounded off a patron and back onto the short grass adjacent to the green.

When he got to his ball he smiled and mouthed a silent "thank you" to the person concerned - and proceeded to leave his putt-chip up the bank of the green well short and take two putts for a double-bogey.

He bounced back with a brilliant pitch to inside two feet on the next, but overall, this was another day of toil and trouble around the hallowed fairways for the Ryder Cup captain.

Attrition

The struggle to regain poise, rein in the frustration levels, and focus properly on each shot turns a game of golf into a war of attrition for most of the field.

"What it does is, it wears you down mentally, and this is why you see Jason (Day) making mistakes, you see Rory (McIlroy) making mistakes," said McGinley.

"When you're worn down mentally, that's when you make mistakes, particularly on a day when the wind is turning around like it did today."

Adam Scott, the Masters champion of 2013 put the spotlight on the key issues for competitors.

"You do have to be very precise. If you're off with your tee shots, then you're going to have a very long day," he said.

"But if you're off with your iron play from the fairway, you're going to have a long day on the greens putting from 40 feet and not giving yourself a lot of chances.

"Also, if you miss on the short side, then you'll be chipping back down to 40 feet, which even worse, because then you can three-putt for double.

"There are great opportunities at this golf course, but also, if mistakes are made in the wrong area, there's a disaster waiting to happen on every shot.

"That's the balance that you have to find when you're playing out here, and that's why this golf tournament is so exciting, because a three-shot swing is very possible."

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