Monday 25 September 2017

The Masters generation game

Augusta’s unique terrain has always thrown up different challenges, which means players from different age groups are capable of upsetting the odds

Jack Nicklaus waits on the ninth green during the 2005 Masters – he won the 1986 renewal at
the age of 46. Photo: GETTY
Jack Nicklaus waits on the ninth green during the 2005 Masters – he won the 1986 renewal at the age of 46. Photo: GETTY
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Gary Player, nine times a Major champion and winner of three Green Jackets, spoke at Augusta about the enduring longevity available to golfers, amateur and professional alike.

"Golf has longevity, one of the few sports that does. At 81, I still play a round in an average 70 around a normal golf course. You can't do that in other sports. You're gone by the age of 30 on average and you can hardly walk anyway," he said.

Player exudes enthusiasm for the game and retains his competitive edge to the extent of looking forward to outdriving his old friend Jack Nicklaus when they fulfil their duties as honorary starters tomorrow.

Nicklaus remains the oldest player to win a Masters title, a feat he achieved in 1986 when he was 46, but how big a barrier to winning at Augusta is the date on a player's birth cert?

Rampant

Through 80 stagings of the tournament, the winner's average age is 32.48 years, but we're now in a new era of rampant youth, according to many experts.

The problem with that theory is that from 1997, when Tiger Woods burst on the scene, to 2016 inclusive, only four players in their twenties have earned the right to a coveted Green Jacket.

They are: Danny Willett (28) in 2016; Jordan Spieth (21 years, eight months, 16 days) in 2015; Trevor Immelman (28) in 2008; and Tiger (21 years, three months and 14 days) in 1997.

Through that period 1997-2016, eight players hoisted the banner on behalf of the over-thirty brigade.

Phil Mickelson, three times a champion, and Bubba Watson (two) were multiple winners.

Mickelson was 33 when he first won at Augusta in 2004, and 39 in 2010, his most recent victory in the tournament.

Watson was also 33 in 2012 when he broke into the Major championship ranks, and clinched his second Masters title two years later. Argentina's Angel Cabrera had to wait until he was 39 before his Augusta win in 2009, and Vijay Singh was 37 in 2000.

The others in the 30-plus category over the last 20 years - Adam Scott, Zach Johnson, Mike Weir and Jose Maria Olazabal were 32, 31, 32, and 33 respectively.

Is there any hope this year for the over-40s? Not a lot. The last player to succeed in that bracket was Mark O'Meara in 1998 at the ripe old age of 41.

Age, of course, need not rule out the prospects of any player in the 94 who will tee it up tomorrow.

Indeed, the trend already this season has produced a plethora of young tournament winners, but it will take something special to break the mould of this bastion of tradition.

We know that the shadow of in-form Dustin Johnson (13/2) looms over the field, and not far behind him come Rory McIlroy (15/2), Jordan Spieth (7/1), and Jason Day (20/1) as the men most likely to succeed this week.

However, excluding the Big Four, here are possible contenders across different age categories.

FIFTIES

Bernhard Langer, 500/1

Bernhard Langer looks on during a practice round prior to the start of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, Georgia. Photo: GETTY
Bernhard Langer looks on during a practice round prior to the start of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, Georgia. Photo: GETTY

Age: 59

Won his second Masters in 1993 but Langer is still a top gun on the Champions Tour. Last year he started the final day just two shots off the lead.

FORTIES

Phil Mickelson, 25/1

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson

Age: 46

He knows what it takes to win at Augusta and if he gets a good start, then Phil's short-game prowess can give the young contenders a real good run for their money.

Zach Johnson, 100/1

Age: 41

He's keen, his last Major victory came at St Andrews just two years ago, and he has the nous to work his way around the course very effectively.

Henrik Stenson, 33/1

Age: 40

Stunning victory in the 2016 Open, shooting 63 in the final round. If he's close to the lead on Sunday, he will fancy his chances of getting the job done.

THIRTIES

Justin Rose, 25/1

Age: 36

The Olympic champion. Too good a player not to give himself a realistic shot at this Masters.

Paul Casey, 40/1

Justin Rose will play in this year's Irish Open
Justin Rose will play in this year's Irish Open

Age: 39

Number 16 in the world, Casey looks to be in a good place on and off the course and just needs a touch of inspiration to make a run at the more fancied players.

Marc Leishman, 50/1

Age: 33

The gritty Australian won the Arnold Palmer Invitational just three weeks ago. Is that an omen, given that this is the first Masters in over 50 years without The King being present?

TWENTIES

Rickie Fowler, 22/1

Age: 28

Honda Classic winner recently, ninth in the world. Faltered at the Shell Houston Open but his game only needs to sharpen up slightly for Rickie to win his first Major.

Rickie Fowler waits on the on the ninth hole during a practice round prior to the start of the 2017 Masters. Photo: Getty Images
Rickie Fowler waits on the on the ninth hole during a practice round prior to the start of the 2017 Masters. Photo: Getty Images

Jon Rahm, 25/1

Age: 22

The new Spanish superstar in the making. Oozes talent and personality, and almost KO'd Dustin Johnson in the Match Play final last Sunday week.

Hideki Matsuyama, 18/1

Age: 25

Plays his sixth Masters, and his fourth as a pro. As much as McIlroy wants a Green Jacket for the career Slam, Matsuyama bids to become the first Japanese Major champion.

TEENS

Toto Gana, 1,000/1

Age: 19

The Chilean, who's amateur champion of Latin America, is the youngest in the field, beating fellow amateur Brad Dalke, also 19, for that distinction by a few months.

Amateur Toto Gana of Chile plays his shot from the fourth tee during a practice round prior to the start of the 2017 Masters. Photo: Getty Images
Amateur Toto Gana of Chile plays his shot from the fourth tee during a practice round prior to the start of the 2017 Masters. Photo: Getty Images

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