Wednesday 21 February 2018

Battle of the continents

Australian golfer Adam Scott
Australian golfer Adam Scott

Karl MacGinty

Australia: Adam Scott sent his homeland into ecstasy by winning Australia's first Green Jacket last April. This sparked a phenomenal surge by his fellow countrymen on tour. Four Aussies have won in the past seven weeks on the PGA Tour. Seven feature in this week's field, including Accenture Match Play champion Jason Day, who has two top-three finishes in three visits to Augusta.

America: With Tiger Woods sidelined, three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson leads the home team. A couple of niggling recent injuries place a question mark over the ageing Californian, while Argentina's 2009 champion Angel Cabrera, runner-up to Scott last year, has shoulder problems.

In the right mood, Bubba Watson could don the Green Jacket for the second time in three years, while Rickie Fowler (25) shot the lights out in practice.

Europe: Rory McIlroy is bookies' favourite to end a European drought at the Masters stretching back to Jose Maria Olazabal's second Green Jacket in 1999.

FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai champion Henrik Stenson will leap to World No 1 if first on Sunday, while Sergio Garcia's recent good form with the putter hints he may be ready to land a long-awaited first Major.

Asia: Just 22, Japan's Hideki Matsuyama leads the Asian challenge into his third Masters. Currently ranked 26th in the world, this talented youngster has won five times on the Japan Tour and has impressed since joining the US PGA last year. KJ Choi and YE Yang and Sang-Moon Bae also could make waves, while 2000 Masters champ Vijay Singh (51) registered the most recent of five consecutive top-10 finishes at Augusta in 2006.

Africa: As ever, the African challenge is spearheaded by the Springboks, with 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel to the fore. Louis Oosthuizen, winner of the 2010 Open at St Andrews and beaten only by that miracle shot from Bubba Watson in sudden death two years ago, has the game for Augusta glory, while Ernie Els, twice a runner-up here, is always worth watching.

Irish Independent

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