Masters Notebook: Long-denied Aussies seeking a repeat at Augusta National

ablondin@thesunnews.comApril 9, 2014 

Masters Golf

Adam Scott of Australia watches his tee shot on the 12th hole during a Wednesday practice round for the Masters.

BY DAVID J. PHILLIP — The Associated Press

— It took Australians 77 tournaments over 79 years to win The Masters Tournament.

Aussies are poised to make it two in a row at Augusta National Golf Club.

Adam Scott earned the Land Down Under’s first green jacket last year, and he’s joined by six of his countrymen in Thursday’s opening round who will all attempt to repeat the feat.

“I always wanted to be the first Australian to win it,” Jason Day said. “Obviously Scotty got there first, but I’m happy to be the second.”

Scott and Day are joined at Augusta National by Marc Leishman, John Senden, Steven Bowditch, Oliver Goss and Matt Jones. Goss, a sophomore at Tennessee, is in the field based on his runner-up finish in the 2013 U.S. Amateur and Leishman is in on his tie for fourth at Augusta last year. The other five have won an event in the past year.

“We’re a close-knit group of guys out there from Australia,” Scott said. “[Winning the Masters] is motivation for all of us. To see someone else doing well is maybe a kick in the pants or something to keep pushing you along. I definitely have had that feeling myself, seeing other guys be successful out here.”

Australians enter the tournament hot, having won the past two and three of the past four PGA Tour events. Senden won the Valspar Championship on March 16, Bowditch the Valero Texas Open on March 30 and Jones the Shell Houston Open with a playoff chip-in Sunday.

In fact, only players from the U.S. or Australia have won on the PGA Tour this season.

“We all know each other so well, and know that everyone’s putting in a lot of hard work,” Scott said. “I think it just gives them that bit of belief that it can happen and they can do it as well, and the last few weeks on tour has been incredible watching all the guys win and pick up spots here. So the Australian contingent is strong.”

Scott and Day remain Australia’s best chances to repeat. Scott is No. 2 in the world and Day is No. 4, and both have a chance to overtake the No. 1 spot in the world on Sunday.

Scott has finished in the top 25 in each of his five PGA Tour starts this year including three top-10s, and finished off the 2013 season strong with a win in the Barclays playoff event, and a near-Australian triple crown with wins in the Australian Masters and Australian PGA and runner-up by a shot to Rory McIlroy in the Australian Open. He also has a pair of top-five finishes in majors since his Masters win.

Day has finishes of second and third in three previous Masters appearances and has a win and runner-up in three events this year. He hasn’t played, however, since winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February because of tendinitis in his left thumb.

Day said he had a cortisone injection into it last Monday and his thumb is fine.

“It’s more frustrating for me because just coming off the WGC win at the Match Play, I was playing some pretty good golf,” Day said. “It was trending in the right direction going into Doral and the Florida Swing there. Just something so small, it’s so frustrating, because everything else is fine.”

Fairway firewood

The Masters is being played for the first time without the Eisenhower Tree’s presence on the 17th fairway. An ice storm in February damaged the tree that tormented former president and Augusta National member Dwight D. Eisenhower, resulting in its removal.

The loblolly pine was approximately 210 yards from the championship tee and in the left-center of the fairway, and grew to be 65-feet high in its approximate 100 years.

Ike’s tree became more of a factor as it grew, and was particularly troublesome to players who were shorter hitters or had low ball flight, or righthanders who played a fade or lefties who played a draw.

“Now with the tree gone the hole looks a lot different,” Dustin Johnson said. “It just visually shaped the hole and made it a little bit tougher of a drive. Now you’re just kind of looking straight down the fairway. It’s still a tough drive, but with the tree there it definitely made it a little bit tougher.

“… That tree is not in your way anymore. Now you can hit it low, before you kind of had to hit a high draw.”

Without the tree, Johnson uncharacteristically hit the fairway in his practice round Tuesday. “That hole it seems like I always hit it in the right rough,” he said.

The tree won’t be missed by all. “I’ve never been a fan of trees in the fairway,” three-time Masters winner Gary Player said. “I think the hole looks better without the tree, quite honestly.”

Playing to win

Ryan Moore is the latest player to take on the curse of the Par-3 Contest. Moore won Wednesday’s short-course competition with a 6-under 21, which is one off the record of 20 set by Art Wall Jr. in 1965 and matched by Gay Brewer in 1973.

No player has ever won the Par-3 and Masters Tournament in the same year.

“I’m one of those people, if I’m entering something, I’m trying to win it no matter what,” Moore said. “I don’t believe in any of that other stuff about, you know, the curse or whatever. I mean, the reality is the odds of winning both are not very high. So, you know, just hasn’t happened yet. So obviously I’ll be happy to be the first person to break that.”

Mark O’Meara, Matt Jones and Buddy Alexander, 1986 U.S. Amateur champion and former University of Florida golf coach, made holes-in-one during Wednesday’s competition, bringing the total to 80 aces since the Par-3 began in 1960.

Moore adds the nice crystal trophy to the Masters crystal he already has for a hole-in-one on the 16th in 2010 and an additional pair of eagles. “I have a little bit of crystal and I’m making the collection,” Moore said.

A place for his stuff

Masters champions share a locker in the champion’s locker room, and Scott found sharing a locker with South African legend Gary Player can be troublesome.

“He gets a lot of mail, so there’s not a lot of room for myself in there, but we make it work,” Scott said Tuesday. “That’s okay. My stuff’s kind of scattered around a bit on the floor.”

Scott’s green jacket is among his items. Scott said he regularly traveled with the jacket in the past 51 weeks, and was without it for just two weeks – and he missed it.

Fine with him

The cover of the May issue of Golf Digest featuring Dustin Johnson’s fiancée Paulina Gretzky has drawn some criticism from LPGA commissioner Mike Whan and LPGA members who would have preferred one of the prolific LPGA players on the cover.

Gretzky is a relative novice to the game, and is learning how to play from Johnson. The May issue is devoted to fitness and features the slim Gretzky posing with a golf club in tight white yoga pants and a matching sports bra.

The cover won’t get any criticism from Johnson. “I loved it,” Johnson said. “I thought it was great. What’s not to like about it?” Johnson said Gretzky was happy with the cover, as well.

To view Blondin’s blog, Green Reading, or Twitter page, @alanblondin, visit myrtlebeachonline.com.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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