Masters 2012: Is it the best Major?

News & Tour

Two NCG writers debate the merits of the season-opening Major

Yes

Mark Townsend laps up the tradition and history

I KNOW what you’re thinking – how can anyone, particularly from these isles, argue that the Open Championship isn’t the best of the four Majors.
It is the oldest of the quartet and it is still the best.
Only, if I’m honest, I don’t agree. I’m not as thrilled and entertained during an Open as I am at Augusta. To play a course on the Open rota is incredible, to spectate or watch on TV doesn’t compare.
The Masters makes me feel comfortable, I’m familiar with all the holes and I enjoy all the silliness that goes with it – the honorary starters, the soft music to accompany the scores, the dreadful handing over of the Green Jacket after a nauseating few words with the ‘low amateur’.
It goes without saying that the elitism, racism and sexism ties with the tournament truly stink but, if we are talking about the best golf for the spectators, be it on or off the course, then give me the Masters any day.
What do I love about it? Due to the television schedules there is never enough, the first 20 minutes’ coverage on the Thursday night is the most eagerly anticipated of the year as we get to see Augusta National again and how she is playing.
I love Bobby Jones and the fact that he is never forgotten, I love the golden period when all my great golfing heroes slipped into a Green Jacket, I love the fact that it throws up a brilliant winner and, as often, an exhilarating finish.
And if the scores are tied it’s sudden death not another anti-climactic four or 18 holes.
But it’s the course that gets you. Given the choice who, hand on heart, wouldn’t want to tee it up at Augusta National more than anywhere else?
Where else would you get a back nine where every hole can make or break your round and, because we are so familiar with it, we enjoy it all the more.
For a couple of years the lustre slipped a little as poor weather, combined with the more exacting course, meant too stiff an examination and a relatively disappointing week. But, the last couple of years, normal service has been resumed with the par 5s back in range and eagles and birdies back on the card.
Rarely does sport seem anywhere near as exciting as when you were a youngster but at the Masters, for me, it genuinely does.

KEY WITNESS
“I love this place. I love coming here. I love Sunday at Augusta. Back in the 90s it was the most nervewracking day. Still is, but I’ve just come to love and cherish it, and to play some of my best golf.” – Phil Mickelson
The first 20 minutes’ coverage on the Thursday night is the most eagerly anticipated of the year as we get to see Augusta National again and how she is playing.

NO

Dan Murphy finds the tournament too predictable

NO Major is anticipated like the Masters, it is true. It is the first of the year (eight months having passed since the previous August’s PGA) and it also marks the end of the British winter.
But ‘most anticipated’ does not equate to best.
I am not going to argue that the Masters is anything other than a highlight of the sporting calendar. And I can assure you that I will be glued to my TV come early April.
It’s just that, as the years have passed, it has slipped to third place in my own personal ranking of the four Majors.
Primarily, this is because of a sense of staleness and sameness from one year to the next.
The course does not change – beyond its annual cosmetic surgery – and nor, largely, does the field, which remains, by a considerable distance, the weakest of the four Majors.
Learning about the venue for a given year’s US Open or Open is an education as you re-acquaint yourself with a classic championship course.
At Augusta we are left to obsess over the arrival of a couple of pine trees or a new tee.
Familiarity breeds contempt and I am afraid I have come to be bored by certain holes at Augusta through sheer over-exposure.
This is summed up by the famous par-3 16th.
Experience has taught us that there are basically only two pin positions – back left, where any ball that hits the green gravitates towards; and the ludicrous Saturday position of front right on a tiny shelf next to a bunker, which involves the entire field lagging up their birdie putts from 30 feet before tapping in for par.
The problem, however, is not really Augusta – I’m sure I’d feel the same way about any course hosting a Major every year.
At no other Major are there so few variables, so small wonder that we see the same characters on the leaderboard every year.
Course knowledge is key, with those who play here every year at a massive advantage.
By contrast, my favourite two Majors, the Open and US Open (I am unashamedly biased towards the one Major that takes place in Britain) feel new and exciting every year.
It is why I dislike St Andrews being the host Open venue every five years. I fear it could go the same way as Augusta and start to lose its magic.

KEY WITNESS
“Ill-advised changes – more trees, more length and more rough – have all but eliminated its strategic genius. The elite field has been reduced to a procession of tedium.” – John Huggan, golf writer

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