Why favourites prevail at AugustaMarch 4, 2016 The Masters
Our resident columnist argues that there are very good reasons why the favourites usually win at Augusta
Lee Trevino never used to need much encouragement when it came to taking a swipe at Augusta National.
‘Super Mex’ was always a vociferous critic of the club’s exclusivity and the manner in which it used to discriminate against minorities and, while his grievances were genuine, I often wondered whether another reason why he disliked it so much was that deep down he knew his game did not suit the course.
Average hitters like Trevino tend to hit into a lot of up-slopes off the tee at Augusta National whereas longer hitters will clear the slopes and often get an additional 40 to 50 yards of roll. That is why I had an outside punt on a certain Sandy Lyle back in 1988 and why last year I decided to invest £5 each way on Bubba Watson at 33-1.
It is not always a big hitter that wins at Augusta – Jose Maria Olazabal and Zach Johnson prove that – but I reckon that in lengthening the course to protect it against the advances of modern technology the authorities at Augusta have made it more one-dimensional than Bobby Jones or Dr Alister MacKenzie ever envisaged it should be.
Augusta is now a bombers’ paradise and it is not just the long holes that illustrate that fact. The par-4 7th is only 450 yards but it used to be about 100 yards shorter and has a minuscule green that was built to accept a wedge or 9-iron. Nowadays the likes of Watson, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and the other big hitters can still land towering 8 or 7- irons on it but other lesser mortals have a devilish job trying to stop even a well-hit 5-iron from running through into the bunkers that guard the back of the green.
Watson’s ability to propel the ball huge distances was one of the reasons why I backed him 12 months ago and another was his superhuman ability to shape his shots.
Some holes at Augusta favour fades while others require draws and ultimately it was Watson’s skill at manoeuvring the ball round trees which was what separated him from Louis Oosthuizen in last year’s play-off. Mickelson’s recent successes at Augusta are down to a similar skill set and also to his remarkable prowess with a putter – which is another prerequisite to performing well at Augusta.
The vast majority of former Masters champions have also had inventive short games, which is equally necessary. At Augusta there is virtually none of the heavy rough found around the green at a typical US Open venue but the contours are such that there are some places from which only those with a skilled short game have any chance of getting up and down.
Behind the green at the 9th is one such place and another is the rear of the 15th.
My local caddy told me the best way to play the par-3 16th was to aim at the back-right bunker but make damned sure you did not have enough club to reach it Long is often wrong at Augusta, as regular visitors will confirm.
I recall the first time I played Augusta my local caddy told me the best way to play the par-3 16th was to aim at the back-right bunker but make damned sure you did not have enough club to reach it and I was reminded of that advice 12 months later when I saw both Tom Watson and Craig Stadler drop some balls into it during practice.
Neither of those two Americans was exactly last in the queue when touch was handed out but it quickly became apparent the only way either could get out of the sand and keep his ball on the green was to land it in the eight-inch fringe that separated the two.
Those are the sort of margins that separate success from failure at Augusta, which is why Fuzzy Zoeller remains the last rookie to win and why the champion is almost always one of the favourites.