The Great Debate: Is the Masters the best Major?
YES says Mark Townsend, who laps up the romance and familiarity.
What’s this – the Open Championship isn’t the best Major? In a word, no.
If I were to be given the chance to play any Major course I would head to Augusta National, if I were to be given the chance to watch any Major, I would head to Augusta National. Given the chance to watch any Major, from the comfort of my settee, I would switch on the Masters.
I like to be visually stimulated and the Masters stirs me from the slumber of winter and excites me that it’s all still to come – at least five months of playing in something like normal conditions and, finally, after eight months of waiting, another chance to watch Westwood, Donald and Co trying to break their Major ducks.
It stirs me into remembering the great nights of watching Sandy and Woosie slipping into their Green Jackets and Harry Carpenter and Alex Hay on the verandah.
It reminds me of when I was young.
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’.
The elitism, racism and sexism ties from yesteryear 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.
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 again and how she is playing and whether or not the rhododendrons are out in bloom.
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 and more drama.
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.
Two years ago we had Charl Schwartzel making birdie at the last four holes, last year we had Bubba slinging one round the trees at the 74th hole of the week.
For a couple of years the lustre slipped a little as poor weather, combined with a more challenging course, meant too stiff a test and a relatively disappointing week.
But, in the last few years, normal service has been resumed with the par 5s back in range and eagles and birdies (and a few watery graves) 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.
DM: Familiarity breeds contempt and I am afraid I have come to be bored by certain holes at Augusta through sheer over-exposure.
NO says Dan Murphy, who files it in third position in Major terms.
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.
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 this year just like every other. It’s just that, as the years have passed, it has slipped to third place in my own personal ranking of the four Majors.
‘Most anticipated’ does not equate to best.
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.
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. Once a decade is about right for a great course to host a Major. Every 12 months is just too often.
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 the pin; 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 couse as a whole is a little too much on the edge for my liking, to the extent that it can approach silliness – take the 14th with its bowl pin position that invites a holed 5 iron.
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.