Clockwise: Shubhankar, Rory, Tiger, Jordan and Dustin
Rory, Dustin, Tiger, Jordan, Shubhankar
Ian Poulter has real fire in his belly; there will be no further chances for him to don a Green Jacket, so he will go all out. The field will be much stronger than at the Houston Open where he made a bunch of clutch putts to just defeat a relatively inexperienced 23 year old Hossler on the first play-off hole. He has played and won against the best in the world, but not lately. Poulter joins formidable UK/Northern Ireland challenge comprising the English Rose, the extremely promising Paul Casey, the in-form Tommy Fleetwood, all topped by Rory McIlroy who has a personal goal of completing his Grand Slam by winning this first Major of the year 2018. Will Poulter win? Naaaaah!
But, in this very strong field just about anyone could win.
It’s the bookmakers that influence and inform the general public as to who might win. But bookmakers are businessmen who want to make money. Therefore, subtly, they direct the betting public to put money on those who are NOT going to win. The more money that is placed on a horse (Player) the odds get lowered so that if that player wins the losses for the bookies are lower. In this way, Tiger Woods who began at 100:1 a few weeks ago has become the favourite as the money on him is at least twice as much as the money on any other player.
Now, he has not won anything since 2013, has had multiple surgeries, the last of which being a fusion surgery of his spine less than one year ago, and has dropped from 660th to 105th on the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) in the last 10 weeks. Yes, he has performed creditably so far but he pales in comparison with Dustin Johnson/Jordan Spieth/McIlroy/Justin Thomas/ Bubba Watson/the Spaniards and even our own Shubhankar Sharma from India. The inference is that the bookies have cleverly directed huge bets on a player who, on form, cannot win. The bookies do not want Tiger to win as they will lose a fortune. However, unlike in horse racing where the redoubtable Dick Francis has shown many ways to hobble a horse, it is not possible here.
What is worse is that a famous tipster in Delhi, who is known never to lose, has taken odds at only 7:1 against Tiger making the cut. He has fooled me, and God alone knows how many others to take this bet. He never loses so he must know something, be prescient, as Tiger has been T12, T2 and fifth in his last three tournaments. He surely wants Tiger to miss the cut!
But Tiger will surprise us all. Seeing him practice and listening to the encomiums by young and old competitors, he will contend. They all want to be in the final pairing with him on Sunday, red shirt and all, and then stare him down. Tiger says that post fusion surgery his back feels stiffer than in the past, but he feels great and the fitness of the associated body parts has rendered him more limber. However, he cannot understand how his swing speed is easily north of 120mph and has even touched 129. He says that he admires Hogan most for the greatest comeback from injury in any sport whatever, as Hogan got hit by a bus and still returned to win major championships.
Phil Mickelson could win as he has just won the World Golf Championship in Mexico defeating Justin Thomas, arguably the hottest player on the planet. Phil, at 47, is almost twice Thomas’s age and together with Tiger constitute the elder statesmen of the tour, still competing on the PGA tour. He is feisty as hell, a risk taker beyond compare because he believes in himself, and although he will certainly not beat Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors, he has set his sights on beating Nicklaus’s record of being the oldest to win the Masters. This is his last chance and he has peaked just at the right time to take this event and create history.
The US contingent is so strong that any one of them could surge forward and win in a canter. Jordan Spieth, quite used to winning (and also snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, 2016 Masters), has developed a hot putting streak lately. He knows this course very well, knows where to miss and place shots to advantage, and through the diligence of his caddy Michael and himself, pretty well knows every break and twist on these all too tricky and exceptionally fast greens. It is believed, but not particularly articulated by him, that his goal is to best Nicklaus’s record of 18 Majors; this means winning only one major annually for the next 16 years. Easy!!!
Dustin Johnson could not play the Masters last year because of a freak last-minute injury. That is a big setback because this course demands “learning” it year by year. Nonetheless, he is world number one and being hugely talented, skilled and hardworking he will fight to the death.
The Australian contingent is looking particularly lacklustre at this point. Jason Day, currently their most prominent player, has just not shown any colour whatever, and his compatriot Mark Leishman has faltered at the turn at the Masters. These mental and muscle memories remain and come back to haunt one when they are least wanted.
Furthermore, they are sure to feel the pressure of their sporting nature that was recently displayed on the cricket field.
The South Africans have a pretty good stable, but none seem to be in any kind of form to challenge at this year’s Masters. Ernie Els, who took over the mantle of South Africa’s greatest golfer from Gary Player will be missed this year as he has lost all his qualifying credentials. Sadly, despite his obvious talents, he suffered most because his career virtually coincided with Tiger’s; some of Tiger’s victories would surely have come his way were Tiger not there. It is good to dream of what could have. Been over a beer.
Aside from other US notables, Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia are not walking away from the battle. Highly talented and creative with a strong Spanish tradition of victories at the Masters (though not with the same showmanship as Jiménez), expect them to be in the fray. Rahm at world number 3 would certainly like to jump to number one even though he knows that with the kind of talent swirling around at that level, it will be like a musical chairs children’s game; just let the music stop.
The Masters always throws up a drama, whether a comedy or tragedy. This year history could be created and even the fates are agreed that all the celestial bodies are lined up in a way to produce a denouement of which even Shakespeare would be proud.
Wait and see.
Fata viam invenient (The God will find a way).