Home-hitters in awesome shape at the Masters while the likes of Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Jon Rahm tee off more in hope than expectation – can anyone end the American dominance in majors in the US?
- The last 11 majors held in the United Stats have been won by American golfers
- That is a run of dominance that has not been seen since the days before 1980
- Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChembeau are among the favourites at Augusta
- But likes of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Lee Westwood are out to spoil the party
Five months after a Masters like no other comes a more customary edition filled with the usual pastel shades and the sound of a game slowly getting its voice back.
In the sleepy Southern town, we are probably halfway from where we were last November back towards the usual April clamour, where the air is filled with constant chatter about golf and the endless promise of another majors season.
On the deficit side, losing Tiger Woods always feels like a particularly grievous blow when the Masters comes around, and there are still many thousands of patrons who are missing as well.
Dustin Johnson is bidding to successfully defend his Green Jacket after triumphing last year
The world No 1 dominated the field last November, winning by five strokes at Augusta
There are no grandstands to generate the signature roars that spook the faint-hearted come Sunday afternoon. The grand old oak tree in front of the clubhouse, the usual gathering point for all the great and good in golf, stands as a lonely sentry.
But the spectral silence that made the November Masters such an eerie experience is thankfully gone and there is a spectacular profusion of azaleas and dogwoods in all the typical haunts. The course is playing firm and fast, not seeking to punish Bryson DeChambeau but because that is how it is supposed to be at this time of year.
‘It was always the intention of Bobby Jones to make this an inland links in terms of how the course plays, but this might be the first time since 2013 when nature has allowed us to have it this way,’ explained Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley.
As always, the first tee will be humming with anticipation on Thursday. How fascinating that Lee Westwood, at the age of 47, gets to play as an equal alongside defending champion Dustin Johnson.
Is there anyone not intrigued by where DeChambeau is going to be aiming when he gets there shortly after lunch?
In echoes of Masters from long ago, the place has become an American stronghold once more. The last 11 majors held in the United States have been won by American golfers, a run of dominance not seen since the days before 1980, when Seve Ballesteros stormed the gates and led the European conquest.
Perhaps it will prove a good omen that this year is filled with anniversaries of times past when international players claimed the Green Jacket. It is 30 years, for example, since Ian Woosnam took on the crowd and Tom Watson to win; 25 years since Greg Norman and Sir Nick Faldo fought out their final round for the ages; a decade since Charl Schwartzel took advantage of Rory McIlroy’s final-round collapse. Most pertinent of all, it is 60 years since Gary Player became the first overseas champion.
Bryson DeChambeau is another American among the big favourites at the Masters this week
Who is the Gary Player or Seve for this age, the global ambassador the game needs and the focal point to counter the awesome array of American firepower? McIlroy (right) was that man for a while until he lost his sorcery. The hope remains he can rediscover it under the wise tutelage of Pete Cowen but you surely need a vivid imagination or glasses of the azalea-tinted variety to believe it will come at this event.
Cowen light-heartedly suggested recently that another of his charges, Ian Poulter, has more chance of winning this week. It is a sensible, low-key strategy adopted by McIlroy himself in his press conference on Tuesday, thereby allowing himself something of a free hit rather than being burdened as he usually is with all thoughts of glory. It will be interesting to see if he can prosper from the lowering of expectation.
Jon Rahm? There are times when he has looked a worthy heir to the likes of Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal as the next great golfer from Europe. Now, at 26, the new father has reached that fascinating age whereby players of his calibre claim their first major and go on to win several more, or fall just short and accumulate some destructive scarring. It is true that golfers can have wonderfully long careers but time seems to move awfully fast without a major to your name.
The 10-strong English contingent is filled with such fine players who never made the last leap. It has become a recurring theme at majors to study names such as Westwood, Poulter, Paul Casey, and Justin Rose and wonder how they have one major between them. It is barely believable that English golfers have won just two majors in the last 25 years.
Rory McIlroy heads into the Masters will little expectation after struggling to find his form
Now time is moving on if the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick are not to suffer the same fate.
Further afield, such traditional golfing strongholds as South Africa and Australia have become barren wastelands. No player from either nation has won a major since Jason Day claimed the 2015 US PGA Championship.
Like the Europeans, they have struggled to cope at the game’s highest level with this golden age for American golf, filled with thrillingly destructive hitters like Johnson and DeChambeau, great iron players like Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas, and wonderful putters like Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.
The return of the best putter of all in Jordan Spieth, and at his favourite course, adds yet another string to the American bow. When you look at the ages of these players, and the fact there is another strong group waiting in the wings, it is hard to see past this being another week when a player from the host nation finishes clothed in green.
Spaniard Jon Rahm remains one of Europe’s biggest hopes at the Masters this week
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