The US Masters is the first major championship of the season and the only one that is played on the same course. They key to good scoring at Augusta National is staying out of trouble and putting well on the treacherous greens. Big hitters have an advantage especially at the 13th and 15th holes which are both par 5s. They are risk and reward tests and the further a player hits the ball down the fairway off the tee the more options are open and a big drive brings eagle into play.
In theory the Masters Tournament is an invitational event played at a private club. However, the top 50 players in the world rankings are always invited and certain qualifying criteria apply. There is a limited field of about 100 players but some of those are ceremonial and have been invited as former champions. In fact you could say the field is 80 players and some of them are not good enough to win a major.
Augusta National has not changed intrinsically since the first Masters was played on the course in 1934. Some of the holes have been lengthened and the rough is more severe than in the past. The changes were made to ‘Tiger-proof’ the course. At one stage at the start of the century it looked like Tiger Woods could win 10 Masters as his game was ideally suited to the course. The modifications made for a more level playing field but Woods is still the winning most champion since 2000.
The former world number one missed the best part of two years due to injury and several operations. He won the Masters by 12 shots in 1997 for his first major victory. However, Woods was fixed on 14 major titles from 2008 for the next ten years. If he is to overhaul Jack Nicklaus’s tally of 18 majors he will have to win the Masters more than five times. At the end of 2017 Woods was 80/1 for the Masters in the following April but some decent form meant he was backed into 14/1 fifth favourite.
Despite the changes to the fairways and rough Augusta’s biggest defence is the greens. They are fast and undulating so hitting the correct parts of the greens is a key skill. There are treacherous slopes on the surfaces and sometimes two putting is virtually impossible. When the pressure is intense on the back nine on Sunday players who hold their nerves on the greens have an advantage. Winning the Masters and the Green Jacket is one of the biggest achievements in the sport.
Course experience is a huge factor and rarely does a debutant do well or win. The Masters more than any other major has a history of producing multiple winners and Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson have won more than one in the last 15 years. Multiple champions from the previous era include Nick, Faldo, Bernard Langer, Jose-Maria Olazabal and Severiano Ballesteros. Jordan Spieth has the game and potential to win the Masters more than once.
The identikit profile of a potential Masters champion is a player who is better than average off the tee, has good GIR stats and is a competent putter. Most importantly he has to have the temperament to keep playing shots when the enormity of the occasion hits home over the last nine holes of the fourth round when in contention.