Europe can be golf’s Masters again

Danny Willetts victory at Augusta last week ended a 17-year spell without a European winner of the Masters.  Picture: Harry How/Getty

Danny Willetts victory at Augusta last week ended a 17-year spell without a European winner of the Masters. Picture: Harry How/Getty

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The 80th Masters was one to savour. It included fond farewells for Tom Watson and Ian Woosnam, winners of three Green Jackets between them. It witnessed the emergence of two exciting young amateurs, Bryson DeChambeau and Frenchman Romain Langasque. It produced a collapse by Jordan Spieth in Amen Corner on the last day that will be talked about for years and a surprise, but worthy, winner in Danny Willett, who hit the front with three holes to play and finished off the job with real aplomb. As the dust settles, here are a few things we learned from the week:

Willett’s win can spark new golden era

Augusta National had become an unhappy hunting ground for Europe’s golfers. You had to go back to 1999, when Jose Maria Olazabal recorded the second of his victories, to find the last European to pull on a Green Jacket. Thanks to Danny boy, that miserable run has ended. It could spark a repeat of the era which featured 11 European triumphs, split among Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and, of course, Olazabal, in a 20-year period. Having watched Willett win, Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Matt Fitzpatrick and Justin Rose will certainly return in 12 months with high hopes of becoming the third Englishman to taste victory.

It’s only going to get harder for Rory

McIlroy admitted that the longer he returns to Augusta National seeking to complete a career Grand Slam, the tougher it will get for him. He needs to learn how to limit the damage at some of the holes. The fourth, for instance, is an Achilles’ heel. He will also hopefully return next year with a solid putting stroke as his decision to switch to a left-below-right grip is still bedding in.

Spieth could be scarred by collapse

Rarely has any golfer looked as though they own a course more than Jordan did until his 12th-hole disaster on the final day when he was coasting towards history in his bid to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods as back-to-back winners. The young Texan looks to be as tough as a pair of cowboy boots. He will need to be, as last Sunday could be potentially damaging going forward.

Golf is in a great place

What happens on the golf course may be the most important factor in portraying the sport’s image, but what the current crop of players have to say and how they say it is equally important for the game. McIlroy, Spieth, Jason Day and Adam Scott all illuminated the room with their pre-event interviews. Sitting in the same chair later in the week, Jack Nicklaus said the sport was “fun” at the moment and that “I really like the kids of today that are playing”. The game’s greatest player also talked about how he got a “kick” out of young American Justin Thomas visiting his house the previous Saturday to chew the fat and watch basketball. That, for me, spoke volumes about the new wave of players as they’ve earned respect from an older generation.

No need for the 13th hole to be extended

In his pre-event address, chairman Billy Payne admitted this change is “under consideration”. It is possible because Augusta National has reportedly paid its neighbour, Augusta Country Club, $27 million to purchase a pocket of land that closely borders the 12th green and the 13th tee. It is believed this will provide scope to take 13th tee back 50 yards. Don’t do it. So what if Bubba Watson can knock it over the corner? We want to keep seeing players having the chance to get on in two here. It’s what makes the hole, after all.

Big Ernie showed he has a big heart

It would have been so easy for Els, pictured, to have walked off after six-putting the opening hole from no more than two-and-a-half feet. After all, the last place you want to be when a bout of yips re-appears is on these treacherous greens, especially in a buffeting wind. “It was probably one of the toughest rounds of my career, but I was proud of the way I kept playing,” said the South African. “No individual is bigger than the game and I have so much respect for the Masters Tournament and the sport that I would always give my best.” What a trouper.

Par 3 Contest is great for the game

I know this pre-tournament event has its critics but, at a time when golf is battling to both keep people in the game and also attract newcomers, surely the images from this year’s event as they flashed around the world could only have had a positive effect. It was wall-to-wall smiles as the players and their caddies celebrated a record nine holes-in-one. Players have the option to skip it – as Rory McIlroy did this year – but few do and that’s because they enjoy the fun aspect of it, as undoubtedly do the patrons.

No need for traditions to be ditched

They do things differently at The Masters. No hi-tech scoreboards, no mobile phones (a Japanese journalist reportedly had his accreditation taken from him for breaking that strict rule) and no-one inside the ropes. Running isn’t permitted and patrons are expected to show appreciation for good shots in a respectable tone, not shout their heads off. It’s a bugbear to some, of course, that the action isn’t shown on TV from start to finish, but what’s wrong with any of the above?They are, in addition to the the terrific test, what help make it special.

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