After dominating the event for a spell, recording five wins in the 1980s and six in the 1990s, it is hard to believe that 15 years have passed since a European slipped his shoulders into the Green Jacket.
1) A first European winner since in 1999
Jose Maria Olazabal’s second Augusta National victory in 1999 is the last by a European in the season’s opening major. A total of 29 from that continent – just under a third of the field – will set out on Thursday and it’s high time that a new golden era similar to the one created by Olazabal, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam and, of course, Sandy Lyle was sparked.
2) No Tiger talk. He will be missed but this event is not just about him
For the first time since 1995, there is no Tiger Woods in this week’s field after he pulled out last week following surgery on a pinched nerve in his back. It is a disappointment, especially at the start of a year that many felt would be defining in his bid to topple Jack Nicklaus as the game’s greatest player. However, let’s not dwell on Tiger and what might have been for the world No 1. The Masters, like any of the other three majors, is not about one person and never should be. It’s not as though this is the first time in his career that Woods has had to sit out one of these events due to injury and I recall the 2008 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, for example, delivering ample excitement in his absence as Greg Norman rolled back the years to lead heading into the final round only to be overhauled by Padraig Harrington.
3) Action taken against slow play – but a big-name player this time
If it was down solely to John Paramor, the European Tour’s chief referee, slow play wouldn’t nearly be the worrying problem it is today. Paramor is prepared to take action, as he did against Tianlang Guan, the 14-year-old Chinese player, during the second round here 12 months ago. Did Paramor pick on an easy target on that occasion? Perhaps. If a player is punished again this week, let’s hope it’s a big name because that’s what we are crying out for at a time when slow play is casting an even darker shadow over the game. Players themselves, the ones that want to get on and play at a decent pace, are becoming more vocal (by Twitter anyway) and this week would be as good as any for a message to be sent out that will finally make the snails, at both pro and club level, sit up and take notice.
4) Other big sports events following Augusta National’s example at the tills
Many believe a decision to hike the admission price to £70 for last year’s Open Championship contributed to a 20,000 drop in the total attendance at Muirfield compared to the figure for the last event there in 2002. The R&A insist that was down to other factors, but if they want to keep charging those prices - perhaps even more in the years ahead – then they should try to get a bit closer to The Masters when it comes to the cost of food and beverages. Not just in The Open, but in every big sporting event in Britain, you can’t help but feel the punters are being fleeced once they get through the gates, which certainly isn’t the case here. It’s very affordable and the plastic cups for drinks can be kept as souvenirs as they carry the iconic Masters logo.
5) Professional golfers shouting “FORE”
It really has reached the ridiculous stage seeing top golfers carve shots into the crowd only to stand there watching it happen and not utter a word of warning. Some don’t even stick out an arm to warn of a wayward blow – the reason, apparently, being that they hope to get a lucky bounce off a spectator! It’s an insult to the basic etiquette of this great game, something every one of those players must surely have been told about when they first stepped on to a golf course. Many seem to think it’s okay to say “sorry” to a blood-splattered spectator by handing them a signed glove. Like slow play, though, this needs to be stamped out – and quickly. A golf course can be a dangerous place, especially when fairways are lined 10-12 deep. Players have a responsibility to ensure no-one is injured if it can be avoided.
6) Ryder Cup hopefuls for Gleneagles showing some much-needed form
As things stand, Martin Kaymer, who retained the Ryder Cup for Europe at Medinah just over 18 months ago, has little chance of making Paul McGinley’s team for September’s match at Gleneagles. The German has been struggling to hit his hat for most of the season and badly needs to rediscover some form just to have an opportunity to be in Perthshire. Lee Westwood, a member of the last eight European teams is in the same boat. Some like him could be valuable to McGinley, especially with the home side looking as though it will contain a number of rookies.