13 Apr 2024 | Opinion | Professional golf |

Clayton: Reflections on a day that players fear at The Masters

by Mike Clayton

Scheffler Masters
Masters joint leader Scottie Scheffler tees off on 18 of the second round at Augusta National

They are the days players dread but for the audience nothing is as interesting as watching championship golf played in high winds.

Most often we see it on the British links at an Open Championship but on Friday at Augusta the players were served up something akin to playing Royal Melbourne on a similarly breezy day.

Everything is hard including, as Tommy Fleetwood said, "getting it in from three feet". It’s a rare place where players are aware they can three putt from anywhere – even four feet – if they hit the wrong putt.

The suggested winner of almost everyone at beginning of the week was Scottie Scheffler because of his remarkable run of form stretching back to his win at Augusta in 2022. In 44 tournaments since, he’s finished in the top five 25 times including five wins. It’s not Tiger Woods but it’s the next best thing.

Years ago, I remember watching Colin Montgomerie on a practice fairway in Europe with teacher David Leadbetter. It was a year or two before Monty turned into Colin Montgomerie the seven-time winner of the money list in Europe and someone Geoff Ogilvy described as the best ball-striker he’d ever played with.

His swing looked loose, floppy almost, and in the era of Faldo and the pursuit for technical perfection it was something most assumed needed work.

“What” I asked Leadbetter “would you do with that swing?”.

“Where would you even start?”.

Maybe Montgomerie would have won more if he’d gone down the Faldo route but more likely he’d never have had the success he did by doing it his own way.

Scheffler too does things his way and no teacher would countenance the way he slides his feet all over the place as he moves through the ball.

“Where would you even start?”.

As it took Monty a few seasons to make the rest of us believers in his tee to green skills so it has to recognise Scheffler as clearly the premier hitter of his generation.

People focus on his putter but it’s always the way when someone hits as consistently. They always look like they miss more – and probably they do – but they don’t have to be great putters. Competent gets it done most of the time.

On Friday, he played late in the worst of the conditions and his 72 was three under the par of the day if the field average was the measure.

He’s tied for the lead with two other Americans, Max Homa and Bryson DeChambeau.

We don’t see much off Bryson these days, but he seems to be back playing proper golf and not trying to win long driving contests. Still, his driving skills are capable of tearing courses apart because he usually has so little left into the greens.

At the ninth hole he was 388 yards off the tee and at the 17th – going uphill – 372. If you can keep it on the course, it's a massive advantage.

Behind them and inside the top 14 are nine "foreigners" and Cameron Young which may or may not say something about learning to play in the wind and the advantage of playing around the world.

Tied for fifth is the 2017 Australian Open champion Cameron Davis. Quietly and without attracting too much attention the Sydney man has turned into a wonderful player, one with a swing as orthodox as Scheffler’s is flaky and he’s close enough to the lead but without any of the expectation he might win because that’s all on the three leaders.

Geoff Ogilvy’s foundation runs the Sandbelt Invitational and for my sins I get to put the field together. It’s not so easy getting our very best players to play so close to Christmas but Davis committed to play the last couple of years and won in 2022.

Last year he was going to be late to register (technically before five o’clock the day prior to the opening round) and he messaged us to let us know his flight was late leaving Sydney.

He landed, messaged again from the airport in Melbourne to apologise for being late, let us know when he’d be there and again when he was on the road.

Tour pros are often accused, not without some justification, of an outsized sense of entitlement but Davis is one who has never forgotten where he came from nor his responsibility to give a little back.

Finally, Tiger Woods made the cut by putting on a masterclass around the greens.

Woods is seemingly on the Ben Hogan post car-crash schedule (Hogan famously played six times in 1953, winning five including at Augusta and the US and British Opens) some but he’s seven years older than Hogan was in 1953, Still, he’s the most compelling player in the game.

It's amazing really.

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