08 Apr 2021 | Professional golf |

The Masters: Leish has high hopes

by Martin Blake

Leishman Masters image
Marc Leishman at the 15th green at Augusta National on Wednesday. Photo: Getty

Marc Leishman enters the Masters as arguably the least in-form of the Australians in the field, but the big man from Warrnambool in south-western Victoria is optimistic about his chances. Leishman tees off at 12.12pm Augusta time on Thursday (2.12am Friday AEST) with France's Victor Perez and American Jason Kokrak chasing a green jacket for the ninth time.

He has not had a top 20 finish on the PGA Tour since January, but he insists this is not a true reflection of his play. "I feel like I'm trending in the right direction," he said this week. "I played well early in the year, and it cooled off a little bit, but I'm feeling good, ready for hopefully a big week. The course is nice and firm, just the way I like it. "But at the end of the day, you have to play good. So I started playing well towards the end of the matchplay. I'm feeling good coming in." Good memories are part of that. Leishman has twice finished inside the top 10 at Augusta National (2013 when he was fourth, and 2018 when he was ninth), and he was tied-13th last year, just a few months ago. "Yeah, it's obviously a place we love coming back to every year," he said. "It's special when you do get to drive down Magnolia Lane. Yes, I've got some good memories, but I'd like to make some really good memories. Like I said, special place, but would like to improve on the finishes of the past." Five Australians - Leishman, Adam Scott, Jason Day, Matt Jones and Cameron Smith - are in the field, and all of them are being reminded that it is 25 years since Greg Norman's spectacular collapse on the final day of the 1996 Masters tournament. As for Leishman, who watched it as a teenage boy at home, there is perspective. "I remember it pretty well," he said. "Obviously, it was a disappointing day, but it's not like - everyone looks at how many shots Greg was in front, but they forget that Nick Faldo shot I believe it was 67. That is a hell of a round around here. Funny things happen around here when you get a bit of pressure put on you. "Obviously, we felt really badly for Greg that day, but having been here a few years, I can see how that happens. I don't think any lead is big enough. Yes, a lot can go wrong round here pretty quickly." The course is hard and fast and Adam Scott, the 2013 winner, likes what he sees. Although rain is forecast later in the week, he hopes that the sun stays shining. "I think it would be a shame if it did (rain)," Scott said. "It's been a long time since we've had a really dry golf course, and I think it will be fun for everyone playing, but also watching, to see it play a little dry and see some shots and some strategy that maybe has been a few years, at least in my memory, since we've had to think this hard around here. "Yeah, it is tough, especially after we played a pretty soft November and had a new scoring record. But it was like the second hole on Monday when I hit a couple pitches, and it's like, 'okay, I'm going to have to think about this this week. I'm going to have to create some angles if I'm not on the green and leave yourself in all the right spots'. "I think, generally on tour, with improved short games and generally soft conditions, we're lulled into where getting close to the pin is a good thing, but not round here, that's for sure. You're going to have to be smart." Scott attended the traditional champions' dinner on Tuesday night and noted, along with everyone else, that Tiger Woods was absent because of his ongoing treatment for injuries suffered in a car accident. "Yes, when any of the champions are missing, it's a shame really," said Scott. "I mean, I think there's -- at least for me -- it's a growing bond with everyone who's there each year, and the guys who don't make it, you miss their presence, and Tiger is one of the biggest of them all. You see Jack (Nicklaus) up there, and he's kind of like the ultimate champion here, but Tiger is also right there with five Masters. "It was nice. It means a lot to him. He sent a message to (two-time winner) Ben Crenshaw which was read out, and that he makes the effort to do that shows you how much it means, and it makes it all that much more special for us." AUSTRALIAN TEE TIMES Matt Jones 8.12am (10.12pm Thursday AEST) Jason Day 9.36am (11.36pm) Marc Leishman 12.12 (2.12am Fri) Adam Scott 1.36 (3.36am) Cameron Smith 2pm (4am) TELEVISION TIMES Nine Gem, Foxtel and Kayo Sports from 5am Friday AEST

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