Anticipating the Masters is like preparing the palate for a very good restaurant. A good meal, however, can be ruined by so many factors that anticipation can be a trepeditous affair. Sauce, for instance, can ruin anything. Presentation of the meat, even presentation of the course everything can be lost to sauce.
Maters galleries are big. They are big in every sense. First, you have to be someone pretty big even to get a ticket to get into the car park. Second, you have to be big to stomach the blatant exclusiveness of the place and the pretentiousness of it.
Yet, despite the fact that the Masters is not an open tournament it annually produces a feast of golf and so whets the appetite in expectation. Few can forget the most memorable moments at the Masters, as when Nicklaus resurrected himself, or when Olazabal and Woosnam played golf to a standard hitherto unseen to prove that when it comes to the main course, heart prevails and hype is inconsequential.
But the Masters fare has also produced some of the most sensational choking that has ever been seen. Indeed, the Masters has probably exposed more for what they really are than any other event.
Greg Norman, for instance went from the shout of great white shark to the whisper of mere tiddler with one shot - which he kept repeating as if to emphasise himself. Gutless wonder was a more appropriate aphorism for Greg when, firstly in 1981 when, after starting the back nine with a comfortable lead, he hooked the ball deep into the trees and put paid to his early pretensions. In 1986, he unforgettably played the worst shot ever seen to the 18th green. Needing a par to tie with Nicklaus, and having hit the fairway off the tee, his 4-iron into the green missed by 30 yards.
He did it again in 1987 when Larry Who? Mize won with a 140-foot chip-in at the 11th. Again Norman only needed a par at the 18th to tie. He failed again. In 1989 he again failed to make par and a playoff at the 18th when he left a 5-iron short of the green. The sphincter clenching stuff of the 18th repeatedly proved too much for Norman and from this date on he never risked his gut beyond Amen Corner.
In 1996 he showed that his entire digestive system was not up to it. That year he collapsed more completely than any golfer has ever done in the history of the game. Indeed, he brought an altogether new meaning to the term choking.
He led by six shots when he stood on the first tee at the start of the last round. He was playing with Nick Faldo and, as one American lady writer of the day wrote, they looked awesomely handsome. The irony is that it was no hyperbole and both men knew it; the difference between them being that Greg enjoyed it to the extent that he posed himself out of the game.
The Norman that started that last round that Sunday was in complete contrast to the Norman who had signed his card on Saturday night. He was tweaky, jumpy, ridiculously amusing and swinging so fast that he looked like a mid-handicapper. And he played like one too! He managed to bogey just about every hole to the 12th when he put his ball in the water and managed to scramble a double bogey.
The Amen Corner crowd did not even have the good grace to groan. It was probably the most piquant sauce that they could offer. Faldo was cheered to a 67 and Norman ignored to a 78.
Both Faldo and Norman will be there this year. Faldo will be there by right for he has his green jackets, undoubtedly hanging in the front of his wardrobe. Norman will be there by invitation: the Masters chairman, Hootie Johnson, says that he has provided our patrons with much excitement by his inspired and superior golf during his 21 years of play at Augusta. He said this straight faced for he is a hoot is Mr Johnson.
Of the two Faldo is the most likely to make an impression with his golf judging by his recent form. But it is Norman who will make the biggest impression with his presence. US tournament gawpers are not usually kind to losers and are not renowned for sympathy and understanding. Empathy is unknown to them. You really have to know how to make a gallery love you and nobody knows the recipe for that better than Norman.
For the past 20 years he has been the most successful golfer in the world. He was number one for longer than most have been in contention. He won 70 times although he collected only two majors, the Opens of 1986 and 1993. But his annual income is said to be in excess of £186 million. He has a garage full of Ferraris to prove it and is currently having a yacht built in Australia with all of the life support systems on board that can traverse 10,000 non-stop miles.
Norman has long since learned that show makes dough and that Americans love blatant consumerism for only a winner has the dough for the show. Showing what youve got is what counts, even if it is the contents of your intestinal tract.
Colin Montgomerie does not have a show to put on. With Colin, what you see is what you get. He likes his fare plain and any sauce can put him off his grub completely. As he has already shown by venting his spleen as well as the contents of his stomach over the comments of some redneck boors, American sauce is not to his taste.
But good taste is not something that one readily associates with the average American golf spectator and the Georgia bound good ol boys will be no different this week, although the members at the National would rather you thought different.
But the clientele will be as badly behaved around Amen Corner as they will be at any other US golf tournament. It should not be forgotten that youre the man and get in the hole were first heard from the Nationals galleries.
The coke-cups, hamburger-holders and even ice-cream cones may all be green at Augusta, but the necks are just as red and the gallery sauce equally piquant. Montgomerie doesnt stand a chance.
Sauce or no sauce, the European Tour, in relation to representation, has dominated the Masters. This is not likely to change and my money will be on the new wave Garcia, Scott, Casey and Donald. These guys have the stomach for anything.
|| 9 - APRIL 2002