The Greatness of Augusta National

The greatest thing about The Masters Tournament is that while everything else changes, the course stays the same.

Augusta has seen plenty of changes in the professionals who take it on over time.

Seeing golfers of the ilk of Gary Player, and especially Jack Nicklaus play their last round there is enough to bring a tear to the eye, but so is a customary fourth round collapse as a slew of golfers begin to fight the battle that Amen Corner starts.

Holes 11, 12 and 13 are a defining part of the Sunday round and whether or not a golfer makes a charge or falters. They also lead into potential nightmares at 15 and 16.

11 (White Dogwood) is a monstrous 505 yard (461m) par four that swings to the left, featuring a green surrounded by water long and left and particularly dangerous with a back right or left pin.

12 (Golden Bell) provides the golfer with anything from a six to nine iron into a narrow green where the breeze is extremely fluky. This hole has broken many a Masters round including those of Tiger Woods and David Duval.

Then there is 13 (Azalea), presents a test of nerves and golf. My most vivid memory here is watching a tournament leading Ernie Else snap hook one off the tee into Rae’s Creek down the left and trying to recover off the rocks to eventually walk away with an eight and his Masters charge in tatters.

He’s not the only one though, the creek meanders down the left before coming into play significantly in front of a raised green that demands a perfect shot to catch and hold it.

Coming off the downslope of the back bunkers is far from ideal as is coming up short, which sees the ball roll back down into the creek.

The par five 15th and par three 16th present similar problems and the latter is where Jason Day’s Masters challenge fell apart last year.

That’s the thing about Augusta National, there is always drama. It’s sporting theatre at it’s finest.

I’m a self-confessed golf nut and would pay anything to get on the course at Augusta, but it’s also the home of some of my earliest sporting memories.

It’s the one event of the year I get up for, every year, how could I not?

Recently we have had Adam Scott breaking the Aussie hoodoo at Augusta and that was a tough one for me to watch, as earlier in the week I had backed Angel Cabrera at the crazy odds of $126. Knowing what a shaky putter Scott can be I was convinced he would not make that scything putt across the 18th green… he did.

It was a weird moment. I had stood to win $6,250, but in the clubhouse of The Lakes Golf Club, I still cheered.

Just one year earlier Bubba Watson produced one of the craziest shots in golf to rip a hooked gap wedge onto the green from the pine straw to deny South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen his second major, the scene on the 10th green was one of pure emotion.

Watson, who had lost his mentor and father broke down in tears a s a swag of tour pros flooded the green to embrace him.

Some earlier memories are not so great, there was of course Greg Norman’s epic 1996 choke. Going into the round he was six shots clear of Nick Faldo, but lost by five. The image of Norman slumping to his knees after an eagle chip on 15 lipped out is one etched in my memory and also sporting folklore.

The agony of watching that was a change from the ecstasy of just a year earlier, when one of my all-time favourites ‘Gentle’ Ben Crenshaw won his second green jacket at age 43, eleven years after he had first won the green jacket.

The fact he beat a guy I never enjoyed watching in Davis Love III made the result even better.

It’s those types of moments that the majors seem to throw up more than other tournaments, when old bears such as Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson make that last charge at greatness, it’s amazing to watch.

It seems increasingly unlikely that the stars of yesteryear will make a real tilt at the Green Jacket, but one I love to watch, especially at Augusta is Fred Couples.

A one-time winner ‘Boom Boom’ has a special affinity with Augusta and shot a perfectly respectable one under 71 on Day One. If his back holds out and he can keep it together for four days, nostalgia will run wild at Augusta National this weekend as an aging great searches for that last great moment on a course that has seen and by it’s very nature provides plenty of them.

After all, Augusta never really changes, yet it’s so hard to master and that’s what makes it special.

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