Every April the top 50 ranked golfers in the world, along with a handful of top amateurs and a number of invited champions, gather in Augusta, Georgia for arguably the most prestigious golf tournament in the world. The Masters is the first of the four ‘Major’ tournaments played each year, followed by the US Open, the British Open, and the US PGA Championship. The Masters was first held at the Augusta National Golf Club in 1934, and has remained there ever since, being the only major championship to be held at the same venue every year.
The Augusta National Golf Club
|The stunning 10th hole at Augusta|
Golf is traditionally seen as a conservative, upper class sport, with the Augusta National Club being seen as a symbol of golf’s elitist attitude. Until 1990 the club refused to admit black players, and until 1983 the club had a policy requiring all caddies to be black. Although both of these hurdles have been overcome in recent years, one major controversy still surrounds Augusta’s membership policies – the continued refusal to accept women as members of the club.
At the pre-Masters press conference this year, Chairman Billy Payne refused to discuss the issue. However in recent days Barack Obama, Mitt Romney & Newt Gingrich have all stated their belief that the membership rules should change, with many believing that their influence will finally lead to a change in policy. Hopefully in the next few days the pressure will tell, and the Augusta National Golf Club will join the rest of us in the 21st century.
This year’s tournament
Much of the build-up to this year’s tournament was dominated by two players; Tiger Woods & Rory McIlroy. Woods, after a lengthy spell of 30 months, ended his professional tournament drought by winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks before the Masters. McIlroy, on the other hand, has been extremely impressive since failing in the final round of last year’s tournament, claiming his first major at last year’s US Open, and consistently finishing in the top 10 of almost all his events over the past year.
|Rory McIlroy - wild-haired genius|
Both players started the tournament with steady but unspectacular first rounds, Woods finishing at even par and McIlroy finishing at 1-under par. However they experienced vastly different second rounds, with McIlroy producing 5 birdies in a 3-under par 69, and Woods struggling with his swing in a 3-over par 75. The first round leader, world number 3 Lee Westwood, had a steady second round until his final hole when he carded a double bogey, finishing the day on 4-under par. This allowed two Americans to claim the halfway clubhouse leading, with Jason Dufner joining veteran Fred Couples on 5-under par.
The tournament still appears to be wide open, with 16 players within 3 shots of the lead going into ‘moving day’. Amazingly only two players from the world’s top 10 appear in the top 26 players going into the weekend, but those two are in strong contention, with McIlroy & Westwood the two favourites to bring another major trophy back to the U.K. However the sentimentalists will be on Couples' side, with the affable American looking to become golf’s oldest major winner at 52 years of age.
|Who'll claim the iconic green jacket?|
In such a close tournament, with any number of players capable of claiming the famous green jacket on Sunday, it’s extremely tough to pick out a winner. I’m confident that both Westwood & McIlroy will be in with a chance going down the final stretch, but will pick big-hitting Bubba Watson as my 2012 Masters Champion. He’s been steadily improving since appearing in the Ryder Cup in 2010, and has the game to produce two big rounds to claim his first major Championship.
What are your thoughts – have you got any feeling about who might pick up this year’s Masters? Is Tiger already out of contention, or could he storm back on Saturday? And will one of the favourites claim the honours, or could one of the less-fancied players take the field by surprise?