Matt Kuchar, my tip for the US Masters
THIS week's article may well make me look foolish - not for the first time - when attempting to predict the winner of a major golf tournament.
If I were that good at it, I'd be a millionaire several times over by now but I'm not! Paper never refuses ink and if Rory McIlroy can make errors in public, so can I! (If you read last week's column, you'll know what I mean).
One prediction that I can make fairly confidently is the tournament will be played on possibly 'the worst and most frustrating' fairways (from the players' points of view) in America.
Not because of neglect or bad greens keeping practices, but on purpose - to make the game more difficult and stop the ball running too far.
For some years now, the flotilla of giant mowers used to cut the fairway grass at Augusta have had their blades raised ever so slightly so the grass will be longer and the grain will always be running back towards the tees and against the direction that the ball is coming from. Playing into the grain also makes iron shots less predictable.
Controlling distance becomes guesswork and there is nothing that upsets pros and undermines their confidence more than unpredictability. They are control freaks who do not like surprises.
But, there is only so much you can do to prevent modern day pros from overpowering even the longest of golf courses and you can be sure the winner will find a way to batter Old Man Par.
After a memorable play off battle with Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia came good to claim the green jacket last year just when we were all beginning to think that the chances of him ever winning a major were slipping away. At the death, Sergio held his nerve better than Rose, which one would never have expected. You never know in golf because you cannot tell what is going on inside a player's mind.
The hardest part of winning is fighting one's way into contention and 'being there' for the last nine holes, which takes a lot of concentration and patience, good golf and an unrelenting focus on the task in hand.
Some players are simply spun out or get 'too tight' when they find themselves in a winning position with a few holes to go - no one is exempt from making a nervous mistake or miscalculation. Winning is a matter of coping and continuing to do the ordinary until the bitter end. Birdie bursts at the death do occur but they are exceptions and cannot be switched on as if by magic. Sergio simply found a way to pass the winning post in front, but he did not do it without some help from Rose who made a hash of the first play-off hole when least expected.
More tournaments are lost than won - even by Tiger Woods at his best. Possibly the greatest golfer of all time, Jack Nicklaus, who won a record 18-major titles, finished runner-up on 19 occasions. I have never heard of Jack accused of being a loser, but that statistic never ceases to amaze me.
If the Gods of golf have any sense of fair play (they often do) they might decide to point their fickle finger of fate in the direction of Matt Kuchar in 2018? How 'Kooch' lost The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale last year must have been one of the 'hardest to take' of all time. Surely, it has earned him some credit with the fates? If luck evens out, there must be a major around the corner?
'Kooch' has a long, history of playing in The Masters going back twenty years to 1998 when as a gangling teenager and the reigning US Amateur champion he made a memorable debut with his clearly emotional father on the bag and in the company of the then holder, Tiger Woods.
'Kooch' finished in a creditable 21st spot in 1998 mainly thanks to a third round of 68 that had him right in the mix with one round to go. The carefree attitude, wide smiles and teamwork between the Kuchars won over the patrons. They were having fun and they showed it even in the intimidating company of Tiger. Kooch has contended at Augusta on several occasions since with a best finish of tied-3rd in 2012. He has paid his dues to Amen Corner and in other majors too.
"The Masters is the only major played on the same course every year, so you can build up a real knowledge and intimacy with this place,” Kuchar has said. “Being a Georgia Tech alumnus and kind of following in Bobby Jones footsteps, there's a lot of connections for me. The state of Georgia is my home It's a special place for sure.”
Kuchar has won thirteen PGA Tour titles, including The Players Championship and World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play, it's long overdue that he had a major title on his CV. Odds of 66/1 with Paddy Power seem generous to me. I always like the chances of Louis Oosthuizen in majors. He is such a beautifully balanced and unflappable golfer. Louis is 45/1.
Words of the Wise
Excessive golf dwarfs the intellect. Nor is this to be wondered at when we consider that the more vacant the mind is, the better for play. Absolute idiots play the steadiest -