So here we are in March. It means that the Masters will soon be rolling round again. Dustin Johnson has just swept the field aside in the World Golf Championship event in Mexico with no more difficulty or effort, it seems, than if he were swatting a troublesome fly. He gets a few weeks a year when he is simply unplayable, and no one can live with him. He’s now back to second in the world rankings, a smidgeon behind Justin Rose and thoughts of the Masters are bubbling to the surface of all the players’ minds.
Is Dustin’s destiny to win a green jacket this year? But brilliant as he is, how can DJ ensure he peaks at exactly the right time for the first major of the year? Johnson was world No 1 and playing the best golf of his life. He had won three straight PGA Tour events going in to the Masters and was odds-on favourite to add to his, so far, paltry haul of one major title. Then, on the Wednesday evening, he slipped on the stairs in his house, landing on his lower back. He withdrew moments before his Thursday afternoon tee time. His almost perfect preparation ruined in the blink of an eye. So, I wonder what he’s thinking now? Is he setting out to complete what he started last year? Will there be an uncomfortable, niggling feeling at the back of his mind that perhaps, with 40days to go, he has peaked too early?
Runner-up in Mexico was Rory McIlroy. The Ulsterman, now living in the States and committing to play most of his golf there, is almost five years removed from his last major win, the 2014 Open Championship. That major drought was unthinkable back then for the multi-talented young man with the jaunty swagger and all the shots. There were fleeting thoughts that here may be the player to challenge Tiger’s haul of majors.
The Masters has assumed monumental importance for Rory. It is the missing piece in his quest to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, owners of the career Grand Slam, the only men to have won all four of golf’s modern majors, a very elite club. This will be Rory’s fifth go at completing his own CGS. Endless discussions will take place about his collapse in 2011 when he squandered a four-shot lead with nine holes to go. We will hear how the course suits his game and his high ball flight, but how the greens will expose his relative weak puttting.
Augusta is a known opponent. It is the only major played each year on the same course and although its current length makes it a bombers’ paradise it also has the most exacting short game examination imaginable. Most players know their own weaknesses and at the time of year when thoughts turn to Magnolia Lane, the golfing demons can grow and multiply in their mind if they are not careful.
Watch the players carefully in these last weeks before the 2019 majors commence. Watch Justin Thomas. He coughed up a 54-hole lead the other week in the Genesis Open and was out of sorts with himself for the first couple of rounds in Mexico, describing himself as “irritable”. He turned that irritability into a closing 62. Justin Rose, a master of preparation, peaked perfectly to win the gold medal at the Rio Olympics. He is scheduling meticulously to ensure the balance between rest and competition. And what about Jordan Spieth. He’s endured putting woes and long game of the Augusta National golf course. Champion in 2015, tied 2nd a year later, he fell to a lowly tied 11th he following year before closing with a rampaging 64 to finish 3rd last April. Some of the players are hoping they have the mentality for the examination, the guile required to taste victory. Spieth knows he has. And so does Tiger… www.madillgolf.com