GOLF’S biggest tee party begins this Thursday with the US Masters again being held on the pristine turf of Augusta National.
I’ve been tuning in since Sandy Lyle won in 1988 and I’m pretty sure I’ve never missed TV coverage of the back nine on a Sunday.
Although I could have done with avoiding Bubba Watson’s maiden win in 2012, having lumped an obscene amount on Louis Oosthuizen when he hit the green and the left-hander landed in the trees in the playoff that year.
I’ve made peace with the fact it’s unlikely I will ever make it there as a spectator. There is a lottery for tickets each year (you can enter for a brief window between June 1 and June 20 for the 2024 event) but it’s about as likely you will be selected as it is of anyone getting hole in one on the 12th.
The first time I backed the winner was back in 1999 for Jose Maria Olazabal’s second victory. Then I had to wait two decades before bagging two in a row, when I selected Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama in 2020 and 2021. The latter will always be memorable because as the Japanese golfer was beginning his final round I decided to check the cash-out options of my bet on a leading Irish bookmaker’s website (think unfunny ads).
Instead of informing me of the amount I would win when I pressed the cash-out button, it immediately paid out instead - a figure less than half of what I would eventually have won.
Yes, I did press a cash-out button, but I also did presume doing so would mean I was going to be shown the current value of potential winnings and not immediately have it paidout. Why would any punter cash out without knowing that figure? Cue many, many and extensive livechats with their customer service that evening, meaning I missed all of what should have been a most satisfying and entertaining final round. They maintained I was in the wrong.
Although it is lovely to win a few bob, what I really appreciate more is the excitement of watching your choice in the hunt and I never intended to cash in my chips with Hideki.
I immediately closed my account with that bookmaker and will never lay a bet with them again.
I’VE never been there but according to all reports, Augusta National is a strange place.
TV coverage suggest it is a bucolic location, carved out of sweeping countryside perhaps.
But no, it is located slap bang in the second largest city in the state of Georgia and just a driver and three wood from a busy interstate highway.
It’s actually well worth checking out the location on Google Maps, not simply to check out its less than salubrious surrounds, but to get an idea of the course map, especially if you switch your view to a satellite terrain to get a better sense of the layout among the azaleas.
THE Masters has long been associated with Southern gentility, having only shook off overt racism and sexism far too late in the day.
There are still some strange traditions and customs like the caddies forced to wear the same green hats and white jumpsuits as the ground staff (interestingly multiple winners only get one green jacket).
Spectators are allowed to bring collapsible chairs to sit on, but they are not allowed to have armrests.
And they are not to be called spectators either, or fans, with TV commentators ordered to name them only as “patrons”. And they are told to refer to the rough only as “the second cut”. CBS announcer Jack Whitaker referred to the gallery at the end of the 18-hole playoff in 1966 as a “mob” and was banned for the next five Masters Another CBS broadcaster, Gary McCord was never asked back after 1994 for saying: “They don’t cut the greens here at Augusta, they use bikini wax.”
BARCELONA meet Madrid in another El Clasico tomorrow evening, the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final. The Catalans won the first game over a month ago 1-0 at the Bernabeu and have also beaten their greatest rivals 2-1 in La Liga since then. It seems unlikely Madrid will close the gap in the league so European glory will again be their major focus and 15/2 on a 1-0 home win is advised.
I’M going to opt for Patrick Cantlay to win his first Major at the Masters this year. His best finish was a tied-ninth in 2019 and recent from among the azaleas isn’t astounding - a +7 and +8 in the past two years.
But I could see it being a shootout with him and Sheffler and his hunger for a maiden Major getting him over the line at 20/1.