Australian Masters At Augusta

This year’s professional golf circuit is about to get serious with players in the Masters at Augusta, Georgia to tee off on Thursday.  For Australians there are few countrymen to follow this year: Aaron Baddeley, Jason Day, Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott, John Senden, and the talented amateur Bryden McPherson, winner of last year’s British amateur and expected to turn pro immediately after the Masters.

This is a smaller representation than Australia has become accustomed to, and even those present are not in terrific form with the exception of John Senden.  Some are reading this as a sign of fragility in the Australian game and prominent coaches like Stephen Bann are warning that, as in so many other arenas, the Asians are coming.

Right now Australia has five players in the world’s top fifty men: Day at 11, Scott at 13, Senden 29, Baddeley 39 and Ogilvy at 49.  Therein lies a story.  Day had a stellar 2011 without actually winning anything but coming very close in Augusta and elsewhere.  He has had four starts this year and struggled.  Scott is boosted by past rankings and has played only 3 times in America this year, alternating his starts with appearances at lucrative tournaments elsewhere.  Baddeley has been a great Australian hope since he won the Australian Open as an amateur, but since then has been an enigma.

That Australian hiatus is reflected on the American tour where a few must already be fretting about their prospects of retaining a card at year’s end.  Senden is at 28 having won almost $US 770,000 already but well behind money leader Hunter’s Mahan almost $3, 000, 000.  Baddeley is inside the top fifty with Jason Day sitting at 100 behind Allenby, Greg “Snake” Chalmers, Rod Pampling, Jarrod Lyle (now sadly struggling again with leukaemia) and Mark Leishman.  Ogilvie and Scott are at 102 and 107.  Then down in the red zone lie Matt Jones at 129 running to Peter Lonard at 229 via Steven Bowditch (who has a publicly declared struggle with depression), Nathan Green, Stuart Appleby, Nick O’Hern, Matthew Goggin, and Gavin Coles.

Down on the secondary tour, the Nationwide, the story is similar: Cameron Percy is at 13 and Lonard at 20, but seriously talented players like Michael Sim, Scott Gardiner, James Nitties (forever tipped by Jack Newton as a really top player), Won Joon Lee, Bowditch and Andrew Buckle are really struggling.  Australia has a lot of players at this elite level, then, but right now very few of them are at the top of their game.

Stuart Appleby’s form slump is well known.  After four years without a win he had a miraculous victory at Greenbrier in 2010 by shooting 59 in the last round and it seemed his luck was returning.  After that, though, it has all been awful.  Now 41 he sits at 216 in the world, a sad place for a man with 9 PGA tour wins and numerous others around the world.  When golf goes bad it goes really bad, as players like Ian Baker-Finch discovered, and it all happens under full spotlight.  Appleby will not be at the Masters, and neither will Allenby.

Geoff Ogilvy is another in the frame.  A major winner, he had a good Masters last year following two or three excellent seasons, but in the second half of 2011 his form started to slip and while he has missed just one cut in six starts so far in 2012, he enters the Masters remembered more for almost coming to blows with Allenby at the Presidents Cup than for great golf.

Golf is a very tough way to make a living if you are struggling.  Players like Gavin Coles have struggled away all over the world on the tough Asian tours, bouncing from the “big” tour to the nationwide and back again.  Peter Lonard did very well in America for several years, got sick, fell out of contention and it has been a struggle ever since.  Still others are persevering on little known circuits around the world, hoping for the form spike that will make the difference.

No doubt these better known players will be hoping that spike starts this Thursday and stays until Sunday evening because just one win makes a huge difference: full exemption on the tour for a period, guaranteed starts, better endorsements, bigger appearance money and all the rest.  Another poor week, though, and the ranking slips a little further and the end of the year creeps a week closer when life changes if you are not in the top 125 on the PGA Tour or the top 25 on the Nationwide.  It is at that point the psyche really comes under pressure, the doubts creep in, the swing tinkering starts, and the desperation rises.

Greg Norman, of course, knows all about that, and some even talk of him as the archetypal jinxed Aussie at the Masters.  For that reason alone, the Masters will again be compulsive viewing and if an Aussie wins, it will be against the run of form with the exception of John Senden who might just have the game this year.

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