A week out from Easter and Australian golf has thrown all its eggs into four baskets, and each one of them is overflowing with possibility.
When The Masters welcomes the 2019 season of majors to Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday night, Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Adam Scott and Cameron Smith will carry the hopes of a nation.
It is a select few but due to Scott’s heroics in 2013 they are not burdened by an 80-year wait that hung over the likes of Greg Norman, Bruce Crampton, Jack Newton and all other Australians invited to make the scenic drive up Magnolia Lanee since Jim Ferrier first played the tournament as an amateur in 1940.
But while the odds of a second Australian victory may stand at 4-in-87 prior to Thursday’s opening round, a closer inspection shows that our chances are indeed much better than that.
Every Australian playing The Masters this week is a genuine chance of wearing the coveted green jacket come Sunday; here we break down why 2019 could very well be their year.
The Moment: Playing in The Masters for the first time in 2011, at just 23 years of age, Day was going toe-to-toe with countryman Adam Scott at the top of the leaderboard as they reached the 17th hole. As Australia watched on from the edge of our seats on the other side of the planet, Day, Scott and Geoff Ogilvy all enjoyed a share of the lead during the back-9 on Sunday. But it was at the 17th where Day announced himself as a major champion of the future. Under immeasurable pressure, Day holed a birdie putt that he conceded afterwards was “going a little strong” and then added another at 18 to post 12-under, Charl Schwartzel requiring four consecutive birdies to finish to win by two.
The Stat: No course tests your proficiency with the putter quite like Augusta National, which is why Day has enjoyed such success in the past. Day was second in Strokes Gained: Putting on the PGA TOUR in 2018 and has carried that confidence into 2019 where he is fourth in that same statistic.
The History: In eight appearances since 2011 Day has finished inside the top-30 on seven occasions, the only blemish when he was forced to withdraw from the 2012 tournament due to an ankle injury. In his maiden appearance in 2011 he very nearly became the first debutant winner of The Masters since Raymond Floyd in 1979, only a rampant Schwartzel standing in his way. Day was also third behind Scott in 2013 and tied for 10th in 2016.
The Quote: “It was unreal. It's probably the most excited I've ever been in a golf tournament. It's the most exciting tournament I've ever played in. You're out there in the middle of the fairway and there's roars around you and you don't know what's going on. And then all you see is that little number pop up on the leaderboards and everyone screaming. And it's an amazing feeling to be out there in the thick of things.” Day after his runner-up finish in 2011.
The Formline: Since withdrawing from the Arnold Palmer Invitational due to a back injury, Day has logged a top-10 finish at The Players, missed the cut at the Valspar Championship and lost all three of his matches at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
The Odds: $26 to win, Day is $3 to finish inside the top-10.
The Moment: Ironically for Marc Leishman, his most memorable moment at The Masters wasn’t even his. Playing in the final round of the 2013 Masters with Adam Scott, Leishman shared in the joy of the Queenslander’s birdie putt on the 18th hole that, momentarily, seemed to have secured Australia’s first green jacket. Ninth 12 months ago, don’t be surprised if Scott’s putt on 18 gets a mention if Leishman is victorious on Sunday.
The Stat: With seemingly effortless power, Leishman can extract eagles and birdies from any golf course on the planet and Augusta is a layout that offers up plenty of opportunities. Currently seventh in the FedEx Cup, the 35-year-old is 11th on tour for holes per eagle, 25th with an average of 4.35 birdies per round and 26th in scoring average.
The History: A missed cut on debut in 2010, Leishman bounced back in 2013 where he was tied for fourth having enjoyed a share of the lead with Sergio Garcia after an opening round of 6-under 66. Tied for sixth entering the final round last year, Leishman went out in 2-over 38 before storming home with five birdies in his final seven holes to record his second top-10. Leishman missed the cut in 2014 and 2016 and was tied for 43rd in 2017.
The Quote: “We're not here to lay up. It's a Major, you're going to have to take some chances at some point during the week if you want to win and that was a time where I thought I had to take a chance. I've been hitting that shot well on the range and I thought it was a prime opportunity to give it a test there at the course and it came off.” Leishman after hitting a 30-yard hook with 5-iron to set up eagle at the par-5 15th in the second round last year.
The Formline: A swing fix from coach and PGA Professional Denis McDade saw Leishman bounce back from a missed cut at The Players to advance to the knockout stage of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. He was top five in five of his first seven events this season starting with his win at the CIMB Classic last October.
The Odds: $41 to win the tournament, Leishman is $2.75 to finish inside the top-20.
The Moment: Two iconic putts, almost impossible to split for their significance. When Scott’s birdie putt at the par-4 18th fell into the hole it sparked an emotional outburst from Scott the likes of which we had never seen before. “C’mon Aussie” became Australian golf’s latest catch cry but it would have counted for nothing had he not delivered the ultimate knockout blow to playoff combatant Angel Cabrera on the 10th hole in the playoff.
The Stat: Heavily scrutinized and often criticised for his putting, Scott has found comfort in his stroke in 2019. Choosing to putt with the flag in following the rule change that came into effect on January 1, Scott has gone from 165th in Strokes Gained: Putting in 2018 to be ranked 14th in that category in 2019. His wedge game is also strong, first on tour in approaches from 75-100 yards and 100-125 yards.
The History: For close to a decade we pondered why Scott had not been able to better his performance from his maiden appearance in 2002 where he was tied for ninth. In the eight years that followed he was inside the top-30 on five occasions but it was his tie for second in 2011 that gave a glimpse of what was to come. Tied for eighth a year later, Scott was tied for 14th in his title defence in 2014 and recorded his fifth top-10 finish in 2017.
The Quote: “We are a proud sporting country and like to think we are the best at everything, like any proud sporting country. Golf is a big sport at home. It may not be the biggest sport, but it's been a sport that's been followed with a long list of great players, and this was one thing in golf that we had not been able to achieve. It's amazing that it's my destiny to be the first Aussie to win.” Scott after his win in 2013.
The Formline: A resurgent Scott was second at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines and tied for seventh at the Genesis Open where he was tied for second heading into the final round. Completed his Masters prep with a tie for 12th at The Players.
The Odds: $34 to win the tournament, $4 to finish top-10.
The Moment: A birdie at the par-4 10th hole in the fourth round last year set Smith off on a birdie barrage that the back-9 at Augusta is famous for. A precious two at the par-3 12th was followed by another birdie at the par-5 13th to close out Amen Corner in 2-under, birdies at 15 and 17 putting him within reach of the back-9 scoring record of 29. He missed the eight-foot putt for birdie at 18 but ingrained positive memories he can carry into future Masters, starting this week.
The Stat: Renowned as having one of the best short games on tour, the stats back up what good judges will tell you. He is 17th on tour in Strokes Gained: Putting and 19th in Strokes Gained: Around the Green, add in a sand save percentage of 58.73 per cent and it adds up to a scoring average in 2019 of 70.473 (33rd on tour). That all adds up to someone to be respected at Augusta National.
The History: Brief, but trending very positively in the right direction. His fifth-place finish at the 2015 US Open earned him a Masters debut in 2016 where he finished tied for 55th with rounds of 74-73-82-74. Two years later and a brief flirtation with the back-9 scoring record of 29 catapulted Smith up seven places on Sunday and into a tie for fifth, guaranteeing a return visit in 2019.
The Quote: “I actually hit three really good shots into the last three holes but to only get one birdie out of it, at 17, was disappointing. But I stuck to my guns, stayed aggressive, and pulled it off. To do that late on Sunday was a special feeling.” Smith on shooting a back-9 of 30 in the final round last year.
The Formline: Flashes of brilliance without the real big finish thus far in 2019. Top-10 at both the Farmers Insurance Open and WGC-Mexico Championship, in his past three starts Smith has missed the cut at The Honda Classic, was tied for 56th at The Players and failed to progress to the knockout stage of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
The Odds: $67 to win, Smith is quoted at $3.50 to finish in the top-20.
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