9th April 2019 | Asian Tour
Tour Insider: Masters Edition
By Olle Nordberg, Former Asian Tour and European Tour professional
The Masters week is finally here!
This week’s edition of Tour Insider will be different from the past few weeks, as this is the week that golf fans and tour players alike have been looking forward to for quite some time.
The iconic Masters Tournament at Augusta National is definitely one of a kind in golf.
The season opener when it comes to Major Championship golf, and together with The Open, these are the Majors that all Tour players have been dreaming about winning since they embarked on their professional careers.
In some cases, maybe even that’s the reason why they got into golf from the beginning, watching The Masters on TV in the spring and being inspired to spend countless hours practicing and imagining having a putt on 18 to wear the famous Green Jacket.
I know I did, and so did most of my junior golf friends growing up.
One thing that makes the Masters Tournament so special among Majors is the fact that it has always been held at the same course since inception in 1934, the players, patrons (no spectators at Augusta!) and regular TV viewers are all very familiar with the course layout. Or in any case, from hole nine onwards, where the traditional television starts.
It is one of the few events that regular golfers and professionals will watch in the middle of the night if on another time-zone. Either staying up late or getting up very early to catch the leaders going through Amen Corner, hole 11 through 13, and challenging the scorable but treacherous “second nine” as they call it at Augusta National.
There have been many famous charges on the final nine holes at Augusta on Sunday afternoons, but maybe none more so than Jack Nicklaus’ six-under-par 30 to don the Green jacket at age 46 in 1986, dashing Greg Norman and Tom Kite’s title hopes in the process.
The second nine at Augusta on Sunday afternoon is definitely one of the highlights on the golfing calendar for any serious golfer, and where history is made by the players battling it out for the victory.
This year, we have the fortune of having two Asian Tour players compete in their first Major of the year – Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Justin Harding of South Africa.
Kiradech qualified by virtue of being inside the top-50 on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) in the end of 2018. He has played the Masters Tournament twice previously in 2016 and 2018. His best result coming in his first appearance when he finished tied-15th. It was a very creditable result for a first-timer, especially on a course where experience is a huge factor and approach precision and strategy is of utmost importance.
In 2018 he also made the cut and finished tied-44th after a rough start with 79 in the first round, and scores of 70, 72 and 71 the last three days.
Kiradech’s record in big events has improved steadily as proven by his world-class play in Majors and World Golf Championships (WGC) the last two years: three top-fives in his last six WGC starts, and a 15th place in last year’s U.S. Open Championship.
No Asian player has won the Masters tournament in its 85-year history. Kiradech does not lack the talent and game to compete with the best players in the world. He could potentially be a dark horse, poised to be the first ever Asian player to win at Augusta National and Thailand’s first Major Championship winner.
Harding received his invitation by being in the current OWGR top 50 after the WGC-Dell Matchplay and cemented that position by beating Matthew Fitzpatrick and Luke List in the group stage matches. He was perilously ranked number 49 going into the week and those two wins were crucial in order to guarantee a place inside the top-50 at the March 31
He has played some fantastic golf the last 15 months in his rise in the rankings, chalking up five combined wins on the Asian Tour, Sunshine Tour and European Tour: Bank BRI Indonesia Open, Royal Cup, Investec Royal Swazi Open, Lombard Insurance Classic in 2018 and the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters this year.
Harding’s Major Championship experience is limited to the 2013 Open Championship and the 2018 U.S. PGA Championship, and will be making his rookie Masters appearance this week.
Could Harding continue to ride his wave of hot form, and rewrite the history books with a rookie win at Augusta this Sunday afternoon?
The odds are stacked against a first-timer winning at Augusta National. It has happened three times in the past, but you must go all the way back to 1979 to find the most recent one, Fuzzy Zoeller who beat Tom Watson and Ed Sneed in a play-off. The only other two players who have done so on their first try was Horton Smith at the inaugural event in 1934 and Gene Sarazen the following year in 1935.
Jordan Speith came close in 2014 by finishing tied-second to Bubba Watson, before setting the 36-, 54- and 72-hole scoring records in his 2015 win.
Whoever wins this Sunday afternoon, it promises to be an exciting week ahead as we follow two of our Asian Tour stars, battling it out with the best players in the world for the Green Jacket and Masters Tournament trophy.