The Masters is one of those few golf tournaments that transcends the sport. It may take place every year in Augusta, Georgia, thousands of miles away from Britain but for British sports fans it is to golf what the Grand National is to horse racing, the FA Cup is to football and Wimbledon is to tennis. It’s the tournament that has weekend hackers practising their swings in petrol station forecourts and professional golfers dreaming of pulling on the famous green jacket awarded to each Masters champion.
Of all the four men’s majors, only the Masters takes place at the same venue every year. The mystique and majesty of Augusta National are fundamental to the reverence of the Masters. Golf fans don’t only dream of one day making the trip up Magnolia Lane to play at Augusta, they dream simply of going there as a fan. The Masters has also provided some of golf’s greatest storylines such as Tiger Woods’ comeback win in 2019, Jack Nicklaus’s 18th major championship win in 1986 and Bubba Watson’s incredible hooked gap wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012’s playoff.
2022: Scottie Scheffler
When Scottie Scheffler became the number one ranked golfer in the world it reignited a familiar debate – can you really be the world’s number one without winning a major championship? The 25-year-old took himself out of that debate in stunning fashion with a three-shot win at the Masters which could have easily been much larger.
Such was Scheffler’s brilliance and dominance over the field at Augusta National that he was able to win by three shots despite a four putt on the final green and a closing round of 64 from the man who finished second (of which more shortly). Speaking afterwards he said he almost felt relieved to make such a mess of the 72nd hole as it reduced the emotion he felt before doing his interviews.
Scheffler also admitted that he “cried like a baby” the morning of the final round as he didn’t feel ready for the task ahead. That was very surprising to hear as there was no sign of any emotion as he coolly saw off the challenge of Cameron Smith who had his challenge fall apart on the 12th hole like so many golfers before him.
It was left to Rory McIlroy, shooting a phenomenal round of 64 to take second place but in truth Scheffler was never in any trouble as he played the same level of sensational golf from his first round to the last. On paper a second-place finish was a great week for Rory but this is the title he needs to complete a career Grand Slam and has so often been the case with him in recent seasons, he only produced his best golf when it was too late. Can Rory ever win another major? Will Scheffler be able to maintain his current incredible form? An amazing year of golf is surely in store.
2021: Hideki Matsuyama
Golf fans who had been brought up to believe that ‘it all happens on the back nine on a Sunday at Augusta’ were beginning to question the validity of that truism. Hideki Matsuyama had made serene progress, showing only the slightest glimmer of nerves with his opening tee shot and then appeared to have the Masters sewn up thanks to two birdies to finish his front nine. And then the Augusta course reminded everybody that you cannot take anything for granted in the battle for a green jacket.
Matsuyama dropped shots at the 12th, the 15th and the 16th to open the door for the chasing pack. Xander Schauffele was the man best placed to take advantage as he was just two shots behind the leader as they both prepared to tee off at the par three 16th. However, he made a rare error and carded a triple bogey which ended his chances of winning and had to settle for an eighth top 10 finish from his 14 starts in major championships.
For the other players in with a chance of winning on Sunday morning, the drama just came too late for them. Will Zalatoris enjoyed a breakout performance in sole second place but he had run out of holes which Jordan Spieth made one too many errors on the front nine. Jon Rahm had the best round of the day with a 66 but he too had left himself with too much to do and in the end, Matsuyama could afford to bogey the final hole and still win by a shot.
Perhaps because he is a fairly modest, introverted man or perhaps because he does very little media in English, Matsuyama is something of an enigma for many golf fans. He has long been one of the world’s best players but we rarely see too much emotion to relate with him. That made the scenes off the back of the 18th green where Matsuyama embraced his coaches and translator all the more heart-warming. The same was true of his impromptu celebration after his winning speech where he thrust his arms into the air, a broad smile stretched across his face.
2020: Dustin Johnson
Golf fans who have grown up imagining that the Masters exists almost in isolation from the rest of the world were reminded that is not the case when the 2020 edition of the tournament was cancelled due to the global health crisis. Fortunately, the golfing powers-that-be couldn’t countenance a year without the Masters so it was moved to November for one year only.
The strangeness of a November Masters was enhanced by the lack of fans and scoring conditions that bordered on easy, at least by the standards of Augusta National. Dustin Johnson was less concerned about the strange surroundings than most players and took full advantage of his relaxed demeanour to saunter his way to a record winning score of -20.
Johnson’s laid back approach to the tournament was only broken afterwards when he was interviewed shortly after Tiger Woods helped him into his green jacket for the first time. Johnson showed some rare emotion when talking about what the Masters meant to him as a child growing up an hour away from Augusta. He will forever remember that win, as will the organising committee at Augusta National who have made it clear they do not want to see another -20 winner any time soon.
2019: Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods will always be inextricably linked with the Masters. When he became the youngest ever Masters winner in 1997 at the age of 21 there was a lot of talk about the driving force that his father, Earl, played in his prodigious rise to the top of the sport. That Woods was able to come full circle and celebrate his 2019 Masters win with his children 22 years later was just one of the remarkable storylines from this incredible tournament.
Woods had come through hell and back to earn redemption by winning the Masters for the fifth time. He’d had multiple surgeries to try and deal with a lengthy injury list that would have ended the careers of most golfers, he’d seen his personal life disintegrate publicly and was arrested for a DUI charge. He kept going after each one of those blows for one of the great comeback stories of any sport.
Even putting Woods’ personal story to one side, the 2019 Masters was a nerve-wracking watch. Francesco Molinari threw away a two-shot lead going into the final day with a double bogey on the par-three 12th. Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele both laid down a charge with final rounds of 68. Brooks Koepka was always in contention. Ultimately though it was Woods’ experience that made the difference and allowed him that embrace with his children off the back of the 18th green.
2018: Patrick Reed
When Patrick Reed announced that he was one of the world’s top five golfers in 2014 he was met with widespread derision. Who was this brash 23 year old who felt he could count himself among the best golfers in the world? And yet, almost exactly four years later, Reed was pulling on a green jacket and being interviewed in Butler Cabin about how he won the Masters.
It’s fair to say that Reed is not the most popular golfer in the world. That he pipped Rickie Fowler to the Masters title by just one shot did not help that popularity but it was impossible not to be impressed with the quality of his play at Augusta National in 2018.
Reed was never out of contention. He finished the first round in a share of fourth place before moving into the lead on Friday with an excellent round of 66. It was a lead that he would never relinquish. Although it got interesting on Sunday with final-round charges from Fowler and Jordan Spieth (who fired in a round of 64). But Reed came out on top with the icing on the cake being that he played his final round alongside his long-term rival Rory McIlroy.
2017: Sergio Garcia
The discussion about which golfer is the best never to have won a major is something that has taxed and interested golf fans for decades. Lee Westwood, Colin Montgomerie and Doug Sanders are among those regularly involved in such discussions. As was Sergio Garcia before he clung on to win the 2017 Masters.
Garcia went into the final round of the tournament level on -6 with his good friend and Ryder Cup teammate, Justin Rose. The two were in the final group together and despite Garcia coming out of the traps flying with a birdie on the first hole he was unable to shake Rose off. They both played some wonderful shots and both missed some very makeable putts to make this one of the most unmissable final rounds in Masters history.
It was missed putts that ultimately cost Rose his chance of a first Masters win. First he was unable to save par on his 71st hole of the tournament, then one burned the edges on his 72nd hole. Garcia then narrowly missed a putt of his own on the final green meaning a playoff was required. It was the driver that made the difference on the first playoff hole with Rose putting himself in trouble while Garcia played the hole perfectly, earning himself a place in history thanks to a birdie.