Australian Masters Preview: Tiger returns a different man

9 November 2010

Written by: Evan Harding

JB Were Masters, Thursday 11 to Sunday 14 November, First Tee-Off at 7.00am (AEDST) at The Victoria Golf Club, Cheltenham (Channel 9 and Fox Sports)

THE TOURNAMENT:

This time last year, Melbourne was sent into a golfing frenzy. Tiger Woods – who many consider the best golfer of all time – touched down in the sport mad city to compete in the Australian Masters. The former world number one was paid about $A3.3 million, almost half of it in taxpayer’s money, to play in the tournament. But despite the ridiculous amount of money, it was all worth it with his presence attracting a new brand of followers to the sport and bringing in an estimated $34 million in benefits to the Victorian economy.

The sport dominated digital news services and was splattered across front and back pages of all major newspapers. It was the talk of the town with almost every single person aware that the event was on. Never before had golf captured the imagination of an entire country like it did 12 months ago.

Well, Tiger is back, but a lot has changed since then. He’s a changed man and it’s fair to say he looks a touch out of form. It will be fascinating to see how he responds when the first round of the 2010 JBWere Masters tees off early this Thursday morning.

The tournament, one of the Australia’s most prestigious golf events, was first held 31 years ago at the Huntingdale Golf Club in Melbourne and has attracted some of the best players in the world in its time.

Plenty of accomplished golf players have won this tournament in the past, but none has dominated it more than our very own Greg Norman. The ‘Shark’ collected six gold jackets between 1981 and 1990, making him the most successful champion in Australian Masters history.

In 2008, IMG and the Victorian Government agreed to build the annual Australian Masters into the pinnacle event on the Australian golfing calendar. Last year’s results were no exception, with the 2009 JBWere Masters setting a new benchmark for golf in Australia. It attracted record crowds and set record television audiences.

And with a star-studded field set to grace Melbourne once again, there is no reason this year’s Masters can’t be more enthralling and popular than last year’s.

THE COURSE:

The tournament has always been held at the Huntingdale Golf Club. But beginning with last year’s move to Kingston Heath, the Masters will now rotate through different venues.

This year’s host for the JBWere Masters will be The Victoria Golf Club in Cheltenham, Victoria. Golfers from all around the world rave over its fine hospitality and championship course. The course is ranked amongst the top 10 golf courses in Australia and has already hosted a plethora of major tournaments, including the 2002 Australian Open Championships.

The par 72 course is designed to challenge both amateurs and professionals and offers a sporting experience on par with the world’s best. It is located in Melbourne’s sandbelt region with an even par 36 for both the front and back nine holes. The course features lightning-fast greens, lightly curved fairways and some of the toughest bunkering in the country.

THE INTERNATIONAL CONTENDERS:

Tiger WoodsThe attention and huge popularity of last year’s JBWere Masters could be solely put down to this man. This year, the 34-year-old returns to Melbourne to defend the title he won by two strokes from Greg Chalmers in 2009. Woods’ achievements on the golf course are nothing short of legendary, winning 97 tournaments – including 14 major championships – over his prestigious 15-year professional career. It’s fair to say Tiger has had a rough 12-month period, with past marital infidelities coming to light. But if Woods is able to rediscover some of the form that saw him ranked number one in the world for a record number of weeks, he should make it back-to-back victories. 

Sergio GarciaOne of Spain’s most successful golfers has made it very clear since arriving in Australia that he is not here for a holiday. He is here to win. Garcia earned more money than any other professional golfer in 2008 and was ranked as high as second in the world after winning the HSBC Championship in November that year. But the 30-year-old has experienced a significant form slump since March 2009. He hasn’t won a tournament since then and currently sits number 74 in the world after a short break away from the game. However Garcia has assured everyone he now feels refreshed and has rediscovered his appetite for the sport.

Camilo VillegasColumbia’s sexy man of golf heads to Australia for the first time with the goal of winning this year’s Masters. Villegas earned his third victory on the PGA tour with a five-stroke win over Anthony Kim in the Honda Classic in March earlier this year. The world number 30 hasn’t been able to recapture his 2008 form where he spent 30 weeks in the world’s top-ten rankings, but if he is able to continue his good form from the World Golf Salutes King Bhumibol Skins tournament – where he won the most money with five skins for $US109,8000 – he will certainly be in contention.

THE AUSTRALIAN CONTENDERS:

Robert AllenbyVictoria’s favourite golfing son is quite familiar with wearing a gold jacket around this time of the year. In fact Allenby has won this very tournament twice, back in 2003 and 2005. The 39-year-old comes into this tournament in some good form with two runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour in 2010. Allenby is currently ranked 21 in the world and seems to be improving with age. There is no reason why he can’t make it three Australian Masters wins come this Sunday.

Geoff Ogilvy  – Who could ever forget his win at the 2006 U.S. Open? Under enormous pressure, Ogilvy made two incredible pars on the last two holes of the final round to secure his first major championship of his career and the first by an Australian since Steve Elkington won the 1995 PGA Championship. The 33-year-old was ranked as high as fourth in the world after he won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in 2009. Ogilvy has also endured a successful 2010 PGA Tour, winning the SBS Championship in January and finishing second in the Deutsche Bank Championship in June. Currently ranked 38th in the world, he would love to add a Masters gold jacket to his 2008 Australian PGA Championship victory.

WHO WINS?

The field assembled for this year’s masters is being touted as the strongest field in its 31-year history. Not only will it include the names above, but also a stellar cast of leading Australian players in Michael Sim, Stuart Appleby, Brett Rumford, Peter O’Malley and former Masters winners Craig Parry and Peter Senior.

Also joining the star-studded field will be amateurs Jin Jeong and Matt Jager. South Korean-born Jeong is the current British Amateur champion and was the silver medallist at The Open Championship at St. Andrews in July where he finished an admirable 14th. Western Australia’s Jager is the current Australian Amateur Stroke Play Champion and winner of the 2010 Australian and New Zealand Amateur Championships.   

If Woods is in top form, he will be very hard to stop. He is by far the classiest and most skilled golfer on the planet. But a disappointing 2010 season and recent off-course issues means fans might see a different Woods at Victoria. There is no doubt that there are still a fair few question marks still hanging over the head of the superstar.

It becomes a very open field when Woods is taken out of the equation. Watch for Sim – who has been touted as Australian golf’s next big thing – to really announce himself in this tournament and is good value with the bookies. Villegas is also a good chance to be there right till the end.

But Ogilvy is due. He’s only won the single Australian PGA tournament and would be desperate to win the newly reformed and higher-profile Masters. If Ogilvy gets off to a solid start over the first two rounds, he is a massive chance to take out the $1.5 million prize.

PREDICTION:

Geoff Ogilvy