x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Stage is set for for the passion play that is the Masters

The Masters long has been one of sport's leading dispensers of sap.

Lee Westwood will once more try to win a major, this being his 56th try.
Lee Westwood will once more try to win a major, this being his 56th try.

The Masters long has been one of sport's leading dispensers of sap.

That refers not to the sap of trees, although Augusta National's pines have a durable fame, and if you asked the Augustans, they would rate their tree sap as superior to the tree sap of anywhere else.

No, the first golf major of the year has specialised in one of the other definitions of sap, the one that tends to ooze out of Hollywood - or out of a television screen when a network saps up an event.

Traditionally, the CBS television network would enter and exit Masters adverts with a sappy turn of poignant piano, which prompted a clever friend to wonder as to the location of the pianist, and whether Jack Nicklaus ever walked by, stuffed $10 (Dh36.7) in the jar and said: "Play me that sad one again."

Time and again, grown men on the air have waxed uncontrollably about the recuperative regenerative restorative rebirth of springtime at the Masters, and grown men watching at home have nodded in agreement as to the majesty of the recuperative regenerative restorative rebirth of springtime at the Masters.

Then late on Sunday, as the sun settled into its nightly pillow, there would come a recap so sappy that some viewers actually might have drowned. Any recount of the arrival of the sun might seem as if the occurrence were unprecedented.

As for the golf sap, just about anybody could get their heels stuck in that. I once stood by No 18 watching Nicklaus make a Saturday putt as a contender at age 58 in 1998, and the sap of it washed over me until I bobbed happily upon it and found it to be the nutritious kind of sap.

Ben Crenshaw's win in 1995 bathed in fine sentiment given the recent death of a beloved golf teacher.

Tiger Woods won at 21 historically and hugged his father memorably.

Jose Maria Olazabal won in 1999, and that seemed to lack for emotion as it foiled Greg Norman, but then the meaning came as Olazabal told of his ordeal with illness between his Masters titles of 1994 and 1999.

When Phil Mickelson made that 18-footer in 2004 to break his long walk through the major-tournament desert, everybody seemed to feel as happy as if their own son had done it. Mickelson won in 2010, but the story became the hug off the green with his wife as she recovered from illness.

Every year holds the promise of a sappy winner, even if nobody got too sappy about Charl Schwartzel.

My immunity to sappiness would wither were I to see the 42-year-old Ernie Els walking up No 18 with victory at hand - he never finished lower than sixth between 2000 and 2004, yet never won - but for the inconvenience he did not make the 96-man field, which did hurt his chances of winning.

It still bothers me that a fine sort named Kenny Perry led by two with two to play in 2009 at age 48, then did not win, then confessed to lacking the necessities for winning.

That took guts.

Sappiest potential winner who never won? No contest: Greg Norman.

Scanning the 96-man field, then, becomes an exercise in choosing my five sappiest potential winners.

I consider everyone from international invitee Ryo Ishikawa, who would stir mighty global emotions; to Rory McIlroy, who would paint over last year; to Padraig Harrington, because he's Padraig Harrington; to Nick Watney, a guy so nice the uncle who coached him at university once said he and his wife "often joked we wished our kids were as nice as he was".

The nominees:

  • Lee Westwood. Justice triumphs. The best major player of the last three years finally wins in his 56th major try after so many narrow, earnest misses. I want to see the countenance.
  • Steve Stricker. Some people are nice. Other people are really nice. This 45-year-old man in his 53rd major tournament occupies some sparsely populated realm of nice.
  • KJ Choi. The arguable world capital of golf, South Korea, already has a men's major champion (YE Yang) to go with all its women, but a turn for one of the pioneers would warm the heart.
  • Justin Rose. Sure, he is in the top 10 (No 9), and it has been forever since his shouting introduction at 17 at the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale, but I still never see him without thinking of his late father during that heady weekend.
  • Sergio Garcia. He has had his turns as a pain in the backside, but even pains in the backside who used to be wunderkinds but somehow still do not have a major can make compelling 18th-fairway walks.

Surely even a pain can turn to sap at Augusta.



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