Rusty putter could be Tiger’s scourge

Sam Torrance
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AUGUSTA is a place which never fails to impress and on arrival at the famous home of the US Masters yesterday it’s clear that this year is no different.

A brand new practice range now greets the players where a car park stood last year – further enhancing this magnificent golf course.

The build-up to this year’s Masters centres around one man – Tiger Woods. It’s absolutely fantastic to see him back on the fairways of Augusta and the crowds he has pulled in for the practice sessions this week have been incredible.

By his own immensely high standards, Tiger has been a bit erratic in practice, but that will count for nothing when he tees off in the second-to-last pairing with KJ Choi and Matt Kuchar later today.

Tiger is probably the strongest player mentally I’ve ever seen and you can rest assured that none of the events leading up to today, and the pressures that go with that, will affect him once he steps onto the first tee.

That said, I just have a feeling that Tiger may struggle to claim a fifth Masters title this week. Five months out of competitive golf at this top level is a long time and once he gets that putter in his hands for that first crucial putt, I fear he may just realise how long five months can be.

The putter is the hardest club in the bag and as we’ve seen many times here at Augusta over the years, it can prove the scourge of any round if not finely-tuned.

With Tiger deemed vulnerable, all eyes are on the British-based players, who probably have the best chance of success here for many a year. Indeed, the English boys, Lee Westwood, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter, all in the world’s top 10, are out to end a 14-year wait for an English major winner and I wouldn’t put it past either of them to end that sequence here this week.

Augusta suits a long, high ball hitter, good with the wedge and solid on the greens and Westwood, in particular, has the consistency and the game to do well here. After successive third-place finishes in the last two majors, he’s due a bit of luck.

Look out also for my old mate Ernie Els, back-to-back winner on the PGA Tour, probably playing the golf of his life at the moment, and South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel, Ernie’s equivalent on the European Tour, currently enjoying a fine season. American Anthony Kim is also well fancied here.

Either way, especially with the added wow factor of Tiger, you can be assured we are in for an unforgettable weekend. Let battle commence.