Like it or not, the Masters tournament is still the most acclaimed major championship in the world
Truth is certainly more dramatic than fiction. Here you are, a professional golfer who has probably gone through the worst phase of your professional career; your world ranking has dropped to 322nd; and, unsurprisingly, you struggle with self-confidence. Going into the final day of The Player’s Championship – the much vaunted, “unofficial major” on the PGA Tour – is about as nerve-wracking as it gets in the golf world. To be in this situation five long years after fighting amid an elite field at a WGC event is, well, a more challenging scenario than you could have imagined. Given that context, 34-year-old Anirban Lahiri’s seemingly unnerving last-round performance at TPC Sawgrass is beyond spectacular – heralding a newfound mental strength in a player whose talent and work ethic have never been questioned. Proof of Lahiri’s steely attitude came after he hit a double bogey five on the par-3 eighth hole on Sunday. Just as fans across India sighed and wrote off another Indian golfer’s near win, Lahiri made a stunning eagle on the 11th hole to get right back into the mix. And to top it all off, the Indian player made a crucial birdie in one of the most crowded arenas in golf: the 17th hole with the island green at Sawgrass.
It took nothing less than a career appearance from another brave player – Cameron Smith – to keep Lahiri’s attack at bay. Smith shot 10 birdies in the final round. And like Lahiri, he gave his best when needed: nowhere more than on the last hole where he saved an astonishing bogey despite a misdrive that found the water, to win with one of Lahiri.
Smith’s sorcery with the flat stick is well known. At the World Golf Championships in August 2021, the Australian equaled the PGA Tour’s record for lowest number of putts in a round: 18 in case you were wondering. And if you look at last week’s stats, it’s clear that the putter got the job done – Smith had taken an astonishing 11 strokes across the field on the greens. The win catapults Smith to sixth in the official world golf ranking, making him the best Australian player in the world. Lahiri, literally, went from the fringes of the professional ranks to the top 100 in the world overnight.
Another Down-Under man who has been in the news in recent months is Hall-of-Famer Greg Norman. The ‘Shark’ has been chasing the game’s best players to poach for its new Saudi Golf-funded global golf tournament. While the league has suffered setbacks of late, with a number of top pros publicly admitting to rejecting the rival circuit, Norman has finally announced the league’s formal founding and inaugural schedule. The eight-tournament series, a $255 million series called the LIV Golf Invitational, will kick off in June this year at the Centurion Club outside London. The format of the competition is quite unorthodox when it comes to professional events: the 48 players will play 54 holes over three days, competing in individual and team categories. Participating players have the luxury of confirmed paydays with no cuts, while firing a shotgun will likely translate into a fast pace of play and faster rounds.
In addition to the relatively relaxed schedule, the league’s biggest USP has been significantly higher purses for each event: The first seven events will have $25 million purses, $20 million for individual prizes and another $5 million for the team competition. The eighth event offers $30 million for the top three players of the season, with an additional $50 million for teams in total prize money. Rumors have been swirling for weeks about players approaching the final stages of their careers and jumping into the new league – that list has not yet been released, however. The reasons aren’t hard to fathom – put away a sweet nest egg before you call it a day. How this tour fares in terms of television viewership and longevity remains to be seen. However, it has already sent the established Tours in a flurry of player-oriented measures. That can’t hurt, can it? Clearly the R&A disagrees – the governing body has revoked the exemption given to the top-ranked player on the Asian Tour for the Open Championship. “We review and update our waivers from time to time and any changes are carefully considered by our Championship Committee,” the R&A said in a statement. Right; obviously nothing to do with Liv Golf’s significant investment in the Asian Tour. The R&A isn’t immune to pressure, but they had hoped for better from the game’s oldest governing body.
The spotlight in April will be on the other side of the British Isles pond. Cue: Saccharine background music set to slow-motion montages of television-perfect fairways and historic archival footage from a particular private club in Georgia, Atlanta. Like it or not, the Masters tournament is still the most acclaimed Major Championship in the world. While he may have been considered a dark horse during the Player’s Championship, Smith was already one of the favorites at The Masters. The Major is statistically Smith’s strongest, where he finished in the top 10 three times, including a tie for second in 2020. “I think this one has given me a lot of confidence,” Smith told reporters after his win over The Players. Championship. “I think it just allows me to be creative. It almost brings out my inner child,” Smith said of Augusta. And the child has a game.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game
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