21 and counting . . . Southern Africa’s golf superstars come short again in a Major showdown

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Robson Sharuko

Harare – For the 21st Major golf tournament – spread over five years and 10 months – the challenge by Southern Africa’s finest golfers to try and win one of the game’s four most prestigious tournaments ended in familiar failure at the 2018 Masters at Augusta National in Georgia, United States, on Sunday.   

Not even the romance of this being the 10th anniversary of the year when Trevor Immelman, the South African who won his green jacket in 2008, could spark the bid by the region’s top golfers to end a miserable run in the battles that matter the most in this game.

Immelman’s ability to find a way to hold off a charging Tiger Woods, then at the prime of his athletic powers, to win the green jacket was one of the trending stories ahead of the 2018 Masters.

But an opening day six over par 78 immediately brought him back to the reality of his current ranking of 1246 in the world and a 75 in the second round was not good enough for him to make the cut into the weekend battles.

It is a course where Immelman has made a little fortune, US$2,021,880, since he first featured at Augusta National as a professional but chances of him winning another green jacket are fading fast.

Another South African, Charl Schwartzel, won this green jacket in 2011 but he was no match for the challenge this year, as a promising opening day level par 72 was followed by a six over par 78 on day two.

With the cut being made at five-over-par, it meant his challenge for honours this year ended after two days.

That left Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace in contention going into the weekend with the former having provided one of the highlights of the opening round with a 36-footer putt on the 16th hole.

But, their quest to end a barren search for a Major golf title for the region, was crushed by the Americans – who dominated this Masters – and Oosthuizen could only end tied 12th – the best challenge from the Southern African golfers.

He shot three successive 71s in the first three rounds and then closed the show with a three-under-par 69 but that was only good enough for 12th place which he shared with Justin Rose and Charly Hoffman and a purse prize of US$253 000 for his efforts.

Grace’s scorecard read 73, 73, 74 in the first three rounds but a five-under-par 67 on the final day saw him post 287 and it took him to tied 24th and a cool US$105 600 in prize money.

At least, if that is going to give us some cheer, the two best players from the region finished higher than the returning Woods, whose return to both form and fitness, had provided some of the dominant storylines leading to this Masters.

Woods opened his bid with a 73, followed it up with a 75 and a 72 on Saturday meant he would need a miracle to beat the field on Sunday even though his appearance, wearing a red shirt which had carried him to some great final round shows in the game in the past, made a lot of people take notice.

He duly delivered for his first under-par score at this Masters when he shot a 69 on Sunday but the damage had already been done in the first three rounds and his 289 was good enough for a 32nd place, which he tied with former Major winner Adam Scott of Australia.

It’s only the sixth time in his illustrious career as a professional that Woods had finished over par in the four rounds at the Masters but, given where he is coming from, the challenges he has faced – both at home and the injuries that have stalked him – this represented triumph.

But, as always someone who is searching for perfection, the 14-time Major winner said he felt some disappointment with his show at this Masters.

“It’s disappointing and a little bit frustrating,” he told journalists. “I haven’t been sharp with them (irons).

“Given the fact that I was playing well coming in, my practice sessions have been good, and just have not executed the way that I have been. I know what the problem is, I’m struggling trying to fix it on the fly and trusting it.”

In some ways, it was a Masters that didn’t deliver on a number of fronts – the expected Woods comeback story that would end in triumph, the popular Rickie Fowler having his breakthrough Major title win and, of course, Jordan Spieth adding another green jacket to his collection.

Instead, it delivered a triumph for Patrick Reed, the man no one thought was going to win, and the man very few in that crowd at Augusta Nation – judging by the unpopularity of his success story – wanted to win.

But Reed won, and won very big, taking home his first Major title after completing his adventure just a stroke clear of the popular duo of Fowler and Spieth who challenged him all the way.

Spieth, who has always performed well at the Masters, started with grabbing the lead on the first day with his six-under-par 66 and closed the show with a remarkable 64 in which he was a shot shy of breaking the course record.

But a 74 and 71 in between meant that he finished on minus 13 under par and that was two strokes shy of the mark that Reed posted for his triumph.

Fowler finished on 14-under par 274 and, agonisingly, that was just one stroke shy of the winning mark for Reed.

When Fowler birdied the 18th, the patrons erupted, hoping he had forced a playoff and Reed, playing in the group behind, knew this was pressure time.

“To hear that roar on the last, even though I knew Jon [Rahm] was in the group, I just knew it had to be Rickie,” Reed told reporters.

“It definitely wasn’t easy today. I knew it was going to be a dogfight. It’s just a way of God basically saying, ‘Let’s see if you have it. Everyone knows you have it physically with the talent, but do you have it mentally? Can you handle the ups and downs throughout the round?’”

For the Southern African golfers, the long wait continues.

Not one of them has won a Major golf title since Ernie Els captured the British Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes in England in July 2012.

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