With less than one month to go before the 2017 major season gets underway in Augusta, Georgia, surely it's the perfect time to start our ‘Countdown to the Masters 2017’ feature.
To get us underway we thought we would bring you a brief recap of the history of a tournament that captures the golfing public’s imagination like no other (though perhaps the R&A would disagree).
The 'Masters' is Born
Officially opened in 1933, Augusta National was co-designed by the great Bobby Jones and was born out of his desire to build a golf course after he retired.
Now seen as one of the most magnificent golf courses in the world, it is also up there with the most challenging. Just look at the beauty of the place:
In 1934 Augusta held its first official tournament - the Augusta National Invitational - with Horton Smith coming out on top. Though informally known as the Masters since its inauguration, it did not adopt this title formally until 1939.
The famous ‘Green Jacket’ made its first appearance at the 1949 event and was adorned by the then champion, Sam Snead. Further American greats took possession of the Jacket in the early years and thereafter we can see three main eras which bring us up to present day.
‘Big Three’ dominance – 1960s & 1970s
On 11 separate occasions within a span of 20 years, the ‘Green Jacket was awarded to one of the trio of golfers affectionately known as the ‘Big Three’. Within this period Arnold Palmer won three of his four career Masters titles, South African Gary Player secured his three, and the great Jack Nicklaus won four of his record six.
By the end of their respective careers these guys had amassed a total of 13 Green Jackets between them and, for this reason and more besides, this rivalry is often looked back on with great fondness.
Attempts to artificially create a modern ‘Big Three’ seem extremely premature when McIlroy, Day and Spieth are compared with this awesome triumvirate and their truly seismic achievements.
European Invasion – 1980s & Mid 1990s
In a period of 17 years the Green Jacket fell into European hands on 10 separate occasions. It was a hard time to be an American golf fan.
The boys from the other side of ‘The Pond’ were initially inspired by the great Seve Ballesteros, who had two victories in 1980 and 1983, and latterly by Sir Nick Faldo who added to his 1989/1990 back-to-back wins by completing the hat-trick in 1996.
American displeasure would eventually dissipate thanks to the emergence of one young man – the supremely talented Tiger Eldrick Woods.
Tiger Roars to Four – Late 1990s & 2000s
Along with Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods has won the Masters on four separate occasions and will have designs on adding to that tally. Whether he will manage this feat, only time will tell. There does seems plenty stacked against such an outcome at present.
What is certain though is that Tiger stunned the golfing world with his performance at Augusta in 1997. Records were smashed mercilessly as Woods became the youngest ever winner of the tournament on his way to securing a record 12 stroke victory over fellow American Tom Kite.
Have a look at some of Tiger's best shots from the 1997 Masters below:
Later that same year he climbed to the top of the Official World Golf Rankings and, in doing so, became the fastest to World Number 1 in history. Going back-to-back in 2001 and 2002 was then followed up by his fourth victory in 2005 – his most recent Green Jacket to date.
Is that disrespectful? The guy is still playing after all.
We certainly don't mean it to be, but if the 20 or so years when Tiger was at his peak were deemed to be his 'era', then something very different exists at present.
The Masters has been won by nine golfers in the 11 editions since Tiger won his last. Furthermore, those victors have originated from almost every inhabitable continent on the globe - with the exception of Asia (and it may not be too long before Matsuyama checks that one off).
The idea of one man's dominance may be gone forever. The notion of a 'Big Three' is too much of a stretch at present. We are enjoying a golfing landscape where, while top players exist, many of those in the field are in the running for each and every tournament.
So who wins the 2017 Masters? We have no idea – and we love it!