The Masters - Golf: Title defence proves so difficult

05 April 2022 20:30:10 GMTPlus10
Jordan Spieth cams clsoe to securing a second consecutive Masters title in 2016

A Green Jacket being placed upon your shoulders at the Augusta National is one of the moments of which every golfer dreams.

You are one of the select few who has tamed the most famous test in golf and joined the group of Masters champions.

You even get to choose what will be on the menu for the captain's dinner during the week before the latest tournament starts and you are the one who gets to present the great prize to your successor.

But it is a crown that players have found difficult to live up to in recent years and you have to go back to 2002 for the last time a player made a successful defence of the first Major of the year.

Tiger one of a truly elite trio

That player was Tiger Woods, who claimed a three-shot victory over Retief Goosen that year after the South African faded with a closing 74, with Phil Mickelson, Jose Maria Olazabal and Ernie Els all held at bay.

Woods had beaten David Duval by two shots 12 months earlier to win his second Green Jacket and became just the third player to chalk up consecutive triumphs.

Jack Nicklaus - who holds the record with six Augusta wins - won in both 1965 and 1966 and Nick Faldo, the first English winner, won successive play-offs against Scott Hoch in 1989 and 1976 champion Ray Floyd in 1990.

So, how have defending champions got on since and who has come the closest to joining those three greats of the game in attaining this distinction.

Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama will become the latest player to attempt to emulate Woods, Faldo and Nicklaus when he tees off as champion.

He was forced to pull out of the Valero Texas Open last week with a neck injury and had a problem with his arm that left him unable to play in February’s Phoenix Open.

But it may not just be his fitness issues that are against him. History suggests he might struggle too.

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Garcia suffers defence nightmare

Maybe it is the distractions of Masters week that get on top of champions before they head for the first tee, but the last five years have seen some poor performances from those defending their crowns.

In the last five years, three defenders, including Dustin Johnson last year, have failed to make the weekend. The other two were Sergio Garcia and England’s Danny Willett and it is safe to say the Spaniard had the most miserable defence in Masters history.

He was two-over-par in his first round in 2018 when he lined up his approach to the 15th, but he found the water and repeated the trick with four pitches that caught the slope and trickled back into the drink.

His 13 on that hole tied with the worst score on any Masters hole and it put paid to any hopes he had of making the weekend let alone claiming another triumph.

There was hardly a dry eye in the house when Woods completed his comeback with a win in 2019, but even he was able to finish only tied for 38th in his next attempt and Patrick Reed - who presented Woods with his fifth Green Jacket - was 36th in his defence.

Spieth lets it slip

Just two defending champions have posted a top-20 finish the next year since Angel Cabrera was tied for tenth in 2010.

Australian Adam Scott was 14th when Bubba Watson claimed the second of his two titles in 2014, but by far the best effort from a champion came from Jordan Spieth in 2015.

The Texan had clearly taken an immediate liking to Augusta National when he had finished second alongside Sweden’s Jonas Blixt behind Watson.

The following year Spieth stormed off with opening rounds of 64 and 66 on his way to a four-shot victory over Justin Rose and it looked as if fans would be in for more of the same 12 months later.

Spieth looked to be powering to another success as he took a five-shot lead into the final nine holes, but the Sunday back nine is often the time the Masters springs into life and it certainly did in 2016.

The defending champion dropped a shot on both the tenth and the 11th, but the alarm bells really rang on the par-three 12th, when he carded a quadruple bogey after missing the green to the right and finding the water and then duffing his subsequent chip from the drop zone.

He finished tied for second, three shots behind Willett, but while this was easily the closest someone had come to retaining the crown since Woods’ 2002 triumph, it was a defence that will ultimately be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

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