Feuds, scraps and scandal: golf’s bizarre year
THERE'S drama afoot in the world of golf as we count down to the 83rd edition of the Masters - with the genteel sport turning itself into a purist's war zone in recent weeks.
You see, while the casual sports fan is only now getting ready to tune into the sporting landscape's most perplexing game the truth is the rollercoaster has been rattling along for months.
And true to form it's tossed up a bunch of storylines that left golf fans around the globe scratching their heads.
We're not talking 'Robert Allenby getting kidnapped' levels of bizarre, although the controversial decision by the European Tour to take a tournament to Saudi Arabia has been as poorly received as you might imagine.
But for on-course craziness it has certainly been a funky few weeks.
Because few other sports are capable of giving themselves an unintentional black eye quite like golf - although at this point it's important to note that we're not talking about the off-field scandals which rock the NRL and AFL every year.
We're looking more at Matty Kuchar - the smiling assassin - and his ability to drag himself into the headlines for increasingly trivial reasons.
The man with one of the sport's most recognisable tanlines has been hammered from pillar to post recently, firstly for shortchanging his caddie after pocketing $1.85m.
After initially offering $5000 to his stand-in caddie - who are usually afforded up to 10 per cent of the winners fee - Kuchar doubled down by saying he would "not be losing any sleep" over the furore.
He then backtracked, coughed up $50,000 to his caddie and made a further donation
They're sticklers for tradition, the golf fraternity. And we found that out thanks to Kuchar, again, when he clashed with one of golf's other great villains - the combustible Sergio Garcia.
Just this week the 40-year-old Kuchar split opinions with a controversial concession drama at the WGC-Match Play, when he denied Garcia a six-inch tap-in putt.
Garcia had missed a long putt to win the hole and, in a situation where the hole would normally be conceded, he casually tapped his ball with the back of the putter - which then lipped out from close range.
But he was left dumbfounded when Kuchar called in a rules official to confirm Garcia's missed putt.
Again, the fire raged for days as Kuchar and Garcia were each painted as the villain in equal measure over the contentious ruling.
Garcia, of course, is no stranger to a flare-up. He was disqualified from the inaugural Saudi International in February when he damaged the greens at Royal Greens Golf Club.
That some of the biggest names in golf were playing in Saudi Arabia at all was a point of contention for some experts given the political ramifications of the past six months in which journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside to Saudi consulate in Instanbul after being vocal in his criticisms of Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
There's never a dull day in the world of golf.
But what else has angered the gallery in recent months?
There's the never-ending saga of infuriatingly slow players, an issue which rankles everyone from PGA professionals to your average Sunday hacker stuck behind a sluggish foursome.
Whether it's JB Holmes taking a minute to line up a three-footer or Spieth methodically working his way around Augusta in the slowest way possible, we'll invariably end up discussing.
Although with Spieth likely to be there when the whips are cracking on Sunday, we'll probably end up forgiving him - especially if he ends up in a showdown with the four-time champion Tiger Woods.
Tiger, of course, is back in case you haven't heard.
He was furious after throwing away his quarter-final at the WGC Match Play, bungling a four-foot putt, but had knocked off Rory McIlroy earlier in the week.
The 43-year-old has the fire in the belly and, seemingly, the game to back it up - which is something we've not been able for a long time.
Coming off his best finish of the year, the world No.12 is actually playing with a smile on his face as he chases a fifth title at Augusta.
And from an Australian perspective, the prospect of a second green jacket is not farfetched at all.
Adam Scott is the only Australia to be invited into the clubhouse to slip on golf's most famous - and most fetching - item of clothing, but he headlines a strong list hopefuls with glory in their eyes.
Jason Day (14), Marc Leishman (19) and Cameron Smith (28) all join Scott (29) in being ranked inside the world's top 50 and earning starts at Augusta.
"The four this year are a good chance to win the Masters and I expect them to be in contention on Sunday," said Ian Baker-Finch.
When does The Masters take place?
Thursday, April 11 - Sunday, April 14
What time does it start?
The first groups tee-off at 0830 local time on Thursday and Friday - that's 10.30pm AEST on the same day.
How to watch it in Australia?
Kayo is the answer to your Masters viewing experience - you'll get the usual Masters broadcast as well as access to Amen Corner, featured groups and another camera locked on holes 15 and 16. TV coverage starts at 5am AEDT each day.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE MASTERS
Australians in the field: Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Cameron Smith and 2013 winner Adam Scott
Size of the field: 86
Prize money: The purse is announced after the event. The total 2018 purse was $US11 million, with the winner pocketing $US1.98 million; second place $1.188 million; third place $US748,000; fourth place $US 528,000 and; fifth place $US440,000.
When was the first Masters? The first Masters was held in 1934 as a concept of celebrated amateur golfer Bobby Jones and investment dealer Clifford Roberts, who co-founded Augusta National Golf Club in 1933. The inaugural event was won by Horton Smith
How have Australians performed at the Masters? Adam Scott was the first and still the only Australian to win the Masters when he triumphed in 2013. Runner-ups include 1950 - Jim Ferrier (Australian-born US citizen); 1972 (Bruce Crampton, tied second); 1980 - Jack Newton (tied second); 1986 - Greg Norman (tied second); 1987 - Norman (tied second); 1996 - Norman (solo second); 2011 - Jason Day and Scott (tied second)
How did The Masters become a major championship? Although it has an elite field, the Masters isn't the pinnacle of any one tour or organisation, like the other three majors - the US Open, British Open and the US PGA Championship. Popular opinion among golf writers determined the composition of the current four majors. The Masters derived its popularity from Jones - a star American athlete in the 1920s and '30s who made history when he won the open and amateur championships in the US and the UK in 1930
Why does the winner get a green jacket? Augusta National members began wearing green sports jackets in 1937 so they could be recognised if fans had questions about the tournament. The tradition was expanded to winners being presented with green jackets in 1949.
Who are the highest-profile Augusta National members? Augusta never comments on its membership but reported members include Microsoft chairman Bill Gates; US former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett; oil baron T. Boone Pickens and six-time Masters winner Jack Nicklaus
Who designed the course?
Augusta National's original architect was Alister MacKenzie, whose Australian work includes the West Course at Royal Melbourne, New South Wales Golf Club and Royal Adelaide Golf Club. MacKenzie died in January 1934, after the construction work had been finished but before Augusta National was fully covered with grass.
What are the most popular names seen during the Masters? 'Amen Corner' relates to holes 11, 12 and 13; 'Magnolia Lane' is the driveway leading from Washington Road entrance to the Augusta National's clubhouse and is lined by 60 magnolia trees planted in the 1850s; 'Rae's Creek' is a stream that comes into play on the 12th and 13th holes and is named after former property owner John Rae, who died in 1789; the 'Butler Cabin', built in 1964, is where the winner conducts his interview with CBS and is first presented with the coveted green jacket by the previous Masters champion. - By Evin Priest
HIGHS AND LOWS FOR AUSTRALIAN GOLFERS AT THE MASTERS FIRST AUSTRALIAN AT THE MASTERS
* Jim Ferrier, born and raised in Manly, New South Wales, became the first Australian to play at the Masters in 1940 when, as an amateur, he finished 26th. However, Ferrier became a naturalised American citizen in 1944
* Ferrier became the first Australian-born player to earn a top 10 when he finished tied fourth at the 1946 Masters
AUSTRALIAN CLOSE CALLS
1972 - Bruce Crampton tied for second behind Jack Nicklaus; it was Australia's first runner-up and best result at the Masters
1980 - Jack Newton came within three of Seve Ballesteros with five holes to play, but Ballesteros hung on to victory and Newton finished tied second
2011 - Jason Day and Adam Scott posted the clubhouse lead on Sunday, only for South Africa's Charl Schwartzel to birdie the final four holes to win by two.
1950 - Ferrier led Jimmy Demaret by five shots with six holes to play, but bogeyed five of the last six holes to finish two strokes back as the runner-up
1986 - Greg Norman was tied with Nicklaus going into the 72nd hole. But Norman pushed his approach right on No.18, made bogey and handed Nicklaus his sixth Masters and 18th major. Norman was joint runner-up.
1987 - Norman entered a three-way sudden-death playoff with Seve Ballesteros and Augusta native Larry Mize. Mize miraculously chipped for birdie from off the green on the par-4 11th (the second extra hole) and won when Norman failed to make his birdie putt
1996 - Norman blew a six-shot lead after 54 holes, handing Nick Faldo the green jacket in one of the most iconic losses in golf and sporting history. "I let this one get away," Norman said. "I'll wake up tomorrow morning still breathing, I hope."
MISCELLANEOUS RECORDS AUSTRALIANS OWN OR SHARE
Most eagles in a tournament - Crampton set the record for most eagles (four) in a single Masters in 1974, but it was later equalled by Dustin Johnson (2009) and Tiger Woods (2010)
Course record - in 1996, Norman shot 63 on Thursday to equal Nick Price's 1986 record for lowest 18
Lowest front nine - Norman went out in 30 in the final round in 1988 and shares the record with Jonny Miller (1975), KJ Choi (2004), Phil Mickelson (2009) and Gary Woodland (2014)
Lowest first round - Norman (63) owns the record outright for lowest ever first round
Lowest second round - With a 64, Day (2011) shares the record with Miller Barber (1979) and Jay Haas (1995)
Lowest final round - Norman closed with a 64 in 1988 and shares the record with five others including Hale Irwin (1975) and Gary Player (1978) - By Evin Priest