Five Aussies. One, a past Masters champion and the other the reigning Open Championship winner tipped to be the next Aussie winner at Augusta National. All united in their pursuit of Masters glory.
Welcome to the 2023 Masters.
World No.6 and LIV superstar Cameron Smith, 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott, former world No.1 Jason Day, DP World Tour winner Min Woo Lee and amateur Harrison Crowe form the Australian contingent at Augusta National.
Can one of them win? Absolutely.
Although our Aussie troupe is split across several tours, including LIV Golf, each of the five players has the calibre to get in contention this week. Our best player, Smith left the PGA Tour as a six-time winner last year shortly after taking his first major at the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews.
But the honest Queenslander has stayed true to himself and that was why he was greeted warmly on the range at Augusta by his former colleagues on the PGA Tour. He also faced the media as the only LIV golfer on the Masters press conference schedule, where he handled reporters’ questions like a seasoned pro with trademark honesty and humour.
With the nerves of that reception over, Smith is cool and calm and ready to improve on his four top-10s from six Masters starts.
Greetings at Augusta have come no warmer than Smith’s fellow Australian, and childhood idol, Scott. The 14-time PGA Tour winner Scott played two practice rounds with Smith at Augusta this week. The pair caught up on everything that had passed since they’d seen each other during the Australian summer of golf.
“Cam and I are good mates,” Scott said. “None of this [LIV Golf] has had any effect on our relationship at all. We often play practice rounds at majors, so I’m glad we got to have a hit today.
“As far as he and I are concerned, we’ve shared our thoughts on [LIV]. He’s obviously said he’s at peace with where things are, and I am too. We have all made our decisions and are going about our business and we’re just out here playing and trying to get ready for the Masters.”
Day, the 12-time PGA Tour winner and 2015 PGA champion, agreed: “I’m looking forward to catching up with him [Smith],” Day said. “I saw a bunch of the other [LIV] guys out on the range, and it’s nice to see their faces again. I miss them a lot because a lot of those guys were my friends, and still are my friends.”
Smith is Australia’s best chance at a green jacket this week given the 29-year-old is at the top of his game. He might not have had the results he’d have wanted so far this year – a missed cut at the Saudi International, as well as a T5, T24 and T26 in three LIV starts. But considering he finished tied third at last year’s Masters behind winner Scottie Scheffler, and tied second to Dustin Johnson in 2020, Smith and Augusta National were made for each other. During practice rounds, his driving has been solid, and his approach play has looked impeccable.
Smith said the silver lining to his slow start to 2023 was that he was feeling revitalised after two months in Australia. He wouldn’t have had that much time in Australia under his old PGA Tour schedule, but LIV’s extended offseason allowed Smith to get back to his roots in Brisbane.
Now, he’s hungry for major victory No.2.
“Some extended time at home was good for the soul; I’m a happy person again,” Smith said after his final practice round Wednesday.
Rated one of the best putters in the world, Smith also said his irons and short game were feeling sharp. That’s important given Augusta National is one of the most demanding courses in the world for approach shots and around the greens.
“My irons feel really good, and the short game feels nice,” Smith said Wednesday afternoon. “My driver is something I need to keep an eye on and keep it tight. But I’m feeling really good.”
The 87th Masters is shaping up to be a wet, cold Masters and the five Aussies will need to dig deep to play their best golf with rain forecast for Friday’s second round, before 11C temperatures settle in for Saturday’s third round and chilly temperatures on Sunday’s final round, too.
“Usually at the Masters, Augusta is firm and fast early on in the week and the greens are crusty,” Smith said. “But during practice rounds this week, with the rain they’ve had, the the greens are quite receptive and the course is playing longer.”
Fans could make an argument that Day is in fact the top Australian to watch given he has five top-10s on the PGA Tour this season, four of which came in a row in March. He has a stellar record at the Masters, having tied second on debut in 2011 and third behind a victorious Scott in 2013. He also finished tied fifth behind Tiger Woods in 2019.
Day feels he has learned enough around the hallowed turf of Augusta to be a force this week.
“I think one of my top three [experiences in my career] is definitely when I was standing on 16 with a two-shot lead in 2013; and losing that lead was an experience, something more valuable than actually when I finished second in 2011 when I birdied the last two holes,” Day said. “I enjoyed that, but I learnt so much more from 2013 and losing that lead and going through that stress and the emotion, the emotional side of it was a far more valuable experience in my view, and being able to learn from that was huge for me.”
Two-time European Tour winner Lee said playing in the final group with Scottie Scheffler at the recent Players Championship, which Scheffler won and Lee faded to a tie for sixth, had given him that big stage experience to be confident at this Masters.
“It’s amazing to be back,” Lee said of his tie for 14th on debut at the Masters last year. “I feel like I’m a bit better a golfer than last year. I’m really happy to be back. It’s my favourite course and favourite tournament.”
Crowe has been able to play practice rounds with all four Australians and said he’d gleaned invaluable tips for his Masters debut, which he secured by winning the 2022 Asia Pacific Amateur.
“It’s been awesome,” Sydney native Crowe said. “[Smith and Scott] both have pretty good track records around here. It’s nice to pick their brains a little bit. For the most part, we had fun out there. It was just kind of getting to know them a little bit better. It was awesome, the camaraderie around here this week.”
Camaraderie might be all this group needs to give Augusta National another Aussie shake up.
GET TO KNOW THE AUSSIES AT THE MASTERS
World ranking: 5
Major wins: 1 (2022 Open Championship)
PGA Tour wins: 6
Best finish at The Masters: T2 in 2020
Best finish in 2023: T5 at LIV Golf Mayakoba
The background: With top-10s in four of the past five Masters, Smith has become Australia’s perennial Augusta favourite. The adulation for the Open champion in his home country over summer rivalled that of Scott in 2013 and he responded with victory at the Australian PGA at Royal Queensland. His move to LIV Golf makes this year’s preparation far less intense than years gone by and it will be intriguing to see what effect that has on his performance.
The quote: “I feel like I’ve played my best golf I’ve ever played around there. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good record around there.”
World ranking: 33
Major wins: 1 (2015 US PGA)
PGA Tour wins: 12
Best finish at The Masters: T2 in 2011
Best finish in 2022: 5th at WM Phoenix Open
The background: The former world No.1 enters his 12th Masters – and first since 2021 – as a genuine contender with form on the board. He has risen 82 spots in the world rankings this year and has twice flirted with Masters victory, including in 2013 where he led by one with three holes to play. For a player who has faced repeated questions about injury and longevity, Day is now back, fit and firing.
The quote: “I feel like I’m learning more and more about my overall game and how my body works, especially through the swing and obviously off the golf course too because I’ve battled injuries. I’ll probably think the same way going all the way through to the end of my career. It’s more about the journey and enjoying that process, and then the wins hopefully get in the way.”
World ranking: 38
Major wins: 1 (2013 Masters)
PGA Tour wins: 14
Best finish at The Masters: Won in 2013
Best finish in 2022: T21 at Sony Open
The background: On the 10-year anniversary of his 2013 victory, Scott is still chasing that elusive second major championship. Making his 22nd start at Augusta National, Scott has played 28 of his 80 rounds at Augusta under par and comes in with two decades of experience to call upon. Although results in 2023 might suggest otherwise, he believes his form is sound enough that an anniversary green jacket is not out of reach.
The quote: “I think (the anniversary) is going to be a motivation. I’m a little surprised I haven’t come close to winning since, but I feel like I have a lot of opportunities in front of me. I’ve been chipping away at a lot of things and if I put myself in the right head space this week and get out of my own way a little bit and get on a run I can move my way to the top of the leaderboard,” Scott told NCA NewsWire’s Russell Gould.
Min Woo Lee
World ranking: 47
Major wins: 0
PGA Tour wins: 0
Best finish at The Masters: T14 (2022)
Best finish in 2023: T2 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
The background: After equalling the record for the lowest front nine at Augusta National in the final round on debut in 2022, Lee’s tie for 14th was one shot shy of automatic qualification for the 2023 Masters. The Perth native had to wait a further 50 weeks to confirm his second invitation to Augusta National, his place inside the top 50 in the world ranking after the WGC-Match Play clinching his second straight appearance.
The quote: “It was a great debut and not many people have done that and having the equal record gives me a lot of confidence that I can go out and shoot that number.”
Harrison Crowe (a)
World ranking: 501
Major wins: 0
PGA Tour wins: 0
Best finish at The Masters: First appearance
Best finish in 2023: T29 at Play Today NSW Open
How he qualified: 2022 Asia-Pacific Amateur Champion
The background: Conjured a brilliant up-and-down on the final hole to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur in Thailand last October and secure starts at both The Masters and The Open Championship in 2023. Currently 33rd in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and has been as high as 23rd. Won the 2022 NSW Open to become the first player since Jim Ferrier in 1950 to win the NSW Amateur and NSW Open in the same year.
The quote: “I want to play good enough to go back next year. Go as a pro. So that’s top 12. That’s the goal.”