Augusta’s four-time conqueror and twenty-year stalwart Tiger Woods has had to call off his charge to the battlefield due to injury and this opens the possibility to the players ranked behind the American in top spot to fight their way to victory.
With that in mind does Stephen Gallacher, the lone Scot in the field (besides veteran Sandy Lyle), stand a chance at grabbing the Green jacket?
Last year’s winner Adam Scott is among the favourites, while Colin Montgomerie has tipped fellow Aussie Jason Day to build on his Masters form.
Everyone will have to look out for Phil Mickelson, as always, with ‘Lefty’ looking to equal Tiger’s quadruple haul and Rory McIlroy represents the greatest hope for a Brit to win the tournament. Augusta typically suits players with long drive ability and superior ball flight and it is essential to have supreme short game. Mickelson and McIlroy are both very well-known for these traits.
So, with all of these men in contention, such as BBC commentary legends Peter Alliss and Ken Brown’s pick: Sergio Garcia.
Looking through the field we see major winners, perennial top-20 players and those on seemingly the cusp of greatness.
Being honest and realistic, Stephen Gallacher isn’t really any of those things.
Neither was Charl Schwartzel.
Schwartzel claimed the Green Jacket two years ago and very few people outside of the professional golf world had ever heard of him. Schwartzel had six titles to his name, five of them on the Sunshine Tour. Only his Dunhill Championship (the South African tournament, not the links tournament in Scotland) play-off win came on the more prestigious European Tour.
Schwartzel wasn’t a nobody by any means – he was ranked 29th in the world. Gallacher is only nine places below that currently. Moreover, Gallacher has a similar haul of wins – four (three on the European Tour and one on the Challenge Tour). Incidentally, Gallacher also won an Alfred Dunhill event – the Dunhill Links Championship (his win also came in the same year as Schwartzel’s and how freaky is this – Gallacher is only one place behind Schawrtzel in the European Tour Race to Dubai rankings).
Just as surprising as Schwartzel’s win was the triumph of countryman Trevor Immelman, who had to overcome various injuries to simply make the field in 2008.
All of these coincidences won’t help Gallacher once he sets foot on the lush green fairways but one man who can will be his playing partner Darren Clarke. I expect the two to get along, push each other and for 2011 Open winner Clarke to offer Gallacher some casual but helpful advice now and then as they maneuver the course. Gallacher also played some practice rounds with 1988 champion Lyle.
Even with their help though, it will be a Herculean task for Gallacher to win one of golf’s signature events. He is in form though, after defending his Dubai Desert Classic title in February.
Only three players have ever won the tournament on their Augusta debut – Horton Smith and Gene Sarazen in 1934 and 1935 and Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
Gallacher told the BBC: “I think anybody, on their day, can win this tournament” but that he isn’t setting any solid expectations: “I just want to enjoy the week, play well and see what happens.”
Whatever does happen Steven, we hope you do well. We’re not expecting a win because even just to see a new Scot in the field is refreshing. Scottish golf could really do with a nice performance to add to a big year for the sport and sport in the country in general.
Listen to BBC Radio 5Live’s preview here: