Bernard Gallacher’s Masters Preview

Neil Robertson, 21st March 2018

masters

Bernard Gallacher playing at the 1970 Masters. Credit: Getty Images

 

With the 2018 Masters now just days away and to celebrate the launch of interactive predictor ‘What Makes A Masters Champion‘, who better to speak to than someone who has had the honour of playing at the famous tournament? Step forward Bernard Gallacher.

 

INTERVIEWER

Let’s get it out of the way to start with. There’s been so much focus on Tiger Woods’ comeback and his odds for Augusta have been slashed – can he do it?

BERNARD GALLACHER

Tiger has a great chance to win at Augusta because he plays the course so well, having won there on four occasions. The course suits him because he can hit it for long distances – the first time he won in 1998, he hit the balls 20 yards past everybody else in the field and ended up winning by 12 strokes.

He knows the course and if you asked any player in the field who’s likely to win the Masters, they’d probably say Tiger.

Tiger’s the real elephant in the room – everyone’s been so surprised at how well he’s played since coming back from injury. His recent T2 finish at the Valspar and another strong finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational showed that he’s recovered from his back operation and is well on the way to achieving full fitness. You can see the improvement in his game and it’s getting back to where he wants it to be.

 

INTERVIEWER

Which European players do you think might have a chance to win at Augusta this year?

BERNARD GALLACHER

If we’re looking at European contenders, Jon Rahm is the standout. Spaniards have traditionally done well at Augusta, as we’ve seen with Seve Ballesteros and José María Olazábal, and Jon looks set to follow in their footsteps. He’s a very consistent player, he doesn’t make many mistakes and he’s the right age for being a good putter.

Rory also has a great chance because he is full of confidence after his Arnold Palmer Invitational win. He met with Brad Faxon for a putting lesson, which seems to have made all the difference on the greens.

Another European I think has a good chance is Justin Rose, who has a good record at Augusta having narrowly lost the play-off to Sergio Garcia in last year’s tournament. Paul Casey is also on good form and has the game to win, along with Henrik Stenson.

Sergio, I believe, will find being the defending champion too much of a distraction.

 

INTERVIEWER

You referenced a change in Rory McIlroy’s confidence. What does he need to do to get over the line at a course for which his game seems so well suited?

BERNARD GALLACHER

I’ve always felt it’s a mindset issue with Rory – confidence has arguably been the missing link in his game. However, as I’ve said, working with Brad Faxon and getting a victory under his belt seems to have transformed his mentality. If he can replicate his recent form on the greens in Augusta, he has every chance of winning the Masters.

You can never discount Rory McIlroy, but the only caveat is that he’s under a bit more pressure than normal because he’s trying to complete his set of Grand Slam victories at Augusta. We all know Rory has the ability and tee to green – it’s how he putts on the week.

 

INTERVIEWER

There are plenty of contenders this year from all over the world. Dustin Johnson is the favourite but who do you think will be in the mix come Sunday afternoon?

BERNARD GALLACHER

I’d expect Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas as well as Jon Rahm to be in contention. They’re not officially the top three golfers in the world for nothing.

Dustin will be anxious to make up for last year’s disappointment, when he was forced to pull out because of a back injury. He’s got the game to win on any course, especially Augusta, and under coach Butch Harmon he has improved his short game. He basically has no weaknesses and, in my opinion, whoever finishes ahead of Dustin will win the Masters.

 

INTERVIEWER

How, if at all, do you think the challenge at Augusta has changed over the years since Seve, Faldo and the Europeans first started to show their strength at Augusta in the 1980s?

BERNARD GALLACHER

Augusta really hasn’t changed a lot, apart from a few new longer tees. It still boils down to who has the courage to cope with the incredibly fast, undulating greens, and of course the sense of occasion.

 

INTERVIEWER

You played in The Masters in 1970 when you were just 21. That must have been an incredible experience – what are your memories of that week?

BERNARD GALLACHER

My memories were of Augusta being a very hilly course with no rough and fast greens, so nothing much has changed.

However, I did meet Bobby Jones, who watched play from his wheelchair by the 9th green. That was very memorable and it was an honour to meet him.

 

INTERVIEWER

What do you think is the most interesting hole at Augusta and why?

BERNARD GALLACHER

The most interesting hole is short 12th at Amen Corner. It’s one of the most hallowed places in golf, and rightly so. It’s only 155 yards but it’s played across Rae’s Creek to a narrow green, where a capricious breeze can easily upset even the world’s best golfers – as it did to Jordan Speith a couple of years ago.

 

INTERVIEWER

What type of player is ideally suited to Augusta? What is the key to cracking the Augusta code?

BERNARD GALLACHER

Augusta is ideally suited to a long hitter with a good touch on the greens. That’s why, in the past, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have been so successful at Augusta – because of the distances they get on their shots.

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