Bernard Gallacher’s 2019 Masters Review

Neil Robertson, 24th April 2019

Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters in dramatic style, 14 years after his last triumph at Augusta. We get Bernard Gallacher’s thoughts on the thrilling tournament.

14 years after his last Masters win, Tiger Woods has finally won again at Augusta, his 15th Major. What did you make of his sensational victory?

It was a great victory and a sensational performance. Tiger played imperiously and he proved he still has what it takes to win a Major, despite not winning one since the 2008 US Open. It was a privilege to watch him go about his business on Sunday afternoon.

Tiger is like a magnet on television. When he’s getting into contention, you’re all focused on him. It’s no coincidence that the viewing figures for this year’s Masters were so high – not only did the early finish mean more British viewers tuned in, the Tiger Woods effect clearly played a part as well.

As we know, it boils down to the last nine holes at Augusta, and Tiger has got the patience to know that. He was behind all week and the likes of Molinari, Koepka, Finau and Johnson were playing well around him, but you always felt that Tiger would bide his time and allow other players to make mistakes.

He’s got the right experience and he knows the course well, having won four Masters titles. His opponents will have known that Tiger wouldn’t back down, so there was definitely a fear factor there. It was great to watch from a neutral perspective and hopefully this is the start of Tiger’s comeback.

There’s a generation of golf fans which hadn’t previously seen Tiger at the best. Now they know what all the fuss is about!

 

There was a five-year period when Tiger didn’t win a single tournament, and he had spinal surgery only 2 years ago. Where does his comeback win rank among the greatest moments in sports history?

Tiger winning the Masters, especially after all the issues he’s experienced, is definitely up there with some of the greatest moments ever. It ranks alongside Ben Hogan’s victory after he came back from career-threatening surgery.

Tiger’s injury was clearly much worse than we initially thought. When he was getting treatment before and after each round at the Mexico Championship and couldn’t complete a swing, it was obvious that he was in serious pain.

It’s come out recently that Tiger said to Jack Nicklaus at a Masters champions dinner two years ago that he was finished and his golf days were over. The operation has been miraculous and he’s now won the Masters, which would have been almost unthinkable two years ago.

He’s playing pain-free for the first time in years, he looks lean, he’s swinging within himself, and it’s great to see. Jack Nicklaus has even come out and said that he doesn’t want Tiger Woods not getting near his record because of bad health. It won’t be fun for Jack if Tiger beats his record, but he deserves it if he does.

 

Jack Nicklaus has come out and said he’s ‘shaking in his boots’ at the prospect of Tiger overhauling his Majors wins. Do you think time is on Tiger’s side and does he need to win 18 to be considered the greatest ever?

Yes, I think he can now at least equal Jack’s record of 18 Majors. You’ll get very short odds on that, I would think, and bookmakers don’t get much wrong!

Tiger is 43 years old, so conservatively speaking he should have at least five years left at the top of his game. That means he’ll compete in three majors this year and 20 over the next four years, he’s 23 opportunities to beat Jack’s record.

This is certainly achievable, and if his fitness and desire hold up, he might go on even longer than three years. After all, Tom Watson nearly won the Open in 2009 when he was 59 years old!

In terms of whether you can consider Tiger the greatest ever, obviously he needs to equal Jack’s record for us to have a discussion about it.

It’s always difficult to compare golfers from different eras, and Tiger has been the standout player of his generation but, in my opinion, Jack played in an era of better golfers than Tiger. He played in an era of Lee Trevino, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and many others, and he managed to transcend and beat these great players.

My leaning is towards Jack, but Tiger can definitely be considered the greatest ever if he matches his number of Majors.
 

Francesco Molinari came flying out the traps early on and was imperious on the first 63 holes. However, it all went wrong for him at the 12th and 15th holes. Does this reiterate just how challenging the back nine at Augusta can be?

Molinari only hit two bad shots in the whole tournament but they were crucial shots at the wrong time. The pressure inexorably increases as you play the back nine, with water coming into play on five of the holes, and that was where it went wrong for Molinari.

His shot at the 12th was down to lack of experience – Tiger took no chances at the 12th, he tried to hit it between the two bunkers. Molinari took on the pin at the 12th and came up short in the water, but Tiger was patient and just stuck it in the middle of the green, and this approach paid off for him.

Then there was Molinari’s poor tee shot at the par-5 15th  for the double bogey, whereas Tiger hit a great tee shot with a 7-iron to get the birdie. Although he finished strongly in the last three holes, he made mistakes at critical moments, which Tiger hasn’t really done in his career.

 

Rory McIlroy was tipped as one of the favourites but failed to live up to expectations, finishing outside the top-10 at Augusta for the first time since 2013. Where did it go wrong for him?

It didn’t go massively wrong for Rory, but I’m disappointed he didn’t play better. His opening couple of rounds gave him too much to do and just took him out of contention.

It’s a shame because he came to Augusta full of confidence, having won The Players Championship last month, but the burden of trying to win the Masters to complete his Grand Slam took its toll. You’d have to put his performance down to the pressure of the occasion.

He’s said that he might play golf the week before the Masters next year, which I think is the right thing to do. This will take his mind off the tournament and maybe by doing this he’ll treat the Masters like a normal event, rather than making a big deal of it.

Rory shouldn’t be too disheartened by his display. His record in America is terrific, he has the game to win and needs to be patient. He could well win a Major before the season’s out and eventually, I believe he’ll complete his Grand Slam at Augusta.

 

Another British favourite, Justin Rose, missed his first ever cut at the Masters. Why did he fall short again and are some of his recent Major performances a cause for concern?

To be fair to Justin, he’s got a good record at the Masters. He finished runner up to Sergio Garcia in 2017 and he was World Number 1 coming into this year’s tournament.

Justin, like Rory, started the week as one of the favourites and there was a lot of pressure on him because he’s good enough to win another Major. I think he felt that pressure, because his opening round score of 76 left him with a lot to do. It was virtually impossible for him to win the Masters after that because there were too many players in front of him.

He then recovered slightly in the second round but then he missed the cut because of his poor putting, which is unusual for Justin. It just wasn’t his week – I don’t think it’s anything to be too concerned about.

The only thing that worries me about Justin is he’s very technical. You maybe don’t want him to be any more technical than he is. His coach is studying his every movement on his iPhone and he’s got a TrackMan simulator telling him where the club’s going. I just hope that he doesn’t get too technical, because it could play on his mind a little bit.

 

The start time for the final round of the Masters tournament was moved to the early-morning hours for the time in the tournament’s history. What role did the weather play in proceedings?

Well, I’ve certainly never sat in an armchair so long to watch golf! The earlier start time suited me and many other British spectators down to the ground, because we were able to stay up and watch the whole thing. Normally I’m watching it at midnight and falling asleep, but this time I watched for two or three hours.

I spoke to Paul McGinley the other day and he said the greens were much slower than normal because the wind didn’t get up and the sun didn’t come out. The conditions were more benign than in previous years and this played into the hands of the big hitters like Tiger, Koepka, Johnson and Finau.

Most years, Tiger would not have been able to stop the ball short near the hole at the 9th when he was at the back of the green. In previous years, that wouldn’t have got within 10 feet, which showed just how slow the greens were at Augusta.

 

What was your favourite moment of the Masters and why?

It would have to be Tiger’s children and his mother waiting for him at the 18th. It was a very emotional moment.

Of course, his children have never seen him win a Major. Throughout their respective childhoods, he’s been in pain and struggling, so to suddenly see him win a Major must have been surreal for them. They can now appreciate just how important he is for the game of golf.

We tend to forget that Tiger is a family man, like everyone else. There’s this public image of him as someone who’s won loads of Majors and aspects of his private life have been well documented, but nowadays he’s a very strong family man and it was poignant that he got to share this iconic moment with his mother, son and daughter. They’re pleased to see Tiger back, like we all are!

 

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