Masters Has Long Captivated Ogilvy

Tuesday, April 3rd 2007, 7:45 am
By: News On 6

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) _ Nothing could drag Geoff Ogilvy out of bed before dawn when he was growing up. Nothing, that is except the Masters. On one day each year, he would be awake and settled in front of the television at 4 a.m., a full hour before coverage of the Masters even began in Australia.

``There's such a mystique about it,'' Ogilvy said Monday. ``It's just so hard to imagine a place like this when you grow up in Australia and see it on TV. It's so far-fetched.''

So, it's seemed at times, was the idea of an Aussie winning at Augusta National.

The Masters is the one major championship the Australians have yet to win. Worse, it broke the heart of Greg Norman so many times the entire country still feels the ache.

The Shark was the dominant player of his era, a two-time major winner who held the No. 1 ranking longer than anyone until Tiger Woods came along. But it's his agony at the Masters that is his trademark.

Norman was a 4-iron into the gallery on 18 from winning in 1986. A year later, Larry Mize beat him in a playoff after an unbelievable chip from 140 feet. Then there was that debacle in 1996.

Taking a six-shot lead into the final round, Norman imploded with a 78 and finished five strokes behind Nick Faldo.

``I remember hitting balls that day, because it inspired me to not do that,'' Ogilvy said. ``It's a weird way to get inspired, but I just got so fired up to practice that day because I thought, `If I ever get there, I don't want to do that.' Because that was hard to watch.''

There were no meltdowns when Ogilvy finally got to Augusta last year; he finished 16th.

Two months later, though, he found himself the winner of the U.S. Open after another famous player's Norman-esque collapse.

Phil Mickelson went to 18 at Winged Foot needing just a par to join Tiger Woods as the only players in the last 50 years to win three straight majors. But he overcut his drive, hit a tree with his second shot and found a plugged lie in a bunker with his third shot. His double bogey left him a stroke behind Ogilvy _ and made the Aussie a major champion.

Far more was made of Mickelson's meltdown than Ogilvy's victory, but Ogilvy didn't care.

``I didn't read a paper or watch TV for a few weeks after the U.S. Open on purpose, because I preferred to just sit at home and look at the trophy,'' he said. ``Maybe if I win another one or two down the track in my career, it will give that one more credibility.

``But the trophy is making a nice little dust ring on my shelf at the moment.''

It's not as if Ogilvy was some one-hit wonder, either. Two months shy of his 30th birthday, he has three PGA Tour victories. After his win at Winged Foot, he finished 16th at the British Open and was ninth at the PGA Championship.

This year, he's finished in the top 10 in three of the seven events he's played, including a tie for third at the CA Championship two weeks ago.

While Mickelson and Tiger Woods are the obvious favorites this week, Ogilvy is someone who certainly could give them a challenge if he plays well.

``Half the battle in majors is feeling like you can win,'' he said. ``Because the first time you tee it up in one of these things, just playing in it is overwhelming. Thinking you can win is the first hurdle to being able to actually do it.

``You'll feel better about it on the weekend because I've been there kind of recently,'' he added. ``Rather than a guy who has not been there or hasn't been there for quite a while.''

And he's not the only Aussie who could be a factor on Sunday, either.

Unlike Norman, who carried the flag for the entire country, there's a crowd of players from Down Under who could contend at Augusta. There are seven Australians in the Masters field, including Aaron Baddeley, who won the FBR Open in early February, and Adam Scott, who arrives fresh off a win over fellow Australian Stuart Appleby at the Houston Open.

Last year, Mickelson won his second green jacket after winning in Atlanta the previous weekend.

``I feel great about my game, but I'm certainly not predicting a win at Augusta. Although I'm feeling better now going into it than I did at the start of the week,'' Scott said.

Indeed, all it takes is one good week, and Australia's long drought could finally be over.

``It's actually not a drought because it's never rained at all,'' Ogilvy said, drawing laughs.

``Someone will do it,'' he said, turning serious. ``Five years ago, there's one or two guys who might do all right in the Masters. There's five or six Australians that I could see legitimately wearing a green jacket on Sunday, and that's more than ever before.''

If Ogilvy or any of his fellow Aussies could break through this week, an entire country would rejoice.

Those painful memories of Norman wouldn't quite disappear, but they would certainly fade.

``Any tournament would be good to win,'' Ogilvy said. ``This would be unbelievable.''