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  • Alistair Tait

Amateur angst at Augusta

Amateur champion James Sugrue should enjoy the first two days of the Masters. There’s a good chance he won’t be around for the final two rounds.

History is not on Irishman’s side. Winners of the Amateur Championship usually don’t last four rounds at Augusta National. A look back through the records makes for dismal reading for Amateur Championship fans. Just eight winners of the game's oldest national amateur championship have made the Masters 36-hole cut since one was introduced in 1957. (Note: 1971 Amateur champion Steve Melynk made the 1972 cut but had already turned professional.)

The cut was low 40 players and ties between 1957-1961. It moved to 44 and ties and anyone within 10 shots lead in 1962. That changed in 2013 to 50 and ties and anyone within 10 shots of the lead. The green jackets have dispensed with the 10-shot rule this year. Just the top 50 and ties will make it through to the weekend.

Sugrue, who earned his Masters’ invite by defeating Scotland’s Euan Walker by one hole at Portmarnock last year, has his work cut out for him.

Those eight players who played all four rounds come from a pool of 54 Amateur Championship winners since 1957 who have gone on to play in the Masters, a paltry 14.81% success rate. Frenchman Romain Langasque, the 2015 Amateur champion, was the last player to make the cut. He finished 39th in 2016. Italy’s Matteo Manassero (above) made the cut in 2010. The 2009 Amateur champion, the youngest and first Italian winner, finished 36th and took low amateur honours. He is the youngest winner of the low amateur award.

Sergio Garcia joined compatriot Jose Maria Olazabal as the only players to win the Amateur and the Masters with his 2017 victory. He finished 38th in the 1999 Masters after lifting the 1998 Amateur Championship trophy at Muirfield. He, Manassero and Jay Sigel, the 1979 Amateur champion, are the only Amateur Championship winners to finish low amateur at Augusta. Sigel finished 26th in 1980.

Others Amateur champions to play all four rounds include two-time Amateur champion Peter McEvoy (1978), South Africa’s Bobby Cole (1967), and Americans Deane Beman (1960) and Robert Dickson (1968). Dickson deserves special mention. He won the 1967 Amateur and U.S. Amateur Championships to qualify for the Masters. He finished 22nd in 1968, the lowest finish by an Amateur Championship winner. He has the best 72-hole score of the eight, a level par 288.

Sugrue fans will hope he can better the average opening score at Augusta for Amateur winners. It currently stands at 77.57. It gets slightly worse in round two when it climbs to 77.67. Hard to make the cut from those scores.

No Amateur champion has broken 71 at Augusta. Manassero is one of four players to shoot 71. Trevor Homer, winner of the 1972 and 1974 Amateur Championships, holds the record for highest score with a second round 88 in 1973.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that three of the eight Amateur champions to make the Masters cut are American, since winners of U.S. Amateur Championship have a higher success rate at Augusta. Of the 58 who subsequently played in the Masters, 27 have played all four rounds, or 46.55%. Eighteen have earned low amateur honours.

Americans Frank Stranahan (1947), Ken Venturi (1956) and Charles Coe (1961) have come closest to winning a green jacket as amateurs. They all finished second. E. Harvie Ward Jr has the highest finish of the U.S. Amateur champions who played Augusta the following year. Ward finished fourth in 1957.

Viktor Hovland holds the low 72-hole record by a U.S. Amateur champion with a 3-under-par 285 last year to finish 32nd.

Average first round score for U.S. Amateur champions is 75.54. It falls to 73.72 in round two. Six players have broken 70, with Charlie Coe shooting a best of 67 in the third round of the 1959 Masters.

Maybe the numbers above are why Sugrue is 1,500 to 1 to win this week with bookmakers Ladbrokes, while counterpart Andy Ogletree is 1,000 to 1.

Here’s hoping Sugrue can buck the trend of Amateur angst at Augusta and make the cut.

P.S. Don’t let him read this……

#JustSaying: “It took me more than eight years to mend the young heart that was broken at Augusta National that April.” Ken Venturi on finishing second in the 1956 Masters after a final round 80

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