James Lawton: It needed deeds of 'The Duck' El Pato to save the Masters from harming the spirit of golf

There are rules and there are sponsors and advertisers... and they seem to have achieved the same status

Adam Scott did what the Great White Shark, his brilliantly talented Australian compatriot Greg Norman, couldn’t and he did it with nerve so superb it banished for ever the charge that he is a choker.

But if his redemption, less than a year after throwing away the Open title that should now be nestling with the Green Jacket, was in some ways as spectacular as Bubba Watson’s near miraculous triumph here last spring, there is also a powerful case to salute another kind of hero of the 77th Masters.

An old-style golfer that is, a man who plays the game with the passion that drove him on as a shoeless 12-year-old caddie and part-time chicken thief in his native Cordoba, Argentina. Angel Cabrera, 43, came within an inch of winning here for the second time, and gaining his third major title, but in his defeat there was surely a most soothing consolation.

It is that unlike his 32-year-old conqueror, El Pato – The Duck – remains utterly detached from the controversies that in the last few days have placed serious question marks against the spirit of a game that has always supposed to be the last redoubt of superior sporting tradition – and impeccable competitive honesty.

No one has a bad word for the admirable and amiable character of Scott – and rarely has a winner and loser dealt with their fate with such warm comradeship as the Australian and the Argentine in the damp Georgia gloaming – but it is still impossible not to wince at the fact that the former is now the fourth major champion in six tournaments who has resorted to the “anchor” putting technique.

Ernie Els, who profited from Scott’s meltdown at Lytham last summer, is one of them but is on the record that it is a form of cheating and something he will persist with entirely for his own benefit until its scheduled banning in 2016. From Els it is a notable display of candour in a sport which is increasingly compromised by an apparent willingness to put expediency before the imperatives lain down by the men who shaped the spirit of the game.

Only heaven knows what the father of the US Masters, the great major-winning amateur Bobby Jones, would have made of the fact that the US PGA is showing fierce opposition to the alliance of the rule-making Royal and Ancient and the US Golf Association to make long and belly-putters discarded artefacts of a time when money – and all that of it which flows to the vastly hyped and sponsoring equipment market – became the supreme arbiter in a game which was once an exclusive matter of an individual golfer and his own conscience.

He would also have wondered with much incredulity how the hugely talented 14-year-old Tianlang Guan could have been taught a game which requires shot-making deliberations which sometimes seem to impinge upon eternity. The old pro Walter Hagen once declared that all golfers should from time to time stop to smell the flowers. He would have been unlikely to have whispered such a message to Guan, especially if the clock was running.

The row over the one-stroke penalty handed to Guan was soon enough dwarfed by the escape of Tiger Woods from the classic rules of golf – rather than the cynical options eagerly embraced by the Masters’ rules committee – but not before ESPN’s Jim Nelford, a superbly gifted young Canadian professional of great potential before a boating accident wrecked his career in the 80s, asked: “Where is this game going? When a kid of 14 who is obviously full of talent plays the game so slowly you have to question what is happening. My theory is that so many golfers are having their creativity simply coached away. The greatest thing you see in golf is a little touch of genius, a spontaneity that just wells up on the course. Now, everything seems to be about the safest option.”

The American professional – and TV analyst – Brad Faxon was one strong voice of concern when Scott became the latest player to walk to the mountain top aided by a long putter. He said: “The question you have to ask is this: ‘what would the men who made golf have thought about this?’ They would have said it wasn’t part of the game.”

They would also have been left askance by the Tiger affair when one of the most basic rules of the game was flouted – whether it was consciously or not is utterly beside the point – with no greater consequence than a two-stroke penalty.

They might have asked why it was that the reaction within golf was so tepid – and especially on the television screen. In England they would have heard one voice of the game, Peter Allis’s gliding over the issue – and here in America, another one, Sir Nick Faldo’s, changing its tone almost in mid-sentence. Faldo’s first reaction was that Woods would have to live with the shame of not walking away. Then, long before the sun sank below the pines, he said that he had re-considered the “time-line” and unconditionally revoked his earlier position.

Long-time observers of the relationship between the US Masters, the jewel of golf broadcasting, and the television industry were less than stunned by Faldo’s volte face. They remembered vividly enough the exiling of former player and commentator Gary McCord when he was bold enough to criticise the lightning speed of the 17th green back in 1994.

He said that the green looked as if it had been “bikini-waxed” and that body bags had been laid out for all those golfers who had misjudged their approach shots. His penalty was an unchallenged ban. It was the price of making jokes on sacred and fiercely protected turf.

It has been difficult not to believe that similar chemistry has been at work, at least subliminally, over the last few days.

Augusta, undoubtedly, has become golf’s most compelling piece of television property. It may be an infant compared to the Open, it may lack the history and the wild whims of the links, but with its permanent, exquisite location, its fiercely manufactured lore, and a course which has provoked some of the most extraordinary deeds in the history of the game it has become a place of unique attraction.

It is this, it is reasonable to suspect, that underpinned the perilous position of the Tiger this week despite his admission that he had been thinking more about the strategic demands of a shot than the rules of the game in which he remains, by some distance, the most valuable player.

When Tiger plays, even after the years of dishevelment, the base audience is enlarged by 60 per cent. At the peak of his powers this was comfortably more than 100 per cent. So if there are rules which are supposed to be sacrosanct there are also sponsors and advertisers and who can believe that they haven’t come to achieve pretty much the same status?

Against such a background, the imperatives and the values of someone like Bobby Jones are perhaps inevitably endangered.

All of this, of course, brought a special excitement in the Augusta dusk when it seemed that El Pato might just be moving, inelegantly perhaps but with wonderful conviction and power, to a victory that could be celebrated in any age and mood of the game.

Scott won, legally according to the laws of the day, and certainly with tremendous application and skill. But it was Cabrera who most touched the senses and, not least, the heart. He reminded us, most powerfully, of how the game should really be played.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little