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.

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Sport
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives in the rain during the qualifying session of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai
sport
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
The North Korean TV advert for Taedonggang beer, that became a YouTube hit
food + drinkAnd what did it take to set up a taste test back in Wiltshire?
Arts & Entertainment
filmLife for Leslie Mann's can be challenging sometimes
Voices
For music lovers: John Cusack with his vinyl collection in 'High Fidelity'
voices...but don't forget rest of the year
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit