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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
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

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York