Masters 2015: Reborn Marc Warren goes from Tour outcast to brink of the Masters

Top-10 finish in Texas Open this week will seal major turnaround for Scot

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The Independent Online

Don’t mention the Masters. For some out there golfing nirvana does not have an Augusta post code. While Rory McIlroy is back in Florida preparing to claim the only major he has yet to win, Marc Warren tees up in Texas today contemplating a slam of a different order. 

The Scot is a week away from his 34th birthday. A  top-10 finish at the Valero Texas Open this week would propel him into the world top 50 and book that coveted spot at the Masters, the only major he has yet to contest.

Though the “Warren slam” would be a bonus, it is not his core focus. Warren’s world, though not without its successes, is a galaxy or two removed from McIlroy’s. He is in his second decade as a professional golfer but only now is he beginning to discover the keys to this game.

We are not talking shoulder turn and attack angle here, but the bit between the ears, the element that, according to Warren, distinguishes the McIlroys of this parish from the ranks. “Jack Nicklaus put it best when he said coming down the stretch in a major he was able to keep playing his own game while others couldn’t.

“That’s the whole thing about tournament golf. Everyone has pretty much got it on the range and in practice rounds but are not able to produce the scores in tournament conditions. The top guys  all have that ability. And Rory is head and shoulders above the rest.”

Warren sank the winning putt in a 2001 Walker Cup team that included Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell. This was the departure point into the paid ranks for a talented group. Donald rose all the way to world No 1, McDowell became the first Briton to win the US Open for 40 years. 

The same year McDowell soared to victory at Pebble Beach, 2010, Warren’s career was bottoming out, the nadir coming when he lost his playing privileges on the European Tour. This was a player who won the Scandinavian Masters in his rookie season, 2006. A second Tour victory the following year appeared to substantiate the promise of the first. And then, not uncommonly in golf, the game suddenly became more complicated.

The good stuff was interspersed with bad. Missed cuts, and plenty of them, stalled his climb up the world rankings. As Warren delved ever deeper into the detail, seeking to iron out perceived technical flaws, he found himself playing golf swing and not golf, two very different things.

After discarding first one coach, Bob Torrance, and then another, Ian Ray, his former amateur coach, recovery came in the company of guru Pete Cowen, who has worked with some of the finest ball strikers in European golf, including McDowell, Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson, Darren Clarke, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.

“Pete told me I hit too many golf balls. I would take on to the course the stuff I’d been working on at the range instead of getting the ball in the hole. Before you know it, weeks and months have gone by, you have missed a few cuts and the card has gone.

“I didn’t want to be back on the Challenge Tour. Pete sat me down and we talked it through. It was either Challenge Tour or try to get my card back through invites. I felt I could make enough money if I got the chance. That’s what we did.

“The turning point came at the [2011] Dunhill. I finished fifth there and followed that up with a good week in Portugal and a good week in Madrid, which cemented my card for the next year. To come through that was  massive, really.”

Warren has not looked back. Three years on he is poised to rub shoulders once more with Donald and McDowell on the PGA Tour. Oh, and there is the small matter of Augusta. A top-10 finish in Texas will get him there, a top-20 place might be enough.

“It’s the only major I have not played. It would be a thrill. Fingers crossed I can move up a couple of spots on the rankings. I go back to the [2011] Dunhill, knowing I had to finish well to get my card. It is a slightly nicer scenario this week, needing a high finish to qualify for the Masters.

“My attitude then was to give it my best knowing I have prepared properly. That is the big difference post-2010. I always had the game, I just didn’t know how to unlock it. If I don’t make it this week, the Masters will be there next year. This is the start of a new beginning for me.

“I have a great opportunity this week. This is a huge event in its own right, $6 million-plus prize fund, massive world-ranking points. Everything you want out of a tournament is here this week, never mind the Masters.”