Roe ready for Augusta's ups and downs

The forgotten European in next week's US Masters is honing his game in his Derbyshire kitchen. Andy Farrell reports
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The Independent Online
April is here and Georgia is on the minds of the world's best golfers. Preparations have entered their final week for the year's first major championship, the US Masters.

Colin Montgomerie, and others, are in action in the Bell South Classic at the Atlanta Country Club. With its hilly, tree-lined fairways and fast greens, conditions are similar to those at Augusta National, only a two- hour drive away.

Nick Faldo has decided to spend time at home on the range - the practice range at Lake Nona, which is also the base for his coach, David Leadbetter.

Considerable fine tuning will be going on under the Floridian sun after the 1989 and '90 Masters champion missed the cut in the Players' Championship last week.

And Mark Roe? Spring has arrived in the Derbyshire Dales, but Roe has yet to venture far from his cottage. He has been hard at work in the kitchen. The cat is wondering when its food bowl will once again contain its regular diet, rather than inedible-looking golf balls.

"The lino in here is about the right pace," Roe says of his attempt to recreate the conditions of Augusta's notorious greens. There is no Stimpmeter handy to check, but certainly there will not be a course in the country that currently compares with the top-of-the-scale 12 reading to be found at Augusta. "I like putting on fast greens. I wouldn't think those at Augusta are going to be faster than those at Shinnecock Hills for the US Open last year, or at Valderrama.

"But it is the slopes on the greens that makes Augusta so tricky. I've had a chat with some of the lads who have played there, and they say the art of playing Augusta is to keep the ball under the hole. Barry Lane told me the first time he played there he had a putt from 20 feet behind the hole on one green, and ended up 40 yards off the front."

Last week, Roe played in the Madeira Island Open. On greens with considerable grain, Roe took three putts seven times and four putts once; he missed the cut by one shot. "I'm still recovering from the trauma," he says. "I have tried 11 different models of Ping putter this week trying to find the right one for Augusta's greens."

The invitation to his first US Masters arrived last Christmas Eve. "I was trying to think who would send me a Christmas card from Augusta." The reply was written out within 20 minutes. He leaves on Saturday and hopes to get in a quiet practice round on Sunday before the hordes arrive from Atlanta.

"I am looking forward to playing my first round there and seeing the place for myself. I have watched it on television for 20 years. TV flattens the course and takes out the borrows. I naturally hit the ball right-to- left, which you have to do there, so that is not a problem.

"Apparently, it is wide open, there is no rough. It is just important to put yourself in the right position so that you can stay under the hole. That's what I'll have to get a feel for in the practice rounds. But, obviously, you know from TV that the way the course is manicured and the way it is presented is second to none. It looks like heaven on earth too as far as a golfer is concerned."

Roe qualified for what is the most exclusive show in golf by finishing 13th, the top European, in last June's US Open. That performance was a beacon in an otherwise desolate season. His marriage broke up and he has recently admitted to being on the verge of suicide.

After finishing 126th on the Order of Merit, he appreciates the irony of the situation. "This is the year I least deserve to go," he says. Still, a top-24 finish would guarantee a return visit next year, and increase TV time for the sunflower he wears in his cap in aid of the Rainbow House charity for terminally ill children.

"My game has slowly been getting better," Roe, who has made one cut in six events, says. "I've abandoned plan 47b and gone back to what I always used to do which is to play with my hands. My head is a lot clearer than it was last year. My personal problems are sorted out. I'm ready to start playing well again. I can normally pull my game together for the big occasion.

"I am so excited. I am being very careful not to fall or trip over and twist an ankle, or knock an arm. I'm being awfully careful." As he will have to be on those Augusta greens.