Aussie casualty ward grows at the Masters

Darren Walton |

Four Australian hopefuls enter the Masters at Augusta with below-par preparations.
Four Australian hopefuls enter the Masters at Augusta with below-par preparations.

Heavyweights Cameron Smith and Jason Day have identified a fast start as non-negotiable as injury, illness and swing woes threaten to cruel Australia’s Masters prospects.

While Smith and Day dazzled fans at Augusta National on Tuesday in an all-Australian super group alongside Adam Scott and Min Woo Lee, the four big guns are racing the clock to rediscover their fitness and form ahead of the year’s first major championship.

With a series of supreme drives and laser-like irons, Smith appeared to have shaken off the stomach bug that forced his withdrawal from LIV Golf Miami at the weekend as Day wowed the gallery with a water trick shot on the iconic par-3 16th.

But after playing his first nine holes of the week, Smith revealed the sapping full extent of the illness before Lee reported he was fighting on with a broken finger.

“A bit of food poisoning at the start of last week and I probably just tried to do a little bit too much and body just kind of shut down on me,” Smith said.

“Spent the weekend in the bed, which wasn’t the greatest preparation.

“But I was just saying that today is probably the first day where I feel like I’ve got a little bit of energy. I’m sure I’ll be pretty cooked tonight. At least I could get around and feel OK.”

Lee’s short game appeared compromised on Tuesday and little wonder after the West Australian disclosed that he’d dropped a dumbbell on the wedding finger of his right hand last week.

“I broke it,” he said.

“I guess it wasn’t the best prep, and I go the flu two days ago. Yeah, it’s going great.”

Adding to the Australian contingent’s troubles, Scott – the 2013 champion – headed straight the range after his unsatisfactory practice round.

And Day confessed to battling swing demons that he must iron out before taking centre stage in Thursday’s first round alongside five-time champion Tiger Woods.

“Do you have all day? Essentially I was battling a two-way miss,” Day said when asked what chinks he’d been trying to fix.

Jason Day.
A glum-looking Jason Day makes his way around Augusta National during his practice round. (AP PHOTO)

Woods is the only player in the past 20 years to have won the Masters from outside the top 10 after round one, achieving the feat both in 2005 and 2019, and Day acknowledged the significance of making a solid start.

“It’s very important,” he said ahead of forecast thunderstorms for the opening round.

“Based off what kind of weather we’re going to get and where the conditions are right now, it’ll be interesting to see what the final scoring will be, but don’t get yourself too far out of the tournament come Thursday and Friday just because of the weather.”

Smith was even more eager to avoid stalling in the blocks.

“Here more than most places if you get behind the eight-ball, you’re pretty screwed pretty early,” he said.

“It definitely doesn’t make it any easier and the golf course is going to get harder and harder as the week goes on, and you definitely want to be up at the top of the leaderboard when it starts to get firm and fast.”

Cameron Smith.
Cameron Smith watches a wayward tee shot during his third round of the 2023 Masters. (AP PHOTO)

His poorly health aside, Smith is hopeful he can once again contend having finished runner-up in 2020, third two years ago and racked up four top-10s from seven previous trips to Augusta.

“Game feels good,” he said.

“Probably a few weeks there at the start of the year, I was trying to address some stuff in the swing and just felt a little bit uncomfortable and just hard to commit on some really tough driving courses, to be honest.

“But it was good to play nice in Hong Kong (last month) and know that it’s still there.”