'Overseas' Players Have Affinity for Masters

By: Marino Parascenzo

[Editor's Note: Award-winning sportswriter Marino Parascenzo is at Augusta National Golf Club for this week's Masters. Marino, who's been covering the Masters since 1976, will provide daily reports for Cybergolf from the tournament, which began Thursday. Here's his second installment.]

Time was when the question was - with all of its mysterious overtones - why couldn't the Brits win the British Open. (Brits, for our purposes here, mean English, Scots and Irish, though they may be indistinguishable, one from the other, in their heavy-beamed pubs.)

They should, the reasoning went. They grew up playing in the wind and the rain, and the gorse and the heather and the pot bunkers on those links courses. They could knock a ball down through the back of a hearse, and run a ball up a baked and bumpy fairway, and teach you a thing or two about navigation.

Then comes a British Open, and here's some Yank from the stifling heat and humidity of a Florida swamp, or the shimmering plains of the Midwest, flying the ball in like a homing pigeon, putting like he's on his living room rug, and so here comes the xenophobia again.

The Americans were forever winning the British Open, most of them named Tom Watson. Then the question became, why can't the Americans win the Masters?

These same Brits - literary license lets us expand that to Europeans, then "foreign" - take over the Masters, playing on a course as inland as they get. Just for the sake of illustration, go back to 1988, the year Scotland's Sandy Lyle fired that howitzer 7-iron off the steep face of the bunker at the corner of the dogleg 18th to about 12 feet, and won the Masters.

From that point, for 24 Masters, it's foreigns 13, U.S. 12. (Golf brass, thinking there is something evil about the word "foreign," prefers "international" or "overseas." But then Americans are also international players, and they also play overseas. It's so complex.)

The foreign domination in the Masters reached the point, in fact, that they won four straight from 1988, two more from '93, and three of the last four - South Africa's Trevor Immelman in 2008, Spain's Angel Cabrera next, and after Phil Mickelson in 2010, South Africa's Charl Schwartzel last year.

The early returns of the 2012 Masters are in the books, and while they certainly don't establish any kind of trend, they do offer an insight. Through the first nine names on the leaderboard, the first six are, well, not Americans.

You have your multi-logoed Lee Westwood of England leading at 5-under 67, tying his all-time Masters low. (Westwood lives on the leaderboard, but is still looking for that first win in the majors.)

"There was no weakness in my game," said Westwood, in a statement that must have rocked Ladbrokes and sent the odds plunging.

Former British Open champ Louis Oosthuizen - South African - is tied for second at 68 with Sweden's Peter Hanson. There's one other major winner in the group, tied for fourth at 69, and that's Scotland's Paul Lawrie (69), who all but disappeared after picking up the 1999 British Open that France's Jean van de Velde bounced off water and pipe at Carnoustie.

The group also includes Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez and Italy's Francesco Molinari. Three Americans - Ben Crane, Jason Dufner and Bubba Watson - managed to crowd into the fourth-place tie.

The two closest Masters champs, both at 70 and tied for 10th, are Zach Johnson (U.S.) and Fiji's Vijay Singh. Johnson romanced the par-5s again, as he did in 2007, when he cooed to them with lay-ups. This time he birdied No. 2, parred No. 8, eagled the 13th - where he went out of character and reached in two and two-putted from 25 feet, and parred the 15th.

"You can't win it on Thursday," Johnson said, repeating the golfer's code. "I shot 2-under. If I shot 2-over, I wouldn't be out of it. But I'd rather be sitting at 2-under."

Westwood varied the theme. "You can play your way out of a tournament in the first round, and I haven't done that," he said. "So I'm right where I want to be."

Leading isn't bad.

Charl Schwartzel, South African and fond of monkey gland sauce on his barbecued meats - and also the defending champion - shot a par 72.

"I actually think it should have been a little bit better," he said. "I really don't think about the worst part of it."

The worst being a choppy four-birdie, four-bogey day, which was three strokes more than his opening 69 last year. Of course, you could always birdie the last four holes if you had to. Which he did in the final round last year.

Marino Parascenzo can assure you that hanging around with great and famous pro golfers does nothing to help your game. They just won't give you the secret. But it makes for a dandy career. As a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (now retired), Parascenzo covered the whole gamut of sports - Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Pitt, Penn State and others - but golf was his favorite. As the beat writer for the paper, he covered all the stateside majors and numerous other pro events, and as a freelancer handled reporting duties for the British Open and other tournaments overseas - in Britain, Spain, Italy, the Caribbean, South Africa, China and Malayasia. Marino has won more than 20 national golf-writing awards, along with state and regional awards. He has received the Memorial Tournament's Golf Journalism Award and the PGA of America's Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. His writing has appeared in numerous magazines, among them Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, and in anthologies and foreign publications. He also wrote the history of Oakmont Country Club. Parascenzo is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America and is on its board of directors. He is the founder and chairman of the GWAA's Journalism Scholarship Program. He is a graduate of Penn State and was an adjunct instructor in journalism at Pitt.