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A golden oldie might win the Masters . . . just don't ask me to bet on it

I've never been a big betting man.

Martin Kaymer of Germany listens to the wisdom of his compatriot, the veteran Bernhard Langer, during the opening practice round at Augusta yesterday.  Picture: Getty Images
Martin Kaymer of Germany listens to the wisdom of his compatriot, the veteran Bernhard Langer, during the opening practice round at Augusta yesterday. Picture: Getty Images

My idea of a risky flutter is sticking a tentative two quid each way on Oxford in the boat race. Thrust a series of odds and form guides into my hands and I'll stare at them with the kind of glazed, dumbfoonert look usually adopted by a fumbling old army major trying to scan a broccoli floret through the self-service check-out in the supermarket while the mechanical matriarch inside the infernal machine continually barks that there is an unexpected item in the bagging area.

Of course, this general apathy towards gambling doesn't stop others proding and poking your correspondent for information. "Who should I put money on to win the Masters?" they ask with the drooling anticipation of a bloodhound gazing at a plate of chops. "No idea," comes the informed, considered response.

In this unpredictable game of fluctuating fortunes, the only certainty is the uncertainty. Spring is in the air and the first major of the golfing year is upon us. Will the green jacket be won by Phil Mickelson or Rory McIlroy? Will it be Adam Scott, Jason Day, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson or Justin Rose? What about Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson or Jordan Spieth? You can take your pick but away from the fancied runners and riders, how about a member of the old guard, that battle hardened band of veteran brothers who have been around the block more times than a forgetful postman.

The Masters, like a nice pair of baffies, has always been a cosy, welcoming haven for some of the elder statesmen of this Royal & Ancient game. "There sure are a lot of old farts that play here," noted Fuzzy Zoeller a few years ago as he cast a withering eye over the largely ceremonial, and increasingly doddering, contributions of the likes of Arnold Palmer, Charles Coody and Tommy Aaron over the first two rounds before they made their inevitable departures, having missed the cut by the length of Washington Road.

The more sprightly 50-somethings remain a valuable asset, however. Bernhard Langer and Fred Couples may be climbing the brae on the age front but the competitive fires continue to burn brightly and Augusta still stirs the senses.

"I've always believed that sooner or later, somebody will win a major being over 50 years old," insisted Langer, the two-time Masters champion who continues to flourish at the age of 56 and knocks off victories on the Senior circuit with regular abandon.

Last year, as the golf writers strapped themselves into the Augusta media centre in preparation for a rip-roaring final day, the name of Langer started to inch its way up the early leaderboard. The German, who donned golf's most celebrated blazer in 1985 and 1993, birdied the first three holes to get to within two shots of the pacesetters. His charge eventually petered out on the back nine and he had to settle for a share of 25th but, far from simply waddling down Magnolia Lane to make up the numbers, a galvanised Langer wanted to be elbowing and jockeying at the sharp end of affairs.

"I loved being in the hunt, and it brought back old memories," he said. "That's what we all play for; to be in contention. It's no fun finishing 50th or 60th or whatever."

Like Langer, Couples still has plenty left in the tank and don't be surprised if the 54-year-old, who can still batter a booming long drive like a player half his age, ambles casually into the upper reaches of the standings again this week. Last year, the 1992 Masters champion shared 13th having lurked just a stroke off the lead at halfway. He tied 12th in 2012, was joint 15th in 2011 and sixth in 2010.

Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the US PGA Championship in 1968, is still the oldest player to win one of golf's majors. Jack Nicklaus was 46 when he captured his 18th and final major at the Masters of 1986. And Old Tom Morris was also 46 when he won his fourth Open title back in 1867. The game, and the technology that aids competitive longevity, has changed a wee bit since then, of course. Kenny Perry, at 48, almost broke Boros' record by four months when he lost a play-off to Angel Cabrera in the 2009 Masters before the 59-year-old Tom Watson came within a par-putt of completely destroying the statistic in that year's Open at Turnberry. The seemingly impossible remains possible.

As usual, there will be a healthy representation of over 50s at Augusta this week. Sandy Lyle, the 1988 champion who made the cut last year for the first time since finishing 20th in 2009, is among them. So too is Miguel Angel Jimenez, the cigar-puffing Spaniard who reached his half-century in January, but showed that advancing years is no barrier to success by winning the European Tour's Hong Kong Open in December.

A man of 50 winning a major may be golf's equivalent of finding life on Mars but, in this game for all the ages, don't bet against one of the bold 'old farts' flirting with that final frontier again. We can but dream.

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