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Wind shaping as Royal defence for Masters

Royal Melbourne was bathed in sunshine for the most part of Monday, but the ever-present breeze factor was one that could prove pivotal in deciding a champion come Sunday.

As Masters week gets underway, the glorified Melbourne Sandbelt will once again come under the spotlight this week, with its most famed course hosting the Australian Masters for the first time in its rich history.

Royal Melbourne made a brave resurgence two years ago when it hosted the President’s Cup, after it had been branded as “irrelevant” in comparison to modern courses.

With its ability to challenge the best players in the world questioned because of lack of length, we were treated to a pleasant surprise.

Those who doubted the great McKenzie design soon came around, as the world-class gem had the field in fits for much of the week.

No significant design changes have been made to the layout – merely a re-seeding of grass on the fairway to inhibit run off the tee – and a change in the putting surfaces.

With the different grass on the fairways, the course now plays longer, and the altered greens gave some teeth to a course that was thought to have lost its bite.

On Monday, as players began the first of two official practice rounds, the wind certainly made it tough, with gusts of over 40 kilometres per hour confusing swing thoughts on an already severely tactical golf course.

Generous fairways will be on offer this week, but should anyone stray too far from the cut surfaces, it’ll be difficult to extricate their ball, let alone find it.

Perth International champion Jin Jeong played alongside Nathan Holman and Ben Campbell on Monday in their first hit-out, and it was on the devilish greens where they spent most of their time studying.

With hole locations positioned right on the edges of severe slopes, accuracy coming into the greens is paramount. If players miss their target by as little as a foot or two, it could result in their ball ending up 30 feet away.

For the players this week, it’s often a question of where to leave your bad shots, rather than where your good shots should come to rest.

Miss in the wrong place around these greens, and you could be staring double bogey in the face.

The greens remain Royal’s supreme defence, and especially with high winds, leaving approaches within makeable birdie range easier said than done.

Unlike typically firm Royal Melbourne conditions, the greens and their surrounds were softer than usual, but it’s expected they’ll harden up over the coming days, especially if the wind continues to blow.

If they remain as they did on Monday, and the wind drops however, what is ultimately a second-shot golf course should yield some low scores.

And with rain falling on Monday afternoon, and more forecast for the rest of tournament week, there’s a chance the firm and fast conditions tournament organisers thrive on, will fail to come to fruition.

But if they do, Royal Melbourne is going to be a true test this week, even for the most seasoned professional.

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