Golf: Scrappy Masters build-up for Lee

By Peter White, Gary Hamilton-Irvine

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Danny Lee is the first New Zealander to compete in the Masters since Michael Campbell in 2009. Photo / Getty Images
Danny Lee is the first New Zealander to compete in the Masters since Michael Campbell in 2009. Photo / Getty Images

New Zealand's number one male golfer Danny Lee has split with long-term caddy Kurt Kowalu.

Lee's team kept the news of the split quiet over the past three weeks to let Lee concentrate on preparing for the for the iconic Masters starting tomorrow at the revered Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, USA.

The full details of the split remain under wraps, with Lee's coach Drew Streckel saying it's a "long story" which boils down to player and caddy "no longer seeing eye-to-eye".

Michael Hartford, a long-standing caddy for injured PGA Tour veteran Pat Perez, has stepped in to caddy for Lee at the Masters.

The change of caddy is the latest setback for Lee who has struggled on tour over the past month.

He withdrew from the Valspar Championship with a wrist injury, missed the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and then struggled at the World Matchplay Championship.

But despite this his former Bay of Plenty team mate Mark Smith says Lee's game should suit Augusta.

"He is pretty straight off the tee and has a really good short game around the green, which you need around Augusta," said Smith, who captained Lee when he represented Bay of Plenty and Springfield Golf Club as a teenager. Following Lee's highly successful season last year, which saw him break into the world's top 50 and debut at the Presidents Cup, Smith says he could well manage a top-10 finish this weekend.

"You never say never in sport, he won a tournament on tour last year so there is no reason he can't do it again but I would expect him to be going for a top-10 finish this week."

Lee has one previous missed cut appearance at the Masters in 2009 after he became the youngest winner of the US Amateur in August 2008 aged 18 years and one month, six months younger than when Tiger Woods won it.

Last July Lee became the eighth New Zealander to win a US PGA Tour title after claiming victory at the Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia.

Of the seven other Kiwis to win on tour the Masters has mostly been a challenge way beyond them.

The Open champion Sir Bob Charles challenged for the green jacket 14 times between 1962 and 1975, with a best finish of 15= in 1963.

Frank Nobilo has the best finish of fourth in 1996 from three starts, while Philip Tataurangi finished 39th in 2003 and John Lister 42= in 1971 in their only starts. Grant Waite made one appearance but missed the cut, as did Players Championship winner Craig Perks in three attempts and US Open champion Michael Campbell in all 10 tournaments he played at Augusta.

Lee tees off tomorrow at 4.33am (NZ time) paired with Scotland's Russell Knox and American Smylie Kaufman in the smallest field at the Masters since 2002.

Jason Day is the TAB's favourite to win ($7) with defending champion Jordan Spieth and McIlroy second favourites ($9).

Danny Lee TAB odds (option 1942):

Top 5 Finish $31, Top 10 Finish $12, Top 20 Finish $5.50, To Make the Cut $2.40, To Miss the Cut $1.50

Danny Lee

* Age: 25

* World ranking: 38th

* Number of appearances at majors: 4

* Best finish at a major: T43rd at the PGA Championship (2015)

- Bay of Plenty Times

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