Masters begins and for some, so does the golf season

Masters begins and for some, so does the golf season

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) The author David Owen explained in his opening

line of ''Making of the Masters'' why so much anticipation filters

through dogwoods and Georgia pines at Augusta National the first

full week of April.

''The modern golf season never ends,'' he wrote, ''but it does

begin.''

There could be some debate on when the 83rd Masters begins.

First on the tee Thursday morning are Jack Nicklaus and Gary

Player, with nine green jackets between them, hitting an honorary

tee shot in a tradition that dates to 1963. The Masters is all

about tradition.

Andrew Landry will hit the official opening tee shot of the

tournament. Landry is among 17 newcomers to the Masters, and he had

to wait the longest to make his debut having won the Texas Open 354

days ago.

And then there's Tiger Woods, who resumes his quest for another

green jacket - or any major for that matter - at 11:04 a.m.

alongside Li Haotong of China and Jon Rahm of Spain, who beat Woods

in Ryder Cup singles last fall.

TIGER TALES

Woods won his fourth Masters in 2005 when he was 29, and he was

certain more would follow. So did everyone else.

He is going on 14 years since his last green jacket, and 11 years

since his 14th and most recent major.

''I would say that I wouldn't have foreseen that, for sure,'' Woods

said. ''After I won my 14th, I felt like I still had plenty more

major championship that I could win, but unfortunately, I just

didn't do it.''

A good start would help. Woods didn't break par until the final

round last year.

But a good start for Woods at the Masters usually means a round

that is not over par. He has only broken 70 once in his 19 previous

appearances as a pro.

GRAND SLAM

The Masters is all that's keeping Rory McIlroy from joining the

most elite club in golf - only five other players dating to the

creation of the Masters in 1934 have won all four majors. McIlroy

played in the final group last year, three shots behind winner

Patrick Reed, and faded. He had a four-shot lead in 2011 and

imploded.

''I would dearly love to win this tournament one day,'' McIlroy

said. ''If it doesn't happen this week, that's totally fine. I'll

come back next year and have another crack at it.''

History suggests he might not want to wait too long. The last three

players to complete the Slam - Woods, Nicklaus and Player - never

waited more than three years to get the last leg. The Masters is

the fifth try to McIlroy.

FIFTH HOLE

The only big change at Augusta National for this Masters is the

fifth hole, which players already considered a difficult par 4.

Now it's 40 yards longer. Big hitters who used to hit a short iron

are now hitting a mid-iron, while everyone else is hitting as much

as a 4-iron. All the attention at Augusta National is on Amen

Corner, but the stretch on the front nine is where rounds can get

lost.

It starts with the 240-yard fourth hole, followed by the 495-yard

fifth hole and ends with a downhill, 180-yard sixth hole with

different plateaus that can often lead to three-putt bogeys, if not

worse.

''I would have said 11 is the toughest hole on the course prior to

the new No. 5,'' Jordan Spieth said.

SOFT COURSE

Augusta National likes to say it has the course ''right where we

want it.'' Not so much this year.

Heavy rain during prime growing conditions in the winter made it a

challenge. The course is in excellent shape, but more rain last

week and on Tuesday has left it so soft that even the humming of

sub-air systems won't be able to make this firm and fast,

especially with scattered showers in the forecast.

''Given the recent rainfall, the course will not play as firm and

as fast as we would like it,'' club chairman Fred Ridley says.

BATTLE FOR THE TOP

One reason this Masters seems to be so wide-open again is that so

many players are playing so well.

The top five in the world ranking - Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson,

McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas - all have a mathematical

chance to reach No. 1 in the world by winning the Masters.

Then again, that's nothing new. The last seven Masters champions

were among the top 25 in the world when they won.

Eight of the top 10 players in the world already have won on the

PGA Tour this season, and any of them could emerge on the back nine

Sunday. But of the top 15 in the world, only one player has ever

won the Masters: Tiger Woods. --

For more AP golf coverage: https://apnews.com/apf-Golf and

https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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04-11-2019 00:04:11

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