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
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
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
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.
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.
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
''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.
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
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
''I would have said 11 is the toughest hole on the course prior to
the new No. 5,'' Jordan Spieth said.
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. --
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