But this Masters seems to contain more mystery than ever.
Part of that is the sheer length. The tees were pushed back on six holes, stretching the course to 7,445 yards, the second-longest course in major championship history behind Whistling Straits (7,514 yards) two years ago at the PGA Championship.
Masters chairman Hootie Johnson vigorously defended the changes Wednesday, especially at No. 11, pointing out that Bobby Jones intended the second shot to be played with a 3-iron or more.
'He (Jones) probably was hitting into a green that ran at 2 on the Stimpmeter,' said Retief Goosen. 'The condition of the greens now are different than they were in the 1900s. You hit a 3-iron on the front of that green, it rolls off into the water.'
And then there's the weather.
Azaleas and dogwoods are blazing even brighter under a warm sun. The tightly mown grass beneath the feet is firm, not slippery. Not since 2001 has the Masters been contested over four days in relatively dry, fast conditions. That's a significant date, because serious expansion at Augusta National didn't start until the next year.
'We haven't really played many Masters with dry conditions yet,' Ernie Els said. 'We might find out this week.'
The final day of practice revealed some potential problems, with wedge shots bouncing hard off the green, then crawling endlessly until they were off the putting surface. And it doesn't take much to make a mistake around here.
Then again, Goosen said some of the longer holes were playing shorter than recent years because of the firm ground that allowed tee shots to roll. He cited No. 9, where he hit a big drive and a sand wedge, compared with a driver and a 7-iron last year in soft conditions.
What will it take to win?
'I don't see anyone in double figures,' Goosen said, adding that he would take 4 under par and like his chances.
This is the 40-year anniversary of Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters at even-par 288, the last champion who wasn't under par.
That's a possibility this week.
This also is the 20-year anniversary of Nicklaus shooting 30 on the back nine to win his sixth green jacket.
On this course, that seems unlikely.
Nicklaus returned to play in the Par 3 contest. He met with the press Wednesday morning, took his customary seat and pretended to go over his round, as he had done for so many years.
'First hole, I hit a driver, 3-wood and a 7-iron,' Nicklaus said as the room broke out in laughter.
Johnson said the reason for the change was to keep the course current with modern equipment and the modern player. His hope is that players will be using roughly the same clubs as Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus and Tom Watson during their prime.
As far as Gary Player is concerned, it's working.
'I'm using exactly the same clubs, other than No. 4,' said Player, at 70 the oldest player in the 91-man field. 'I was brainwashed into believing it would be abnormal with all the changes. But we're hitting the same club Jack Nicklaus did. I remember Jack hitting 5-iron on No. 11. The greens weren't as fast, but the fairways were lousy.'
Answers should start arriving Thursday when the 70th Masters gets under way.
'I think everybody wants to see what will happen, what the winning score will be,' Mike Weir said. 'I think single digits, for sure. On Monday, I said 8 under would win. But I forgot how much the course changes day to day. Now, I'm thinking 5 or 6 under.'
If the Masters wants to go back in time, some fear it has lost a little of the character that set it apart from other majors.
Perhaps no other course is such an endless source of theater, whether it was the back-nine charge of Nicklaus, the implosion of Greg Norman in the final round 10 years ago when he lost a six-shot lead, or spectacular duels like Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els two years ago.
'The drama never ceases,' Palmer said. 'For one thing or another, it rattles the cages of everybody.'
The cages are rattled, all right, and this before a shot has been struck.
Suddenly, par doesn't seem like such a bad score.
'It used to be a fun week. Now it's a grinding week,' Goosen said. 'The Masters is now like the U.S. Open -- even tougher on the mind than the U.S. Open.'
The final mystery is who emerges as the winner.
All eyes are on Tiger Woods, as usual, who will try to become the first player to twice went back-to-back titles. He already has won three times this year (once on the European tour), although some question whether he will be distracted by his cancer-stricken father who did not make the trip to Augusta for the first time.
No one paid much attention to Mickelson, winless the first three months of the season for only the third time in his career. That was before winning by 13 shots last week at the BellSouth Classic by using two drivers.
Most believe the Masters favors the big hitters. Then again, this Masters might be different.
'We haven't really played Augusta the last five, six years in very firm, fast conditions,' Els said. 'We haven't played a new course, so to speak, in firm, fast conditions. There's going to be a mix of players in there.'
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