Rookie Ready for Masters - and Pimento Sandwiches

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Let Tiger Woods worry about the green jacket. Johnson Wagner is more focused on the orangish'or is that yellowish?'delicacy thats as much a part of Augusta National as the azaleas.
 
Celebrating his last-minute invitation to the Masters, Wagner made a run on the pimento cheese sandwiches Monday. He managed to woof down three of them right out of the chute.
 
Im going to OD on pimento cheese, Wagner quipped. I love em, just love em.
 
He might be feeling a little bloated by the time he strikes his first tee shot Thursday. After all, the listed ingredients include cream, sodium citrate, salt, sorbic acid, vinegar, ammonium sulfate, sugar, calcium propionate, soybean oil, and'oh yeah'those little red specks of pimento.
 
Not that Wagner is worried about such things.
 
Hes planning on experiencing Augusta to the fullest, right down to the menu.
 
Ive been pinching myself all day, Wagner said. This is just incredible.
 
Who can blame him for being so giddy?
 
A week ago, Wagner was a player going nowhere. He had missed six cuts in nine starts this year and ranked 193rd on the money list. Not exactly Masters material. But, with the first major of the year having reinstated its rule that gives all PGA TOUR winners a spot in the exclusive field, the 28-year-old had one more chance to get in.
 
The Houston Open.
 
He sure took advantage of it.
 
Wagner opened with a 63'matching Adam Scott for the course record'and zealously guarded the lead the rest of the way, earning his first Tour win by two strokes.
 
The first thought was, Oh my gosh, I just won on the PGA TOUR, said Wagner, who had planned on taking a trip to the beach with his wife and another couple this week. But immediately after that, I said, Holy cow, Im in the Masters.
 
In addition to his pimento cheese indulgence, Wagner relished some of the other traditions at this time capsule of a golf course.
 
He couldnt wait to get to the par-3 16th during his first practice round, yearning for a chance to skip his ball off the pond that runs nearly the length of the hole. The object is to hit a low screamer, have it ricochet off the water and come up dry somewhere near the flag on the other side.
 
Wagner actually thought of getting in a little practice after he arrived at his hastily arranged house near the course sometime after midnight.
 
They had a swimming pool, and theres just a perfect little grass hill next to it, he said. I thought, This is a great chance, but I think there was (another) house on the other side. They probably wouldnt appreciate it.
 
Going sans practice, Wagners first attempt lodged in the bank at the ponds far end'pretty pathetic, he said. The next one rolled up just in the front of the green, and he moved on with a smile on his face. Mark off another line on that Masters checklist.
 
For one day at least, Wagner even felt like a bit of a celebrity.
 
It seemed like every time I looked in the gallery, someone said, Hey, Johnson, congrats, great playing last week, he said. It was amazing that so many people knew my name and knew what happened. It was probably the greatest day on the golf course Ive ever had.
 
Otherwise, it was a typical Monday before the Masters. Some 40,000 fans milled around the one-time nursery, posing for pictures in front of the famous scoreboard along the first fairway or queuing up in lines that seemed to stretch on forever outside the merchandise store. Youngsters dressed in garish yellow coveralls and matching caps with Litter written above the bill got some last-minute instructions on how to keep the grounds looking immaculate.
 
And, of course, everyone strained for a look at Woods. The worlds No. 1 player, four-time Masters winner and overwhelming favorite arrived Sunday, played another 18 holes Monday morning and planned one more practice session before beginning his quest for a Grand Slam.
 
Hes the only player capable of doing that, Steve Stricker said. You know, I wouldnt be surprised if he does do it.
 
In recent days, Augusta National was softened by 3 inches of rain, with the chance of more thunderstorms this weekend. That could present a much different setup than a year ago, when bone dry fairways allowed Zach Johnson'all 160 pounds of him'to keep up with the big hitters.
 
Johnson was able to lay up on the par 5s and still do most of his scoring, finishing with a 1-over 289 that matched the highest winning score at the Masters.
 
It would be nice if the fairways could be dry again, said Nick OHern, the left-handed Australian who might have trouble outdriving some of the guys down at the muni. You just hit it as far and as straight as you can. Theres no shaping the ball, except to the greens. Just get up there and smash it.
 
Even on the rain-soaked grounds, plenty of players managed to get a sampling of Augustas fiendish greens.
 
Jeev Milkha Singh of India, who got in with a special foreign invitation, worked on some chipping from just behind the three-tiered ninth green. Two of his skittish attempts didnt even make it past the fringe. Another skidded by the cup and kept right on rolling down to the second level, finally stopping some 40 feet away.
 
And this was just practice. Imagine what that shot might look like when hes playing for real.
 
Wagner is a Masters rookie, but he does have some experience at Augusta National. He got a chance to play a few rounds for fun 4 1/2 years ago as a guest of his great-uncle, who happens to be a member. He even managed to get off a joke when he pulled up to the gate on Magnolia Lane.
 
Hey, do yall have any tee times for the morning? Wagner asked the security guard.
 
Good one, rookie.
 
Now go have another pimento cheese sandwich.
 
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