For the first time since 1955 neither Jack Nicklaus nor Arnold Palmer will be in the field. And the 7,445 yards Augusta National will play from the tips is 520 yards longer than the corresponding number Tiger Woods tamed when he won his first green jacket in 1997.
But the venue is still a dreamscape as well as the preferred destination for its participants every bit as much as it is a stern test of their games.
Woods has now won four Masters titles in nine starts as a professional. He arrived on the grounds Monday as the prohibitive favorite. The Tiger Watch this year is not a Tag Heuer. Its all about the health of his ailing father, Earl Woods. The elder Woods is back in California battling cancer. His son wont hesitate to withdraw before, or in the middle of, this Masters if Earls condition worsens. This is as it should be and not surprising to anyone who understands, even a little, the bond between Tiger and his father.
Other hearts are heavy. Lee Westwood recently lost his paternal grandmother. Westwood and close friend Darren Clarke were scheduled to arrive at the golf course Tuesday after an extended break in The Bahamas. Clarkes wife is also fighting cancer.
There are story lines, of all kinds, everywhere you want to look. Phil Mickelson tells us he will keep two drivers in his bag this week'one for cuts and one for draws. This announcement has caught our attention mostly because of the way Mickelson unhinged the field at the BellSouth last week near Atlanta. Mickelson, the 2004 Masters champion, captured his 28th TOUR victory with a 72-hole total of 28 under par.
In his last seven Masters starts Mickelson has not failed to finish in the top 10. Ignore this statistic at your own office pool peril.
In Vijay Singhs last 17 PGA TOUR starts he has failed to win a tournament. This is troubling to those who think Singh will challenge this week. Plain fact is, Vijays putting has been undependable. Not bad. Undependable.
He three-jacked the first green of the final round at The Players Championship two weeks ago en route to a closing 77. The good news was his 54-hole total was low enough to land him in Sundays final pairing.
At last years Masters, Singh led the field in greens in regulation and wound up second in driving distance. Alas for him, he was dead last for the week in total putts, with 129, for players who made the cut.
The Masters at 70 is surprisingly hip this year. There will be live satellite radio coverage Thursday through Sunday. And the tournaments website and CBS-TVs website will show streaming video of the 11th, 12th and 13th holes when the CBS broadcast is off the air.
Its hard to imagine storied golf writer Herbert Warren Wind knowing all this would come to pass when he coined the phrase Amen Corner for Sports Illustrated way back in 1958.
Twenty-six years before that, Augusta Nationals course architect, Alister Mackenzie, wrote this: If a course ever has to be altered, it means that the architect was wrong in the first place.
The Masters at 70 might not be recognizable to Mackenzie today. And if the place, the tournament and the tradition are alive and well at The Masters, that doesnt mean the people who run the thing dont have a little explaining to do.
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