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Setting the scene on the eve of Masters Week

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods sauntered from the ninth green, making the casual trek up the hill to Augusta National Golf Club’s 10th tee on Sunday afternoon. The four-time Masters champion had just completed his nine-hole practice round, but watched as old buddy – and fellow champion – Mark O’Meara prepared to continue on to the course’s back nine.

As they exchanged quick pleasantries with a couple of reporters, Woods offered up a little advice for his friend.

“Don’t (screw) it up,” he implored with a grin.

“Why?” O’Meara asked. “Because the media is here?”

“Yeah,” Woods replied, smile still intact. “They’re going to tweet it.”

He was right, of course, but luckily for O’Meara, the 55-year-old smoked his drive down the right side of the fairway, then followed by suggesting the reporters should throw a few quid on him at 2,000-to-1 through the bookmakers – even jokingly offering to front the cash.

If it sounds like an unfamiliar scene on the world’s most familiar venue, that’s because it is. While many consider Masters Sunday to be “a tradition unlike any other,” there’s a vibe on the Sunday before the year’s first major championship that is also unlike any other.

In what may be the golf definition of “calm before the storm,” the course hosts an eclectic mix of people on the day before the big week begins in earnest.

Those playing on Sunday included everyone from Masters contestants to former champions who no longer compete to Augusta National members getting in one final round before fully surrendering their course to the professionals. While badges aren’t sold to the public, credentialed media can eavesdrop on part of the scene, which ensures it remains eminently disparate to any other day covering the game.

Another case in point: Upon finishing his round and saying his goodbyes to O’Meara, Woods headed to the nearby empty practice green, where he worked on his putting stroke for about 15 minutes under the watchful eye of caddie Joe LaCava, a reporter and nobody else. In complete silence, he raked in eight-footer after eight-footer. No fanfare. No attention.

Speaking of no attention, just minutes later Charl Schwartzel could be found perusing the Augusta National pro shop for souvenirs. That’s right – the same Charl Schwartzel who currently holds the green jacket for winning last year’s edition of the tournament.

Pressed for what he might be purchasing, Schwartzel imparted that he was actually waiting on his wife. Just another husband pressed into shopping duty on a Sunday afternoon.

If there was news to come out of Augusta on this day, it was that the course is still a bit soggy and yet to be in optimum condition.

“It’s sketchy, to be honest,” one caddie said. “The fairways haven’t been cut, the greens haven’t been cut.”

Then again, it’s only Sunday, a day unlike any other and one for which the conditions will be altered in a hurry in advance of the tournament. With that in mind, the caddie smiled, looked around the green-hued landscape, spread his arms wide and explained, “But of course, come Thursday, everything will be perfect.”