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Like No Place on Earth

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Theres no place like it on earth. Its a tournament like no other. Augusta National and the Masters.
Even on a gray, rainy day the course sparkles. For golfers, Augusta National is nirvana. For players, for fans, for reporters.
Where else can you watch Davis Love and David Duval try to overpower a par-5, then turn around and immediately catch Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros ' two past champions and the two best sand players in the world ' practicing out of a greenside bunker?
And then theres Tiger. We all remember when young Mr. Woods played a practice round with Arnold Palmer (four Masters championships) and Jack Nicklaus (six Masters championships) a few years ago. Jacks comment to Arnold: This kids going to win more green jackets than the two of us have together.
Now, Tiger is on the verge of becoming the first man to win this august championship three years in a row. How could you bet against him?
Not since Nicklaus, has a player been this well suited for a green jacket. The Masters and Augusta National favor a powerful player who can boom drives and hit high, soft irons into the devilish greens.
But even more importantly, the Masters and Augusta National favor the smartest, shrewdest player who is a master at managing the course - knowing where to hit his drive on No. 10 so the ball catches just the right slope and bounds the maximum distance down the fairway; knowing when to play away from the pin on No. 12; understanding how ' and when ' to hit a cut driver to allow access to a back left pin.
This course has so many challenging subtleties that the player who has experienced them ' and overcome them ' has a huge advantage. Tiger fits the bill. It takes a few years to actually understand this golf course, he said. You just have to think your way around this golf course. You have to miss the golf ball in the correct spots.
Yes, the three-time Masters champion certainly knows what it takes to succeed here: You've just got to go out there and plodt your way along You can hit a good golf shot here and end up 50 feet away because it catches the wrong side of a slope.
Perhaps only Nicklaus and Palmer know those slopes as well as Woods. I feel as if I have a pretty good understanding of how to play each and every hole, Tiger said of Augusta National.
Then theres the other half of Tigers brain that allows him to handle the intense pressure of the back-nine of the Masters on Sunday. It actually goes beyond handling the pressure ; he thrives under it. I feel I can handle a lot, he understates.
We know Tiger has his eye on the records and the history of his game. They are a major part of what drives him. I really would like to win this week, he said. I think it would be huge to win three Masters (in a row). No ones ever done it before; and Ive been able to do certain things in golf that no ones ever done before.
Tiger is on the brink of setting yet another record. Do you doubt hes focused enough to gather it in? If youre ever in that position, you want to take advantage of it, because it doesnt happen all the time, he said.
To push the point to where its almost ludicrous: if Woods does win this week, then next year hell be in that position again and then again?
He could match Jacks six green jackets by the time hes 30. And dont you know that Tiger knows that very well?

Related Links:
  • 2003 Masters Tournament Mini-Site
  • Tournament Coverage
  • The Augusta National Membership Debate: A Chronology