In the dark you could feel the anticipation buidling. The gates at Augusta National don't open until 7 a.m., but the crowd was gathering before that, huddled in the dark morning chill. Proud fathers and sons; businessmen and their key clients. old buddies doing the once-in-a-lifetime thing. But this wasn't the 500 level at Rogers Centre; or the parking lot at a Bills game. The crowd bantered politely with the police officers who were holding them back with nothing more than a raised eyebrow and a "Not yet." They milled about smiling. There was no stomping of feet; no tribal rituals. And then the time came and off they went, the largest pack of unlikely power walkers you're ever going to see.
There is no running, understand, at Augusta National.
And so we're off, wiggling our hips madly, eager to get into position.
1. If wishes and buts were candy and nuts, the 75th Masters would go something like this:
The days before the tournament and even the early rounds of the tournament are in some ways the best, because anything is still possible. It is nearly unfathomable that this Masters will deliver a moment as riveting as the 1986 tournament, won by Jack Nicklaus at age 46 in what some call golf's greatest single moment. We'll see if we get anything anything even close to that; but don't blame me if Zach Johnson wins by two shots and you're asleep on your couch Sunday. Here is a script for a memorable week from the Wall Street Journal:
Jhonattan Vegas, the charismatic 26-year-old Tour rookie from Venezuela, shoots a seven-under-par 65 to grab the first round lead, in part by hitting every par-five green in two shots. He's goaded on by his playing partners, Gary Woodland of the U.S. and Spain's Alvaro Quiros, who together comprise arguably the longest-hitting threesome in Masters history. Phil Mickelson shoots a credible 70, but a trio of young long-bombing Americans, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and Nick Watney, each score two strokes better.....
The final round is yours to imagine, but I'd suggest the ultimate winner should shoot 32 or better on the back nine Sunday-and that someone else should shoot 30. I'd also suggest, for a lesson to the youngsters, that McIlory fall apart. His aggressive approach shots should start missing by a few critical feet, rolling into various creeks and rough patches.....
And the winner is.....
Hey, I'm not going to ruin that.
2. Ian Poulter playing with Tiger in the final group on Sunday...that would be memorable
It's interesting what passes for interesting in he world of sports. Just being normal -- so occassionally funny, depressed, angry, confused, hungover and smitten -- can make you seem like the most interesting person in the world compared with the cardboard personalities more common across the sports landscape. Ian Poulter seems to understand this. He made all kinds of waves when he said Tiger Woods wouldn't finish in the top-five here, which is basically what just about anyone else might say, except they're not Ian Poulter. As a group the European's who have surged to the top of the World Golf Rankings seem to get this more than their US counterparts as they say things on Twitter that we all say to our buddies, except they're saying it about famous people and they themselves are famous. It's called entertainment : ... golf may never have seen a group of players as verbose, Internet-extroverted and media savvy as the handful of Europeans charging into the top of the world rankings. While their growing eminence may or may not presage a new era of European dominance, their swelling popularity reveals the power of their thumb-twitching pastime - and how eager golf fans are for vivid personalities.
Is it any surprise that Poulter, McIlroy and contemporaries Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell are fashionable picks to win the 2011 Masters that begins Thursday?
To be fair, their appeal originates from more than just the use of social media. The group has also set trends in golf apparel (is there an all-orange Rickie Fowler outfit without Poulter's all-pink duds several years earlier?). They willingly engage fans at tournaments, and generally, charm reporters with insightful interviews.
Individually or collectively, they talk freely about their off-the-course lives and interests, inviting the public in for the gabfest. Compare that approach with the public bearing of the No. 1-ranked players from 1998 to 2010: Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and David Duval. Or even the stoic top Europeans of another era: Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, Bernhard Langer.
3. PImento cheese sandwiches return; order restored
There was a huge storm here in the wee hourse of Tuesday morning and it caused a problem unique to Augusta National -- their famous pimento cheese sandwiches were ever so briefly unavailable. Having sampled them; this could only be a good thing, but when it comes to tradition you have to take the good with the yucchi (sp?), I guess.
4. Augusta National: Best course in America:
This according to Golf Digest, which has been compiling course rankings since 1960. The sub-head to this story could have read: And puppies are cute.
5. The Masters honours tradition; as long as you're not a caddie:
Okay, I might be being a little harsh there, but it will be interesting to see if the membership at Augusta National eventually does something to honour Carl Jackson, who walked into history Thursday morning when he slung Ben Crenshaw's golf bag over his shoulder and marched off the first tee this morning; looping during The Masters for the 50th straight year: I t was at the 2001 Masters Tournament that Carl Jackson did the math and set his goal.And now it's here.Jackson, 64, broke the record for number of appearances caddying in the Masters in 1995 when he caddied for the 35th time. He carried his first Masters bag in 1961 -- at age 14 when he was a full-time Augusta National Golf Club caddie.
Among golfers, only Gary Player, with 52 starts, and Arnold Palmer, with 50, have been in more Masters than Jackson. Both are retired from the Masters.
Jackson has been caddying for Ben Crenshaw the past 35 years, which includes Masters titles in 1984 and 1995.
This has already been an emotional week for Jackson, starting Sunday when he arrived at the club.
"I'm just going down memory lane," he said that day. "I'm thinking about the old memories."
6. Because life at Augusta National can be complicated, not all of those memories are good ones:
This from some reflections by Jackson published by Golf Magazine: On the afternoon of Oct. 19, 1976, my brothers Melvin and Bud were fishing at Rae's Creek with four of their friends. All the boys in the Sand Hills neighborhood grew up fishing and swimming in the creek, which was full of bream. There is a fence dividing Augusta National from Augusta Country Club. We would walk about a mile from our neighborhood, crawl under the fence at the 13th tee at Rae's Creek from the 10th tee of Augusta Country Club. That day the boys had caught 30 or 40 fish and were keeping them fresh on a line, even though earlier, Rogers Bennett, Augusta National's nurseryman, had spotted the boys -- and Bud's .410 shotgun, which he brought along in case of snakes -- and told them to get off the course. One of the boys did leave, taking the shotgun with him.
Shortly after 3 p.m. the boys saw Charlie Young, the club's white security guard, standing on the Nelson Bridge, near the 13th tee. Young, who had a gun shop at his house, was carrying a homemade 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun with a barrel that was less than 17 inches long. When the boys started running toward the 11th at Augusta Country Club, Young fired one shot and hit three of the five boys, including Bud, who was struck in the right knee. Young later told the club's general manager, Philip Wahl, that his gun accidentally discharged as he was trying to load it, but he never told the boys to get off the course until after he had fired.
I wasn't surprised that it happened. Charlie Young had a bad attitude. He thought he was John Wayne. He had it in for Bud. The two of them had a little run-in during the '75 Masters, when Young scolded Bud for driving a cart too fast near a group of patrons. But that was not the way to handle this situation. Young could have held the boys in the water, called the police and have them put in jail for trespassing. That's one issue I had with the club -- they continued to let Young work there. He would put on a different air if members were coming through the front gate. But he treated a lot of the caddies rough after the shooting. I never had any problems with him because every time I came through the gate, I was in one of the member's cars. But you could see that hate in his eyes.
Bud and the two others who were shot filed an $11 million lawsuit against the club and Charlie Young, but ultimately ended up settling for $69,000. Bud, who got $3,000, did not work at the club for the next 11 years, but today, at 54, he is one of the most popular caddies at Augusta National. Charlie Young died on Oct. 16, 1994, almost 18 years to the day of the shooting. He was 65.
7. If Lorne says it's the greens, who am I to argue:
Augusta National -- in theory -- favours the bombers; the Dustin Johnson's of the world. Athletes who can make a golf ball explode. But no one is going to win this tournament without a good -- make that great -- putting week, as Lorne Rubenstein makes clear: There's been no end to the talk around Augusta National Golf Club this week about whether the course is strong enough to stand up to how far golfers hit the ball. Just about every golfer who has been trotted into the interview room, or approached out on the lawn after practice, has commented on the subject.
Augusta National can play as long as 7,435 yards during the Masters, which starts Thursday. It's been lengthened and stretched but the elongation has stopped, at least for now. Jack Nicklaus once told former chairman Hootie Johnson that soon the club would need to extend the course to downtown Augusta. The club has so much money that it's bought up vast tracts of land around the course for parking, other facilities, and its state-of-the-art practice area.
But the course, well, it is what it is, as players say ad nauseam.
Meanwhile, the golfer who wins the Masters will have had a very good short game and, above all, will have been on with his putting. There's no way to win the Masters without holing crucial putts, because the greens are so undulating. Mini-mountains they are. Curvy. Wavy. Every player will face putts that could make him dizzy.
That's why Tiger Woods, he whose swing has been examined as if it were undergoing CT scans minute by minute (a "referendum" swing by swing, is how his swing coach Sean Foley puts it), said that putting is so key here.
"No matter how you play the golf course, no matter how well you play, you're going to have to make six and eight-footers for par," Woods said. "It's just a given here. And some of those years, I didn't make those putts. That's what has kept me out of the winner's circle."
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