The Masters Tournament returns to Augusta National Golf Club this week for the 77th edition of the most prestigious golf event in the world. This year’s tournament has the chance to be one of the most memorable Masters, and here are a few things that could contribute to its place in history for golf fans to keep an eye on, whether they’re going to the course or watching from the comfort of their living room.
It seems like every year for the past five years, all you hear is people saying coming into the Masters is Tiger Woods finally back? Waylaid by injuries and personal problems, Woods hasn’t won a major tournament since the 2008 U.S. Open and hasn’t had the green jacket slipped on his shoulders by another player since 2005.
He has come into Augusta in recent years trending upward, giving more credence to the notion that it would finally be the year he wins again and gets that much closer to Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record of 18 major tournament victories. But the results have not been there.
There’s always the glimmer of possibility with Woods at Augusta because he’s played so well here. Even though he hasn’t won the Masters since 2005, he finished no worse than tied for sixth place in the six years that followed, some of the most difficult of Woods’ career. That’s why last year he seemed poised for a breakthrough as he came to the Masters off of his first PGA Tour win in three years.
What followed was Woods biggest struggle in Augusta since he turned professional, finishing tied for 40th. That’s a reason to have some reservations about proclaiming, “Tiger Woods is back!”
The truth is Woods will never be the player he was at the turn of the century when he dominated golf more than any player has controlled any sport. But that doesn’t mean he can’t win again.
He’s the No. 1 ranked player in the world for goodness sake, so its no stretch to expect him to do well. He’s won three tournaments already this year to regain that status and again comes to Augusta fresh off of a win.
While it’s true that Woods’ wins have come at Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill, courses he’s won tournaments a combined 22 times, he’s had his fair share of success at Augusta National. He owns four green jackets and his 1997 triumph smashed Masters records for lowest score and largest margin of victory. He knows where to hit the ball, and just as importantly, where to miss at the storied course and muscle memory alone makes him a threat to contend for another title this week.
Augusta National moves at its own speed, something that was made clear in regard to the controversy over female members at the private club. It didn’t bow to public pressure when called into question over the lack of female members at the beginning of the century, and did little to acknowledge the controversy a year ago, when questions arose again.
That’s because IBM, one of three corporate sponsors, had a new chief executive, Virginia M. Rometty. Augusta National traditionally extends memberships to the holder of that position, but Rometty’s gender inflamed an old question.
Billy Payne, the chairman of Augusta National, didn’t directly address the issue a year ago, but the club did something soon thereafter to silence the issue permanently. In August, Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, and Darla Moore, a South Carolina businesswoman became members.
Now the question isn’t will Augusta allow female members, but who will be the next ones? It will be interesting to see if Rice, Moore or Rometty for that matter, will be on hand this week wearing a green jacket as the clubs other members traditionally do during the tournament. It will also make Payne’s annual address on Wednesday must-see, to find out if he’ll mention the issue. Given the club’s history, don’t expect to hear much.
McIlroy’s major statement
It hasn’t been a great start to the 2013 season for Rory McIlroy. His first three tournaments included a missed cut, a controversial withdraw and a first-round exit from the WGC Accenture Match Play. His other showings include eighth- and 45th-place finishes.
Those struggles cost him his spot as the No. 1 player in the world and brought his character into question for the first time. But a win in Augusta would silence all criticism and further cement McIlroy’s place as the player to beat for the next decade.
Green jackets are always in fashion
It seems that after 36 holes in recent years, an elder statesman of the game stirs the echoes and makes a play for the top of the leaderboard. Many of these players are only in the Masters field because of the exemption they earned by previously winning a green jacket, earning a lifetime entry.
But these past champions display the skill and gamesmanship that allowed them to be champions in the first place on a course that demands much more than muscle. Both Tom Watson and Fred Couples have had tremendous runs the past few Masters to add more excitement and intrigue to the classic event.
Who will it be this year? Fresh off his dramatic and successful turn as captain of the European Ryder Cup team, a fun choice could be José María Olazábal.
Even if one of the past champs doesn’t make a charge, the Masters is the only event to see Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player in action – albeit briefly. The trio with 13 green jackets between them will hit tee shots on Thursday morning as honorary starters. It’s like watching Mount Rushmore come to life.
Home on the range
Only a place as special as Augusta National could make a progressive move by turning a parking lot into a beautiful and functional landscape. That’s exactly what it did a few years ago when it transformed an old tournament parking area into a breathtaking driving range and putting green.
It has comfortable grandstands open to all patrons to get a great view of all of the players at work, as well as a look behind the scenes as they’ll often be working with swing coaches and other golf gurus. But its also the place to go to get autographs and while interacting with patrons, the golfers often show the honesty and candor that separates them from most other professional athletes.
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.
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