Nothing about this Master will look familiar until the champion puts his hand through his green coat.
Purple, pink and white rhododendrons and azaleas, give Augusta National a great highlight in spring, giving way to the orange and yellows of autumn. The courtyard may look familiar with its emerald green grooves, bright white sand in bunkers, towering Georgian pines and the calm waters of Rae’s Creek.
It wouldn’t be the same, not without the thousands and thousands of spectators framing each hole and emitting piercing roars from all corners of the pitch.
It won’t be the same.
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What makes these Masters unlike any other is the calendar. Golf̵7;s annual spring ritual takes place two weeks before Thanksgiving. And without sponsors, the cathedral of golf would never be quieter.
“It will be very strange. It will be different, ”said Rory McIlroy. “But at least we’re playing for a green jacket.”
There is not even a lot of certainty when the COVID-19 pandemic begins to close sports around the world a week before the first day of spring. The Masters was postponed – a relief to those initially fearing being canceled – and then rescheduled for November 12-15, the final exam of an unforgettable year.
When the pandemic cannot be eased, the club has no choice but to close the doors to sponsors. There are no green “Golf Traffic” signs posted about the city, or people lining up on Washington Street to find tickets.
There will be no Par 3 Competition, with players dressed in white overalls for their children. First-time players may not know better. For veterans, it might not be that much different from their reconnaissance trips to Augusta National. They will know what they are missing, the sights and sounds.
“You walk through the gates at Augusta, have that energy, that expectation,” said McIlroy, his 10th appearance at the only major tournament that kept him away from the career Grand Slam. “There’s still a golf course out there. There’s still a golf tournament to win, and you have to make use of it.”
“But they’re playing,” he said. “And that’s the most important part.”
Tiger Woods had to wait 19 months to play another Masters.
He won his fifth blue coat, which is as important as any of his 15 majors if he takes into account where he has been. His one-shot win last year limited to one of the more notable comebacks in sports, including four back surgeries and a DUI catch due to bad drug combinations while trying cope with pain.
Woods ended the year by winning in Japan with his 82nd career win, marking the PGA Tour record held by Sam Snead. Excitement is building up for this year, especially the Masters. And then it stops. Woods, keeping a limited schedule to get the most out of his 44-year-old body, only played two tournaments when the pandemic stopped the sports.
And then he barely played – once before a normal performance at the PGA Championship, two FedEx Cup playoffs before he missed a chance at the US Open, and a tournament in two months leading up to Masters. Las Vegas places the odds to tie Jack Nicklaus with the sixth green jacket at 35-1.
“The whole year is different from all of us,” he said. “And my journey to Augusta was nothing like anything I’ve been through. That’s it.”
But it was Augusta National, a course he knew well. His optimism hasn’t waned.
“My game is definitely better at the US Open,” Woods said last month. “I feel a little better prepared, a little better, and hopefully that translates into golfing.”
Even as the defending champion and biggest star of golf, Woods is still playing second at the Masters.
Bryson DeChambeau has been a gossip about golf since golf’s return. He added about 40 pounds of muscle and mass, all designed to make it possible for him to swing faster, harder and hit shots farther than anyone could imagine. It took him to a six-shot win at the US Open with a convention-defying game. And that’s just the beginning.
DeChambeau took a month off from the Masters to work on a 48-inch handlebar – the size used by World Long Drive contestants, his inspiration – in hopes of beating Augusta National as Woods did when he hit par 5 on his way to a 12-shot win in 1997.
“If he could get a 48 inch steering wheel playing, he would shoot under 20 or higher. It will be a carnage, ”said World Long Drive champion Kyle Berkshire, who provided feedback to DeChambeau. “He might also be the only one of course.”
DeChambeau won’t be the only one on course. It will just feel that way.
The player is allowed to bring along another important person and a coach. Members of Augusta National are welcome to attend. That’s it. And for the Masters, that’s not much.
By now, the players were accustomed to the silence. Spectators were not allowed to enter the PGA Championship or the US Open, and only recently a very limited number of fans were allowed in Bermuda and Houston.
But nowhere else but Augusta National would be a tranquility hard to ignore.
“It echoed there. It travels. You probably know who’s doing what, and the roars of some people are louder than others, “Woods said.” It doesn’t look like it anywhere in the world. “
However, they are playing. Those are the Masters. Woods is chasing another blue coat. Five players took their turn for the # 1 spot this year. It will be quite a show, as always, until the moment CBS signs up from Augusta National on Sunday afternoon so it can broadcast an NFL match.