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Augusta buzzing with Masters expectation

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Rob Hodgetts | 15:42 UK time, Monday, 2 April 2012

Out here, the Masters doesn't start on Thursday. It's started.

The National, as locals call the course, is already packed and buzzing with anticipation.

This week's 76th edition is shaping up to be a blockbuster, an old-fashioned clash of the titans. And for good reason.

Tiger Woods is back in form and eyeing a fifth Green Jacket in what would surely rank as his greatest win. Rory McIlroy, a young man at the other end of the spectrum, is arguably the hottest property on the golfing planet. A win 12 months on from his infamous collapse would eclipse his spell-binding US Open triumph.

Then there is three-time champion Phil Mickelson, another Augusta specialist, and world number one Luke Donald. All four with wins this season. All hungry for different reasons.

Lee Westwood, ranked third behind McIlroy, says he has been focused on this week since the USPGA in August. That elusive major is all he is missing.

Defending champion Charl Schwartzel leads the supporting cast but comes in under most people's radars. England's Justin Rose has led around here and also won recently. A new breed of Americans such as USPGA champion Keegan Bradley and Hunter Mahan are making names for themselves. Aussies Jason Day, Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy, South Korea's KJ Choi, and Argentina's 2009 champion Angel Cabrera all have claims, too.

It's all smiles for Tiger Woods again, having won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in the lead up to the Masters. Photo: AP

But if it does turn out to be Woods and McIlroy going head-to-head on Sunday the Augusta roars could still be reverberating when we return next year.

"The Masters is always good but if this all works out properly it could be an absolute belter," said the BBC's voice of golf Peter Alliss.

Augusta in spring represents a gathering of golfing clans, both here and in front of TVs around the world. It is an annual rebirth of the game for many, and the first chance for eight months to bag a place in the history books for the players.

Looking out over the "lovely monster", as Alliss describes it, on Monday morning, it's not hard to see why Ian Woosnam rates it as the golf course he would play in heaven. For many, just setting foot on the grounds is nirvana.

Looking out from in front of the clubhouse over the first tee, the land plunges away and colourful streams of patrons trickle down to glimpse Tiger Woods already out around Amen Corner.

Over to the left is the 10th tee, innocent-looking now but the beginning of the end for McIlroy last year. How long will he dwell there this time?

Between the 18th green and the ninth green coming in from the right is a vast space, much more open than the Augusta you think you know on TV. Its real jewels are encased in the pine trees further down the property.

The grass is so thick and lush you feel you should be wearing slippers. Sun dazzles the iconic white and green Masters scoreboard on the first fairway. The smell of pine and wood chippings, and early cigar smoke, float through the air. Conversation hums quietly, but excitedly. First-timers can't take enough photos.

But it's more than the view. It's also a feeling. Of reverence, history, familiarity. Awe. Strict rationing on TV has always left us wanting more which adds to the aura. Too much gloss?

"I'm not much of a golf fan, but the Masters is my favourite sporting event of the year," said a colleague back home.

The Augusta National is a place rooted in tradition, regimented in code and yet so innovative and forward thinking. A cutting-edge website, apps, state-of-the art media centre, the best practice ground in the world.

But despite its grand status as one of sport's holy grails, it is grounded. A traditional pimento cheese sandwich costs $1.50, beer is $3. Tickets are affordable ($75), if hard to come by.

"Everything is the same and yet it changes every year," said Alliss.

"Some of what they do is delightfully old fashioned and some is very up-to-date."

The 81-year-old first came to Augusta to play in the 1966 Masters and is back commentating for his 26th year with the BBC.

"I had six invitations, the first was in 1955, and I never went," he said. "I only went twice, in 1966 and 1967, because back then it was a long way to go, the prize money was very poor and it wasn't the great thing it is now. If somebody said now you had an invitation and you said, 'no thanks' they'd think you were mad.

"But the press have loved it from day one and built it into this marvellous thing."

Of course, the Masters is about more than just a lush Georgian greensward.

Its legend has been made by layers of sporting drama, beginning with Horton Smith's inaugural win in 1934 and going through the Ben Hogan and Sam Snead years, to Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus's rivalry, Gary Player breaking the US strangehold, Seve Ballesteros pioneering the way for the Europeans, Sandy Lyle becoming the first Briton to don a Green Jacket, Nick Faldo claiming three, Nicklaus winning an unpredented sixth aged 46, Woods's first win in 1997, Mickelson's breakthrough in 2004, right up to Schwartzel's four-birdie finish to triumph last year.

"There's something about that Green Jacket," said Schwartzel. "Every time you put it on you get this very, very proud feeling."

The South African, who now shares a locker with the late Ballesteros in the Champions Locker Room, will host a braai (bbq) for his traditional Champions Dinner on Tuesday.

"I'm very excited about that and yet nervous," he said. "You're going to be around legends and past champions in a room. It's probably going to be the best evening of my life."

That elusive club will embrace an old friend or welcome a new member on Sunday.

Masters week is go.

You can follow me on Twitter or send in questions, observations and chat to the blog.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    And what a shame that the BBC has only got live coverage on the last two days. Little by little Sky is taking sport over.

  • Comment number 2.

    But to be fair to sky, they invest in the sport and you can't argue with the coverage. The way they have delivered F1 (though not a fan of the sport) is to be comended and BBC can't compete against four 24 hour sports channels.

    Yes I miss Peter Allis and sky have a way to go with some of their presenting team, little less easy on the eye, bit more knowing their trade, but they have raised the barrier.

  • Comment number 3.

    I still think the buzz back in 2001 when Woods was going for completion of the Tiger Slam was higher and it showed in the TV rating both side of the Atlantic.

    @2, Sky Team makes me want to reach for the mute button on the remote.

  • Comment number 4.

    Dont miss Peter Allis at all would much rather here monty and harmon. It will be one of the best masters for years, watch out for Alvaro Quiros big hitting and sound game around the greens should give hima chance if he can control his short irons.

  • Comment number 5.

    Woods will win at a canter, by at least 4 or 5!

  • Comment number 6.

    Never liked Allis much, but Monty (a good putt misses on the high side...) and Harmon aren't really an improvement. Mark Roe is horrible in the commentary (if he hadn't signed the wrong card once we probably wouldn't have heard from him again). If I end up having to watch golf without Ken Brown and Maureen, both outstanding, I will be sad.

  • Comment number 7.

    Prediction-wise. Heart says Garcia, realistic heart says Donald, head says Woods.

  • Comment number 8.

    Woods had only g mac to beat last time out 1st hole double bogey game over I will reserve judgement until he does it again when under the cosh

    My picks this week are

    G woodland 110/1
    R Mcilroy 6/1
    A Carberra 80/1

    Woodland swing change could suit augusta
    Rory seems pretty determined
    Angel got a bit of form at this place big price

  • Comment number 9.

    Garcia won't win. Anyone who can't putt can't win. Much as I'd like him to. I fear Rory's taken too much time off. 3 weeks?? I would love him to take Woods apart down the stretch though. That may well be my heart talking. Somehow I'm struggling to see past the yanks this year...it's gonna be close though
    1. Woods
    2. Rose
    3. Donald,Michleson
    4. Stricker, Mcilroy,

  • Comment number 10.

    9.rustyrussell

    Rory took 3 weeks off to prep last year, didn`t do him to much harm, like stricker a lot
    don`t think he is long enough for augusta though

  • Comment number 11.

    Jimmy ..Get that updated table on dude, what ya up to fella????!!!!
    @10 Rich..... Maybe with regard's to Rory... But it seems to me that he wanted a bit of down time with sweetness, When he should have played maybe Bay Hill in between. After all the lad has got a lot of memories of "blowing it" last year....Stricks is'nt long enough, but he can put fella..At the minute I would look at the best swing coach in the game, Foley...His students are dominating....And maybe the best of all who knows Augusta better than anyone will prsosper!!!!???

  • Comment number 12.

    prosper

  • Comment number 13.

    Nobody does sport better then the BBC - golf especially.

    I don't know why people say you have to be a big hitter to win at Augusta - Weir, Johnson, Immelman... Not to mention those who have nearly won (Donald last yr if he hadn't played his first 9 holes of the tournament like he did).

    Woods V McIlroy down the stretch on Sunday would be the greatest spectacle in sports for a long time.

    If your betting (each way): Rose, Querios, Day.

    Can't wait.

  • Comment number 14.

    Agree that Garcia probably won't win it. Always feel like he and Mickelson have had opposite trajectories from talent to multiple major winner. Mickelson's putt at Augusta lipped in when it looked for all the world to be lipping out, and Garcia's similar length effort at Carnoustie horse-shoed and stayed out. Since then and the subsequent near miss at the PGA he's been unable to string 4 rounds together. Still, always hoping. I don't think Rory's memories of last time out will haunt him too much - I think victory at the open put paid to that. He's just learnt a valuable lesson about front-running - don't take your foot of the pedal. I wouldn't bet against McIlroy or Woods (obviously) if they're leading after 54.

  • Comment number 15.

    has anyone noticed paaddy power are doing keegan Bradley at 33/1 with ew down to 6th and refunding bets if woods wins. ill have some of that.

    The masters is special. So many moments of genius and disaster, i get goosebumps when the sky advert comes on. Even tho im having a bet on Bradley, i fancy rors to do it. hes too good not to and as he showed at the us open when he plays hi a game, no one can touch him

    Come on Rory

  • Comment number 16.

    I got Cabrera last week at 150-1, he has dropped a lot because he showed some form in Houston, still worth a bet at 90-1 though. Can't look past Woods from the favourites though, even last year when he was playing miserably he was still up there challenging on Sunday.

  • Comment number 17.

    Nice post, Rob. Good, old-fashioned journalism: like John Arlott, made me feel as if I was right there. A perfectly painted picture. Thank you.

  • Comment number 18.

    I honestly think Justin Rose is going to win. Very underated Putter

  • Comment number 19.

    Not much to convince me that you wont go far wrong looking to woods with Mclroy Mickleson Jason Day donald and Westwood in the mix. Bilo gotta love the belly Putter ha ha Perhaps Keegan Bradley to win

  • Comment number 20.

    Like all of the mentioned favourites, Woods, Little mac, G Mac, Westwood, Donald (although he sends me to sleep), don't like Mickleson but he will be there. Nobody mentioned Hunter Mahan, watch for him.

  • Comment number 21.

    absolutely buzzing for The Masters. Something about it sets it apart from the other majors for me. The build up on Sky has been superb. Yes they are slowly taking over sport, but their coverage is second to none for me. It's fantastic.

    I cannot wait for the tournament to start. Am hoping for a Donald win, just to shut the doubters up who seem to forever go on about how "he can't be number one, he's never won a major".

    Agree with post #20. Hunter Mahan is definitely one to watch. Rose will be up there as well, in my opinion. Wouldn't mind seeing Ricky Fowler having a strong tournament as well.

    Whatever the result, buzzing!

  • Comment number 22.

    6.
    At 21:03 2nd Apr 2012, Nick wrote:

    Never liked Allis much, but Monty (a good putt misses on the high side...) and Harmon aren't really an improvement. Mark Roe is horrible in the commentary (if he hadn't signed the wrong card once we probably wouldn't have heard from him again). If I end up having to watch golf without Ken Brown and Maureen, both outstanding, I will be sad.


    --------------------------------------------------------

    I agree Ken Brown & Maureen are excellent commentator

  • Comment number 23.

    I just hope for the sake of the tournament that some or all of the above mentioned players bring their 'a-game' to Augusta, as they are threatening to. If the big boys are on page one of the leaderboard come Sunday then this could be the best Masters in history: with an almost unprecedented depth of quality and form in the field it ought to take some miraculous golf to take the green jacket.

    That doesn't mean that Woods, Rory, Donald and the rest wont flop for a Charl Schwartzle to emerge from the pack...

  • Comment number 24.

    Agree with Nick @17 - great blog - sets the scene brilliantly. Bring it on.

  • Comment number 25.

    I really can't wait for the masters, i've placed a large bet with my local bookmakers.

    £25 e/w - Gary Woodland @ 125-1
    £10 e/w - Bo Van Pelt @ 90-1
    £30 win - Hunter Mahan @ 33-1

    i've got a good feeling that i'll be receiving a three figure payout.

    Great blog

  • Comment number 26.

    I would love Rose or Donald to win but IMO Rose has no pace on his putts and looks tentative on short ones a recipe for disaster at Ausguta. Luuuuke has a good chance but hard to see past Rory and Tiger. Cannot wait - taking Thurs and Fri off work to enjoy on TV here in the US

  • Comment number 27.

    Some good bets being placed here No 25. has got some good prices. Was fortunate enough to watch it in 3D last year. Absolutely amazing. You really get the feeling of the wickedly sloping fairways that is lost on 2D TV. Also the flight of the ball and the putts, can't wait. Was foolish enough to then lash out for 3D. Bit of damp squib, but the golf......wow!

  • Comment number 28.

    My Grandson has a 3D television, he paid quite a bit for it but he's said the same as DurhamDiver, the golf is meant to be amazing.

 

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