The prey and predators of a Georgia putting green
Augusta, practice putting green, Sunday afternoon - Putting is a funny old game.
As we all know, the object of the exercise is to get this little ball into that hole just over there, just a few paces away in fact, with this metal club.
So, you work out in which direction you have to hit it, taking into account any slopes the ball might encounter on its way, and you decide how hard you might need to hit it to get it there.
Then, when all that's done, there's not much else left to do. So you hit it.
But watching players on the putting green here at Augusta, you'd think rocket designers could learn a thing or two.
To begin with there's all the weird types of ironmongery employed, variations on a theme to be wafted a few inches one way, then the other. Some have two or three golf ball-sized circles on putter's back porch, others look like those big, round, holey spoons that chefs use to get vegetables out of boiling water.
Then there are the training devices. Angel Cabrera pokes a long stick into the back of his putter and rests it in his belly to keep his arms in place.
Some, like Nick Watney, use a yellow metal girder to keep their putter on line going back.
Others, and these are quite popular, favour tee pegs marked out in all manner of complicated matrixes. Shingo Katayama, after Saturday's third round, had Hampton Court maze in miniature going on.
There are two schools of thought for a caddie while his man is putting. Some of them, clad in their white overalls - or as we called them at university; beer suits, lager splattering for the use of - wait at the hole, pitching wedge in hand to hoick out the balls. You'd get told off at your own club for doing that.
The caddies whose boss is a purist leave them to their own devices and retreat to the edge of the green to chat to their mates. The player even picks the balls out of the hole himself and everything. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are in this group.
Earlier in the week, before the serious business of actually playing golf begins, is the time to spot the agents - peacockus struttus, to give them their Latin name.
They schmooze about the joint, pressing flesh, slapping backs. Sometimes really hard. The driving range is a favourite haunt but you'll often find them venturing to the putting green when prey is short.
Expensively sunglass'd, with high-waisted trousers, sharp of crease, and with an alarmingly coloured sweater flung over their shoulders, the agents always take up a solid, wide-legged stance, mainly to avoid toppling over under the weight of their own ego.
But putting clearly being on a higher mystical level than just as a way of getting the ball in the hole from close range, it's the short game coach who's king here.
This breed are often older and dressed slightly more conservatively than their man, whose pink crocodile shoes are so new they squeak and whose shirt, complete with ice-white piping, is straight from the packet and will be worn for one round then thrown away.
The short-game coach needs to be old because he is then deemed to have years of experience in the dark arts of putting.
He stands with hands behind his back, flip-down driving sunglasses attached around his neck by a cord, sensible hat pulled down over his face to hide the fact he's asleep.
Occasionally, if you're standing close enough, you might hear a chunter.
If you could speak short-game coach, you'd know he was saying, "Now then, the hole's over there. It's not perfectly flat, mind. Away you go. Oh, and that will be a million pounds, please."
One old-timer stood around the green at Augusta this week summed it all up perfectly.
"If you can't putt, you can't putt," he growled.
But don't tell the golfers.
PEEKING INSIDE AUGUSTA'S CLUBHOUSE
Augusta's clubhouse, breakfast time, Sunday - No Easter eggs for me, but I consoled myself by starting a new Masters tradition (it will be if I ever come again) and having breakfast on the balcony overlooking the course.
It was purely for research purposes you understand, so I could have a nose about the clubhouse for you.
Inside the door from the course side, is a plush lounge with two roaring fires (electric). Beyond that is the reception lobby, the right-hand wall lined with pictures of former champions.
Off that are some offices and the front door, the one you see the past winners entering when they come for the Champions Dinner. Outside is the Founders' Circle, the flagpole and the shrubbery in the shape of the Augusta logo.
During practice days, patrons flock here to take photos - it's an iconic scene - but during the tournament you have to queue up to be snapped by an official photographer. You then buy the pics online.
Back inside and up a carpet-lined staircase bending around to the left is an informal dining room, with seating inside and out on the balcony, where I joined a couple of guys writing for the official Masters website,one of whom turns out to be US satirist Will Durst. From the balcony you can survey the goings on under the tree, the practice green, the 1st tee and dappled vistas across the course, through the branches of the great oak. Inside, there are book-lined shelves, a TV and some great old black and white photos of Augusta blanketed in snow.
At the back of the dining room is the door that leads to the Champions' Locker room. It's guarded by a man called William, who is trying to read Johnny Miller's book "I Call the Shots" but keeps getting interrupted by clowns like me asking if this is the Champions' Locker room.
Inside the door, which says "Masters Club Room. Private", is a lounge, with dining tables, the lockers where they leave the Green Jackets, and showers.
The Crow's Nest, the dormitory where the amateurs stay, is directly above us, accessed via a ladder. But the lady at reception tells me I can't see it because the players - Danny Lee, Rainier Saxton and Drew Kittleson - are still there, despite all having missed the cut. For the record, it's 30x40ft with the 11ft sq cupola rising from the roof. It sleeps five, divided by partitions into three into single bed areas and one two-bed area. There is a bathroom, sitting area and shelves stacked with golf books and photo-lined walls. Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus stayed here in the past.
To the right of the course-side entrance to the clubhouse is a more formal dining room and then some members cabins. The famous Butler Cabin, where they present the winner with the Green Jacket on TV, is along there, too, but separate. The guard goes inside for me to ask if I can see it but CBS are "in the middle of something".
Going left from the clubhouse as you look at it from the course, there is the grill room, which is another dining room with bar, and a small lounge with a TV, luxurious sofas and books.
Next you come to the main locker room, and below that is a steam room and whirlpool. While I'm loitering, Graeme McDowell pops out. "Hi G-mac", I say. "Hi, how's it going?" He answers back. What a nice chap.
Beyond the locker room, but unconnected, is the pro shop, which despite being off limits to the public is rammed with souvenir hunters. Across the way again is the caddie barn, which is where the clubs are stored. I bump into Paul Casey's caddie Craig Connolly and he tells me he's glad it's nearly over.
"It's so tiring mentally," he says. I ask how the caddies feel about having to wear the white boiler suits. He says he doesn't mind too much. "It's all part of the tradition. But when it gets to about 80C, they get..." He turns to Robert Allenby's caddie Michael Waite for inspiration, before adding, "Disgusting."
There's the distinct suggestion that going "commando" is a serious consideration when the mercury rises. "They're good when it's cold, though," says Waite. I also learn that the cads must wear the Augusta green baseball caps. "I prefer to wear a visor," says Waite, "But I'm not allowed."
The boys tell me that the caddies are extremely well looked after, with an extensive caddyshack - they call it a caddie house - with canteen, wifi, plasma TV, lounge, showers and a bar.
How very civilised. Mooch over.
I'LL DRINK TO THAT
One thing that's amused me all week wandering around the Augusta National is the number of patrons carrying small towers of plastic cups, like Obelix clutching stacks of helmets from the Romans he has bashed up.
You'd think this was some sort of drinking competition, with empties needed as proof of consumption.
But these aren't the squashy, thin plastic variety so favoured in the pub gardens of Britain.
These are rigid, semi-opaque ones with Masters 2009 and the Augusta logo.
Effectively then, you buy a souvenir cup for $2.75 and get the first fill of beer free (or $1.50 for a soft drink).
Deciding to join in this beat-the-credit-crunch way of picking up some cheap Masters stash, I went to a concession stand just to buy some cups.
Turns out, you can't just buy the cup, you have to have the drink, too. Something to do with gauging how much has been consumed.
No, me neither.
So, either I buy, say, six soft drinks and then jettison the contents, or I've got an afternoon on the sauce ahead of me. You can manage without me for a while, can't you?
Amusing if ultimately disappointing scenes in the media centre.
The announcement came over the tannoy, "The results of the lottery are now at reception." It's the news we'd been waiting for all week. The members of the fourth estate put their name in a ballot to play the course on Monday morning - and, naturally, everyone was on tenterhooks.
When the message came, I looked down from my eyrie at the back of the room - like an amphitheatre-style lecture hall - and started giggling. People were looking around, grinning, no one wanting to be seen to rush straight down to the front desk. Some paused and then walked down, with serious faces on pretending to have other business down there.
Others went, with sheepish grins, knowing their eagerness had been rumbled. I played it cool, and held back for ages before intrigue got the better of me. But alas, I was not among the lucky 28. A good thing for the course probably.