masters: In the ever-moving world of golf, The Masters is the only constant

On Thursday, Chairman Fred Ridley will invite Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson to honor the first tee of the 86th edition of The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

There is hardly any other celebration in golf that can aspire to the sacred heights that the Masters achieve year after year. The Open Championship in St Andrews in July will obviously lift the spirits of the sport, but the Open operates on a cycle of venues, as does every other major tournament in golf. The Masters returns to Augusta National, only in an eternal march.

In a world of constant hustle and bustle, each new season in golf ticks off the last one. But as players work their way through the rankings from September to March, it’s only a winding road of preparation for this grand spring festival in Georgia, a southern state in the United States.

Masters in one invitation. Typically, the top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), season winners on the PGA Tour, major champions and past winners of the event are among the list of 19 criteria that are used to draw invitations to the event. . It is expected that there could be around 91 golfers on the field this year, even if it changes at the last minute before the start of play.

Tiger Woods’ arrival in Augusta, on a private jet, eagerly tracked by ardent aviation pundits, met with a flurry of expectations last week. The great man hasn’t played competitive golf in 17 long months. There was little, if any, possible for Woods to play again after that accident on the sidelines of the Genesis Invitational in 2021. The tournament has always been more about Augusta’s players, but Woods is an exception. Questions remain, but if Tiger goes out on a limb on Thursday, it could break the internet.

The Green Jacket offers a rare kind of greatness with open access to the Masters for Life. Not for Phil Mickelson. The left-handed American has three jackets (2004, 2006 and 2010), but in the wake of some unwelcome comments about the state of the game, he has been politely excluded. It is the first time in 28 years that Mickelson will be absent from the tournament.

Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama has no such misery. He will be the first to arrive comfortably and prepared to serve the Champions Dinner on Tuesday. And again, he will hope to play well enough to defend the title. No one has succeeded in it since Woods in 2002.

Surrounded by bright azaleas and tall pine, the course is 7,510 yards. Augusta National has made some changes this year as well. Par-5 15th hole has been increased from 20 yards to 550. The 11th hole is also playing 15 yards long at 520.

“The 11th hole, I think, is a good change,” Woods told Golf Digest. “He took out a little dogleg and took out some trees on the right. It’s a nice change.

“And then 15, I haven’t seen it yet, but we’re going to be behind about 10 green. I didn’t know there was land back there. They get land, they can make land,” Woods Laughed, half jokingly.

“Every green has been redone,” Woods informed. “Every beat is softer than when I first played here. The golf ball has changed, we’re hitting the same irons, but not the same trajectory. They’re still extremely hard; the shelves get bigger.” Huh. ”

The changes underscore the enduring challenge of the Masters. Augusta National is traditional to the point of being flamboyant with the smallest details. In the same breath, it has also been able to adapt the curriculum to deal with the sport and the continual evolution of its practitioners.

The three named bridges are a small, yet important reminder of the rich heritage that adorns this course and event. (Ben) Hogan Bridge in the dreaded 12th green, (Byron) Nelson Bridge in the 13th tee box, and (Jean) Sarazen Bridge near the 15th green – each celebrating their poignant performances from the tournament’s sacred past.

Dropping the ball for 16 during practice, the Champions Dinner on Tuesday, the Crow’s Nest hosting amateurs and the famous par-3 competition, all are reminders of the rich traditions of Augusta National Golf Club. The state-of-the-art Subair system that keeps greens dry enough for play and helps tournament committee manage stipmeter readings is a sign of modernity soaked under this rich veneer of great tradition.

Forty-five years after shooting Final Round 67 to defeat Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson will have the honor of joining the Golden Bears and Players as an honorary starter. When Nicklaus is also celebrating the golden jubilee of his fourth Green Jacket in 1972, emotions will run high. It’s been 20 years since Woods became the third golfer to successfully defend the title.

At the end of Friday, the Top 50 more ties will make their way into the weekend. And on the night of April 10, another great champion will be crowned under the Big Oak Tree by the prestigious clubhouse.

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