AUGUSTA, Ga. — A quick stroll across the manicured landscape of Augusta National afforded a glimpse of why this Masters is so hard to figure out.
On the putting green in a quiet moment of practice was 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, one of a record 24 newcomers who has every reason to believe he can win. On the golf course for the final day of practice was Webb Simpson, a former U.S. Open champion and one of 21 players who have captured the last 24 majors.
Nowhere to be found, of course, was Tiger Woods.
Out of golf until the summer because of back surgery, out of the Masters for the first time in his career, the show goes on.
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“Well, we miss Tiger, as does the entire golf world,” Masters chairman Billy Payne said. “He is always a threat to make a run and do well and win here at Augusta National. … Nevertheless, this is the Masters. This is what we hope is the best tournament in the world, one of the greatest sporting events. And I think we will have a very impressive audience and have another great champion to crown this year.”
The course closed for practice Wednesday afternoon, and a stream of fans made their way over to the Par 3 Tournament, where occasional cheers broke the silence. It was a precursor of what was sure to follow over the next four days at a major that rarely fails to deliver drama.
Even without Woods.
“It’s probably the most anticipated week of the year,” Rory McIlroy said. “It’s been eight months since we’ve had a major. It’s Augusta. … There’s a lot of guys that seem like once they drive up Magnolia Lane here, something lights up inside them.”
That could be Phil Mickelson, who last year won the British Open at age 42 and now has a chance to join Woods and Arnold Palmer with a fourth green jacket. It could be Adam Scott, trying to join Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus as the only back-to-back winners.
Considering how this year has gone, it could be anybody.
Jason Day, Sergio Garcia and former Masters champion Zach Johnson are the only players from the top 10 who have won anywhere in the world. Only one of the last seven winners on the PGA Tour was ranked in the top 75.
Ryan Moore from Puyallup shot a 6-under 21 to win the Par 3 tournament at Augusta National, calling it a “perfect practice day.”
Since the Par 3 contest began in 1960, no winner has gone on to don the green jacket later in the week. Raymond Floyd (1990) and Chip Beck (1993) won the midweek tournament and finished second on Sunday. But since no one has swept both events, the Par 3 has become more of a curse than a forecast for the Masters.
“I’m not afraid of it,” Moore said. “You never know. Someone has got to break that curse at some point in time, so hopefully it’s me, if I end up winning. Who knows? I might go shoot 8 under or something, make a couple hole-in-ones. We’ll see.”
Tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, who caddied for McIlroy, her fiancé, stood out because her blonde hair was dyed bright pink.