Masters offers a course in history

Tiger Woods will be dangerous this weekend at Augusta as he seems to be at the beginning of a career revival.
Tiger Woods will be dangerous this weekend at Augusta as he seems to be at the beginning of a career revival. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: April 03, 2012

IT'S SORT OF like those swallows that head back every year from a winter vacation in Argentina to the mission at San Juan Capistrano in SoCal.

The golf season doesn't really start until the PGA Tour hits Washington Road in Augusta, which for the other 51 weeks of the year is just another stop along Interstate 20 in the eastern part of Georgia. OK, so it's the state's third-largest city, but you get the idea.

Yes, they've already played a bunch of tournaments, some bigger than others. But they were all warmups. And really, didn't it used to be better when the Players Championship was held a couple of weeks before this?

Anyway, the first major of the season is finally upon us. It's a reason for the casual fan to pay attention. And it's the only one that returns to the same place every year, which is probably why it's the one more people tend to get into most.

You know the setting, and the history. It's like catching up with an old friend. And the best part is, this is the major where a usual suspect is most equipped to reach back and do some damage. Just because. You wouldn't see Jack Nicklaus winning a U.S. Open at age 46. But even a decade later, he was still able to give patrons goosebumps here. Same with a lot of fan faves. Ask Fred Couples. Or Raymond Floyd. Did we forget Tom Watson? It's why Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods can always be factors, even if maybe they're not getting it done as often at other venues anymore.

And this year, it's almost a perfect situation. Lefty has played well. Rory McIlroy, who's probably the world's best right now, no matter how the rankings fluctuate, could have won here last April. Then he did win the U.S. Open 2 months later. You think he's not going to get some green jackets? Maybe soon.

Oops, almost forgot about that Tiger fellow, who might actually be all the way back. Or at least pretty close, which for mere humans is still rather formidable. You think that will get the patrons, not to mention most of America, a little extra jacked? Let's hope that nasty Achilles' cooperates. Then again, he did win a U.S. Open on one leg. Of course that was almost 4 years ago.

You don't need to check with ESPN to know that the anticipation will be seismic.

If nothing else, the Masters historically produces worthy champions, although the last decade has also given us Mike Weir, Zach Johnson and Trevor Immelman. But Augusta National has, for the most part, been a theater for the all-timers.

The U.S. Open might be the hardest championship to win, and the British Open might be the oldest and mean more to the rest of the planet. But the Masters is where it all gets going in earnest. And the winner is the only guy who has a chance to win the grand slam, for those that still think anyone other than Tiger in his prime could can actually do.

It's the green jacket, and the champions dinner, and the ghosts that permeate the grounds, and Amen Corner, and the azaleas, and the simple fact that it's Augusta National in all its traditional majesty, cliche or not.

It really is unlike anything else, the perfect opening act to the 4-month major run. Even if you get Charl Schwartzel instead of a Mount Rushmore name.


DID YOU KNOW?

* Charl Schwartzel (four birdies) became the first champion to play the final four holes in 4-under par since Jack Nicklaus (eagle, birdie, birdie, par) in 1986.

* Schwartzel joined Jimmy Demaret (1940) and Herman Keiser (1946) as players who won the Masters in their second appearance.

* Schwartzel, who entered the last round four shots behind Rory McIlroy, produced the largest final-18 comeback at the Masters since Nick Faldo rallied from six down to pass Greg Norman in 1996.

* Schwartzel was just the second winner in the last 21 years who didn't play in the final pairing, joining Zach Johnson (2007).

* Schwartzel's winning score of 274 is the lowest by an international champion.

* Jason Day tied a record for lowest score in any round (second-round 64) by a first-year participant, joining Lloyd Mangrum (first round, 1940), Mike Donald (first round, 1990) and David Toms (fourth round, 1998).

* Adam Scott closed with two 67s, his best scores in 36 rounds at Augusta National. His only prior sub-70 score was a first-round 69 in 2010. His only other top 10 Masters finish came in his first start in 2002 (tie for ninth).

* Tiger Woods closed with a 67, his best fourth-round score at Augusta. He now has 10 top fives, trailing only Jack Nicklaus (15).

* Only two players have shot 63s, which, of course, ties the record for low score in any major. Nick Price did it in the third round in 1986, but finished fifth. And Greg Norman did so in the first round. He would finish second, with that infamous closing 78.

* There have been 15 playoffs, eight since the sudden-death format was implemented in 1976. None has gone beyond two holes, while three ended after one. The first playoff, in 1935, was 36 holes between Gene Sarazen (144) and Craig Wood (149).


TV SCHEDULE

Thursday and Friday: 3-7:30 p.m., ESPN 

Saturday: 3:30-7 p.m., CBS

Sunday: 2-7, CBS


FIGURING THE ODDS

Tiger Woods (4-1): Time to find out just how far back he really is.

Rory McIlroy (5-1): This place owes him one.

Phil Mickelson (10-1): Won here three times, including 2 years ago.

Luke Donald (12-1): World No. 1 has to win a major sometime, right?

Lee Westwood (15-1): Was runner-up here in 2010.

Justin Rose (18-1): Won World Golf Championship event last month in Miami. Has same coach as Tiger.

Hunter Mahan (20-1): Only two-time PGA Tour winner this year but it's almost impossible to win the Masters after you've just won.

Dustin Johnson (20-1): Has nearly won almost every other major.

Keegan Bradley (22-1): Won the last major, first time in this one.

Jason Day (24-1): Put on some show here last April.

Adam Scott (27-1): Came close a year ago. His caddie has multiple wins here.

Charl Schwartzel (30-1): Maybe he'll birdie last five holes this time. He birdied the final four last year to win.

Steve Stricker (33-1): Probably not, but he has his moments.

Martin Kaymer (35-1): Still way up there in rankings.

Graeme McDowell (40-1): As long as he's not in the last group with Tiger. Then again, that could apply to almost anybody.

Sergio Garcia (50-1): Just wanted to see if you were still paying attention. If only putting didn't count.

Five others to ponder: Bubba Watson, Brandt Snedecker, Ryo Ishikawa, Paul Casey and Geoff Ogilvy.


THE DREADED PICK

Sorry, I'm going with Tagger, for I'm pretty sure the first time since the 2009 PGA Championship, which he should have won. I already have him in a yearlong pool that I picked back in December, so what the hey? Right now I'm not doing too well. Put him in a quinella with Dustin Johnson. I'm just not sure why. Good thing there's always the U.S. Open in 2 months.


FEATURE HOLE

The 10th hole at Augusta National Golf Club has traditionally ranked as the toughest on the course. Particularly now that it has been lengthened to 500 yards. Ask Rory McIlroy. In fact it's the start of a stretch that also includes (using statistics going back to 1942) the second- and third-hardest holes, respectively, in Nos. 12 and 11.

The average score on the downhill par-4 has been 4.32. The easiest it ever played was 4.12, in 1995. And the most difficult was 1956, at 4.69. Ugh.

You want to drive the ball to the left-center of the fairway, hopefully to catch the slope and get some additional roll. There are trees guarding both sides of the landing area. And as McIlroy found out last year, there are cabins way to the left, where few people venture. Even from the short grass you're still faced with probably a fairly long approach into a green that moves right to left. There aren't many simple up and downs should you miss the putting surface, even though there's only one greenside bunker, located to the right front. There's more sand, about 20 yards in front on the other side, to catch potential run-ups.

In short, you can hit two really decent shots and still be happy just to make par and move on. Birdie is almost like stealing one, and bogeys are shockingly not that uncommon. Sometimes, it even produces disasters. Ask McIlroy. Or even Len Mattiace, who took a double there in his 2003 playoff with Mike Weir. Or you could be like Ben Crenshaw, who made a 60-foot putt there, his third consecutive birdie on Sunday, to help propel him from a 2-shot deficit to a 2-shot victory in 1984. It was his long-awaited first major. He would add another, even more improbable green jacket 11 years later, when he again closed with a 68 to win by one.

And Jack Nicklaus made a bird there, also his third straight, from closer but along the same line on the final day in 1986, on his way to the best finish ever.


HAPPY ANNIVERSARY

10 years ago: Tiger Woods wins for the third time, by three, to become the third to repeat, joining Jack Nicklaus (1965-66) and Nick Faldo (1989-90).

15 years ago: Woods, in his first major as a professional, wins by a record 12 shots with an all-time low score of 270.

25 years ago: Augusta's own Larry Mize chips in from 140 feet for a bird on the second playoff hole (No. 11) to beat Greg Norman, who had lost the previous major, the 1987 PGA, when Bob Tway holed out a bunker shot on the 72nd hole.

35 years ago: Tom Watson outduels Nicklaus to win by two for the first of his two green jackets. He would do the same thing to the same guy 3 months later in even more dramatic fashion at the British Open at Turnberry.

70 years ago: Byron Nelson rallies from way back to beat Ben Hogan in a playoff, 69-70. It can't get any more legendary.


SWING OF THINGS

Hole layout for the Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.

No. 1: par 4, 445 yards (Tea Olive)

No. 2: par 5, 575 yards (Pink Dogwood)

No. 3: par 4, 350 yards (Flowering Peach)

No. 4: par 3, 240 yards (Flowering Crab Apple) 

No. 5: par 4, 455 yards (Magnolia)

No. 6: par 3, 180 yards (Juniper)

No. 7: par 4, 450 yards (Pampas)

No. 8: par 5, 570 yards (Yellow Jasmine)

No. 9: par 4, 460 yards (Carolina Cherry)

Out: par 36, 3,725 yards

No. 10: par 4, 495 yards (Camellia)

No. 11: par 4, 505 yards (White Dogwood)

No. 12: par 3, 155 yards (Golden Bell)

No. 13: par 5, 510 yards (Azalea)

No. 14: par 4, 440 yards (Chinese Fir)

No. 15: par 5, 530 yards (Firethorn)

No. 16: par 3, 170 yards (Redbud)

No. 17: par 4, 440 yards (Nandina)

No. 18: par 4, 465 yards (Holly)

In: par 36, 3,710 yards

Total: par 72, 7,435 yards


FACTS AND FIGURES

Future Dates

2013: April 11-14

2014: April 10-13

2015: April 9-12

2016: April 7-10

2017: April 6-9

2012 Majors

U.S. Open: June 14-17, The Olympic Club, Lake Course, Daly City, Calif.

British Open: July 19-22, Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Lancashire, England

PGA Championship: Aug. 9-12, Kiawah Island (S.C.) Golf Resort, Ocean Course

Ryder Cup Matches: Sept. 28-30, Medinah (Ill.) Country Club

Past Five Masters Champions

2011: Charl Schwartzel

2010: Phil Mickelson

2009: Angel Cabrera

2008: Trevor Immelman

2007: Zach Johnson

Last Year's Other Major Winners

U.S. Open: Rory McIlroy

British Open: Darren Clarke

PGA Championship: Keegan Bradley

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