Another Masters to Relish

By: Jeff Shelley


All of the annual encomiums are in place as another Masters is about to commence. The shimmering beauty of the tournament's host site, Augusta National Golf Club; the rich tradition sustained over the decades ever since 1934 when its co-founder and co-designer, Bobby Jones, greeted the first contestants; and its undisputed role as a harbinger of spring - at least for golfers.

The pageantry of the place and the occasion has led millions of sportsmen and women to be on familiar terms with some of the club and tournament's iconic landmarks: "Amen Corner," the Eisenhower Tree, Rae's Creek, the Crow's Nest, Magnolia Lane, Green Jacket, and Sarazen Bridge.

Chills go up and down the spines of millions of golfers worldwide when CBS Sports' lead announcer Jim Nantz prefaces each of the four, virtually-advertising-free telecasts with his sonorous "It's a tradition unlike any other . . ."

The Course

Augusta National has undergone many permutations over the years, adapting to advancing equipment and ball technology while continuing to serve as the supreme crucible for a golf competition.

Designed by Scotsman Alister MacKenze, with considerable input from Jones, the layout has been lengthened, its fairways shrunk and hazards moved and broadened by a veritable "Who's Who" of golf architecture. Those who've lent their insights to bedevil the players include Perry Maxwell, Robert Trent Jones Jr., George Cobb and, most recently, Tom Fazio.

The original golf course was a paean to the fabled Old Course at St. Andrews, and some pundits still see those bloodlines, while others don't due to all the alterations over the years. Regardless, Jones' 77-year-old vision remains true: "It will be found, like old St. Andrews, to become more delightful the more it is studied and played."

Since its debut, the course has been stretched about 500 yards, a move initiated by then-club chairman Hootie Johnson after a youngster named Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters, finishing 18-under par and winning by 12 shots. Johnson and the club "Tigerized" the course, adding length, planting trees in previously open areas, shifting tees to bring more bunkers and hazards into play, and growing the rough.

Augusta National Golf Club - like golf courses everywhere - is a natural being, an entity that continues to grow and evolve over time. That's certainly the case with today's venue, which measures 7,435 yards.

Once Again, the Masters is a Pacesetter

In 2010, the first major championship of the year will boast its usual visual glory along with a couple of intriguing twists that will make it perhaps more than a must-watch event, one which may set the pace for all future sports telecasts.

The 2010 Masters will be the first tournament ever to be broadcast in 3D (a 3D television is needed to enjoy the full benefits). Multiple 3D cameras around Augusta National will reveal never-before-seen perspectives of the course's preternaturally verdant fairways, multicolored azaleas and century-old dogwoods. The contours of the greens and the surprisingly rolling topography of the converted nursery property will be unveiled with startlingly new depth.

The tournament, often unfairly tabbed as stuffy and not very daring, has also embraced the virtual world in a giant hug. This year its official website, www.masters.com, will offer a host of online services, bringing folks at their workstations a variety of live video and audio feeds to keep them abreast of developments on a minute-by-minute basis. Visit the Masters website and click on the day to see the various offerings.

Players to Watch

Defending champion, Angel Cabrera, who became a green jacket owner last year following his win in the 2007 U.S. Open, is back. The 40-year-old, affectionately known as El Pato ("The Duck") in his native country, rose from the caddie ranks to become the first Argentine to win either of those hallowed titles. Cabrera will be serving up a "good Argentine asada" at the Champions Dinner on Tuesday night. Let's hope the other attendees aren't vegetarians as the menu will offer chorizo, blood sausage, short ribs, beef filets and mollejas, the thymus gland (sweetbreads).

Besides the South American angle there's the usual international field, one that was encouraged by Jones and Augusta National co-founder Clifford Roberts at the tournament's inception. On the list of recent non-Americans to win the coveted title are South Africa's Trevor Immelman (2008), Canada's Mike Weir (2003), Fiji's Vijay Singh (2000), Spain's Maria Jose Olazabal (1994 and 1999), and England's Nick Faldo (1996).

This year will be no different. Though three Yanks - Woods, Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson - are ranked No. 1, 2 and 3 in the latest World Golf Rankings, there is a ton of talented foreigners chomping at the bit to be fitted for their very own green jacket Sunday night in the Butler Cabin.

Among them is a resurgent Ernie Els who, despite 62 wins worldwide - including 18 on the PGA Tour - along with two victories in the U.S. Open and one in the 2002 British Open, has never broken through at Augusta. In mid-March, Els earned his first title since October 2007 in the CA Championship at Doral and then, two weeks later, won the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Look for the 40-year-old "Big Easy" to be a threat this year.

There are others in contention even before former champions Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer hit the ceremonial tee shot to signal the start of play Thursday morning. That group includes 2006 and '04 champion Mickelson, world No. 4 Lee Westwood of England, American Jim Furyk, No. 7-ranked Ian Poulter of England - who won the Accenture Match Play Championship earlier this year, and Ireland's Padraig Harrington, who over 2007-08 won three major titles (but not the Masters).

The young-gun contingent is also strong. Players such as rising American stars Ryan Moore and Anthony Kim, Colombia's Camilo Villegas, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Japan's Ryo Ishikawa have proven they aren't afraid of excelling on a big stage.

Oh Yes, There's That Tiger Fellow

And there's Woods, who's making his first appearance in a golf competition since last year. Woods has been lying low for the past several months following a series of reputation-tainting revelations about marital improprieties, tawdry dalliances and allegations, many of which he refuted in his first press conference of the year on Monday of Masters Week.

Yet if there ever was a professional athlete with the uncanny ability to tune out external static - for starters, how about winning the 2008 U.S. Open with a broken leg and seriously damaged knee - it's Tiger. Woods is a golf-history buff, and his focus this week will be on winning a 15th major championship, placing him only three behind Nicklaus' all-time record.

Sure, the tournament will have 3D telecasts, but Woods will be the story - until proven otherwise by his play - in this Masters. Never in recent memory has a sporting event had such a significant subplot. Woods brings that this year, making it a true "major."

The Masters is viewed by many as a rite of spring, signifying a time of rejuvenation and fresh beginnings. How appropriate then is it that Tiger Woods will making his season debut here, at this time of year and at this time of his life?

To see the entire field for one of golf's most prestigious tournaments, visit http://www.masters.com/en_US/players/index.html.

Telecasts

ESPN and CBS will handle the broadcasting duties for this year's Masters. The live coverage schedule (all times EDT):

Wednesday (Par-3 Contest): ESPN 3:00-5:00 p.m. Thursday: ESPN 4:00-7:30 p.m.
Friday: ESPN 4:00-7:30 p.m.
Saturday: CBS 3:30-7:00 p.m.
Sunday: CBS 2:00 p.m. to conclusion

In addition, the Golf Channel will have a full slate of programming.

Internet & Radio

Masters.com (for a full schedule, visit http://www.masters.com/en_US/about/schedule.html) will provide live streaming video of various events throughout the week. In addition, the website will offer Masters Radio live audio. Also providing coverage will be www.CBSsports.com. SIRIUS XM radio will also be doing live broadcasts from Augusta.


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