10 things to know for the Masters
Ten things to know about the 78th Masters, starting on Thursday:
1. A MASTERS WITHOUT TIGER
Tiger Woods, a four-time Masters champion, had back surgery to relieve a pinched nerve 10 days before the opening round. He will not play the Masters for the first time since 1994, when he was in high school.
2. ODE TO THE EISENHOWER TREE
The most famous tree at Augusta National is no more. The Eisenhower Tree, a 65-foot (20-meter) loblolly pine that was about 210 yards off the tee on No. 17, could not be saved from extensive damage caused by an ice storm in February. It was named after former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, an Augusta member who hit into it so often that he proposed chopping it down during a club meeting in 1956. Eisenhower, running for re-election, was overruled.
3. THE ROOKIES
At 23, the number of first-timers at the Masters is the most since 1935, and this is believed to be the strongest rookie class ever. Ten of 17 professionals are in the top 50 in the world ranking, led by 20-year-old Jordan Spieth at No. 13 in the world. The last player to win the Masters in his debut was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
4. UNPREDICTABLE PHIL
Phil Mickelson had a runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi to start his season, and he hasn’t cracked the top 15 in any tournament since then. He has withdrawn twice because of soreness in his back, both times after making the cut at Torrey Pines and the Texas Open. He has 14 finishes in the top 10 at Augusta. A victory would tie him with Woods and Arnold Palmer with four green jackets.
5. DEFENDING CHAMPIONS
Adam Scott will try to join Jack Nicklaus (1965-66), Nick Faldo (1989-90) and Tiger Woods (2001-02) as the only players to successfully defend their titles at the Masters. A year ago, he became the first Australian in a green jacket.
6. HOUSE RULES
The Masters will be under greater scrutiny than usual over the rules after what happened with Tiger Woods last year. Woods was penalized two shots for taking an improper drop on the 15th hole in the second round. Even though he had already signed his card — disqualification for an incorrect scorecard — he was allowed to stay in the tournament because of what Augusta National called a committee error. There has been talk about the Masters having an official with every group.
7. FATHER AND SON
Kevin Stadler won the Phoenix Open to make history at the Masters. He will join his father, Craig Stadler, as the only father and son to play in the same Masters. Craig Stadler is exempt for life for winning the 1982 Masters. He has thought about no longer playing until his son won in Phoenix to qualify for his first Masters.
8. IRISH EYES ARE SMILING?
This could be good news for Northern Ireland’s trio of Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke. In the other four majors that Tiger Woods didn’t play because of injury, they were won by Padraig Harrington of Ireland (2008 British Open and 2008 U.S. PGA Championship), McIlroy (2011 U.S. Open) and Clarke (2011 British Open).
9. WHO’S NO. 1?
Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson can each go to No. 1 in the world for the first time in their careers depending on how they fare at the Masters. It will be the third tournament in which Scott has had a mathematical chance to replace Woods atop the world ranking.
10. DRIVE, CHIP AND PUTT
The action gets started a day early at Augusta National this year when the club stages its first “Drive, Chip and Putt” contest on Sunday. The driving and chipping will take place on the practice range. The putting contest will be on the 18th green, from the same spot where defending champion Adam Scott made his 20-foot birdie putt last year that got him into a playoff.