With the first two rounds of the Masters golf tournament finished, the weekend sets up for fans to enjoy Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and a host of other players both familiar and unfamiliar shooting it out for the coveted green jacket. The sentimental stories involving aging past champions have been largely put to rest. The 36-hole cut narrows the field down those who have a realistic chance of winning.
The Masters is special. It's golf's rite of spring. Augusta National, the Georgia course where the tournament is played, was created by Bobby Jones, a great amateur golfer who was a huge sports celebrity in the 1930s. It's a physically gorgeous layout that looks exquisite on TV. The fairways are preternaturally green. There are pink azaleas in bloom everywhere. This is the only major golf championship that's always played on the same course every year, so fans have a relationship with it that in many cases goes back decades. Almost all the greats have won the Masters: Snead, Hogan, Palmer, Player, Watson, Ballesteros, Faldo, Woods, Mickelson. In 1986, Jack Nicklaus turned in what most consider the greatest closing act in modern golf, when he won the Masters for the sixth time, at age 46.
So what do you need to know to gain maximum pleasure from watching the Masters with the golf lover in your life?
Augusta National is beautiful, but brutal Since Tiger Woods' epic win in 1997, the course has been made much longer and rough has been added. The greens are the slickest and most complicated in golf, riddled with subtlety and undulation. Players can three-putt from three feet. But the greens are also perfect, presenting an ideal surface for the players to showcase this aspect of their games.
The course is set up for Sunday charges--and Sunday roars The Masters is all about having a tight grouping of half a dozen players around the lead on Sunday, so that when the leaders make the turn to the back nine, there will be a shootout. Eagles beckon on the two par fives. But disaster is also in the mix. Roars from the gallery are supposed to echo off the Georgia pines. These roars are usually mimicked by TV viewers.
Saturday is the day when the best players sometimes go nuts Both Woods and Mickelson will start their rounds on Saturday about half-dozen shots off the lead. But they and many other players who are within striking distance of the leaders know the course well and can make a charge on Saturday. The leaders, if they're untested at the Masters, can also start to feel the pressure and fall back.
There's a special Masters lingo Spectators are called "patrons." The holes all have lovely, bucolic names: Camellia, Golden Bell, Redbud. The green jacket is awarded to the winner right after the round in a place called "Butler Cabin." Everyone goes on an on about "Magnolia Lane," which is the club's tree-lined driveway. The 11th, 12th, and 13th holes are collectively known as "Amen Corner," a moniker credited to golf writer Herbert Warren Wind. There are several bridges on the course named after famous players: Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson. There's a tree named for President Eisenhower, who was an Augusta National member. This all sounds goofy, but Masters fan take this unique sort of traditionalism very seriously, indeed.
The caddies are required to wear white jumpsuits No, those aren't hazmat suits. Augusta National compels all the players' caddies, male or female, to wear a regulation white coverall, with the player's name on the back.
You hear about "amateurs" a lot Bobby Jones, the club's co-founder, never played professionally. He won the Grand Slam in 1930, when it was made up of the U.S. and British Amateur Championships and the U.S. and British Opens. He retired to Georgia in his late 20s, practiced law, and created Augusta National in 1933, hosting the first Masters the following year. For each Masters, a number of top amateur players are included alongside the top-ranked pros, the former champions, and those who have been extended special invitations. Occasionally, one makes the cut and plays the weekend, but regardless, they are all acknowledged in the spirit of Bobby Jones, and the amateur with the lowest score joins the previous year's champion and the winner in Butler Cabin for the awarding of the green jacket.
Rapture and tragedy mingle at the Masters as nowhere else Palmer and Mickelson have each birdied the 18th hole to win. Woods won by 12 shots. But in 1996, Greg Norman endured a terrible Sunday collapse and lost to Nick Faldo (in 1987, Norman also lost in a playoff to Larry Mize, an Augusta native, when Mize holed an improbable chip-in).
Fans who've been watching the Masters since they were ten years old know the course very well During the broadcast, you can expect the golf lover in your life to comment on how Tiger has to "draw his tee shot around the corner on this one" or "keep it under the hole because he doesn't want that downhill putt." This will seem weird at first, but it's an important part of the viewing experience for Masters fans.
The Masters is clubby but not exactly snobbish There are other courses in America that have never hosted a major golf championship and never will. Augusta is basically a small Georgia town, and Augusta National imports its regular membership from the big-city worlds of finance, industry, and government. The membership loves the fact that they can put on the tournament every year and try to create the best possible experience for patrons and TV viewers alike. For example...
There are almost no commercials Where are the ads? Augusta prefers the viewing experience to be mostly uninterrupted. For years, the only thing you ever saw was Cadillac ads, and not many of them. The Masters is one of the least commercialized events in modern sports. The only logo they want you to see belongs to the club.
Where's Gary McCord? CBS has been broadcasting the Masters for decades, but one of their most popular commentators, Gary McCord, was banned from Augusta National because in 1995, while on air, he said that one of the greens was so fast it was as if it has been "bikini waxed." The members were not amused. He hasn't been back since.
The Masters is your best chance all year to see the top players battle each other The Masters is supreme golf theater. Only the top players on the various pro tours get in, so unlike other majors, such as the U.S. Open or PGA Championship, it's uncommon for a player to arrive from out of nowhere to win. Players who have competed on the course several times before have an advantage. The course rewards power, shotmaking, and a deft touch around the greens, so players need to bring a complete game. Finally, the top players also try to achieve their early-season "peak" at the Masters.
If you're watching with a male of the species, don't be surprised if he sheds a tear at some point during the weekend Many Masters fans have memories of watching the tournament with fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and brothers. The pink shrubbery, the green fairways, the white bunkers, the blue skies--it has created a deep, emotional sense memory for many men that waits all year for its opportunity to come out.