There are no guarantees in sports, except one. The azaleas will always be in bloom in Augusta, Ga., during Masters week. The club makes sure of that.
The Masters, though, also offers as close to a guarantee regarding competition as any sporting event anywhere delivers. With uncanny regularity, it produces moments of the highest drama in sports. The list is almost endless.
Gene Sarazen’s double-eagle on 15 — “the shot heard round the world” — that set up his victory in 1935. An era of multiple victories each by golf royalty — Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead.
Arnold Palmer’s ascendancy to being known simply as “the King,” fueled by four green jackets in seven years. Jack Nicklaus then coming along and topping Palmer by winning a mind-boggling six Masters, the last in 1986 as the oldest winner at age 46, fueled by rallying to shoot a magical 30 on the final nine.
Augusta-native Larry Mize’s miracle 140-foot chip-in in 1987 to stun Greg Norman in a playoff. Nick Faldo winning in consecutive years (1989, ’90), both times in playoffs. Ben Crenshaw’s courageous one-stroke win in 1995, when he sank the final putt and broke down crying, remembering his mentor, Harvey Penick, who had died seven days earlier.
Then Tiger, so much Tiger. At 21, he won his first Masters in awe-inspiring form in 1997 — by 12 strokes, the largest margin in Masters history. Tiger’s second green jacket in 2001, completing his “Tiger Slam” as the holder of all four major titles at one time. A third title in 2002, and then the capper in 2005, the chip on 16 that climbed up a slope and then crawled down a hill, stopping to sit on the lip of the cup for two full seconds, then falling in for a birdie greeted with roars that still may be echoing today. (It still took a playoff after that, with a Tiger birdie edging out Chris DeMarco on the first extra hole.)
Could there be more? Of course! Phil Mickelson breaking through to finally win his first major at Augusta in 2004, and then Phil’s audacious gamble (Is there any other way with Phil?) of hitting off the pine straw through the trees on 13 in 2010 to three feet from the cup, on his way to his third green jacket.
Rory McIlroy at 21 in 2011, looking like he would be the next alpha dog in golf as he took the lead onto the 10th tee on Sunday, only to melt down on the back, opening the door for Charl Schwartzel’s victory. Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff in 2012, set up in part by Oosthuizen earlier in the day becoming the first player in Masters’ history to double-eagle the No. 2 hole, but Bubba claiming the title with his own miracle on the second playoff hole, a sweeping hook off of pine straw from deep in the forest that somehow found its way to within 10 feet of the cup on No. 10. Back to No. 10 in a playoff in 2013, Adam Scott making a 12-foot birdie putt to win his first major and become the first Australian to win The Masters.
Bubba winning again in 2014, this time by three shots after being tied for the lead after 54 holes by 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who finished tied for second. Spieth coming back the next year and leaving no doubt, winning The Masters as the second-youngest champ by setting a record for most birdies and tying Tiger Woods’ record for lowest winning total at 18-under par.
And then finally last year, when Sergio Garcia for the first time successfully navigated the tightrope between glory and disaster, edging Justin Rose in yet another playoff by sinking a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 18 to claim his first major championship at age 37.
It’s almost exhausting to all take in, and yet, every golf fan — every sports fan, really — knows there is likely to be another unreal chapter added on Sunday, April 8, 2018.
The collection of potential storylines is as rich and deep as any in memory.
Will Tiger complete his remarkable recovery? Will Dustin Johnson finally break through? Can Phil Mickelson’s rejuvenated form produce magic? Is it Justin Thomas’ time?
How about Justin Rose, as hot as any golfer and with a strong Masters record that includes two runner-up finishes, but no green jackets?
Will Jordan Spieth get his putting back on track? How will Sergio fare as a defending champ?
And what to make of Bubba Watson, who has two wins in a six-week period this year, including dominating form at the WGC-World Match Play event two weeks ago?
The answers await us all, beginning on Thursday. It’s bound to be magic.
Tournament: The Masters
Dates: April 5-8, 2018
Where: Augusta, Ga.
Course: Augusta National
Distance: Par 72, 7,435 yards
Architect: Alister McKenzie, Bobby Jones
Format: 72-holes, stroke play, 36-hole cut
Winning Share: $1,980,000
Defending Champion: Sergio Garcia
Marquee Players: Garcia, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Tommy Fleetwood, and Jason Day.
TV AND ONLINE
Practice: Mon 12-2:00 pm (CBSN, Masters.com)
Practice: Tue 9-11:00 am (CBSN, Masters.com)
Practice: Wed 9-11:00 am (CBSN, Masters.com)
Par-3: Wed 2-5:00 pm (CBSN, Masters.com)
Round 1: Thu 3-7:30 pm (ESPN)
Round 2: Fri 3-7:30 pm (ESPN)
Round 3: Sat 3-7:30 pm (CBS)
Round 4: Sun 2-7:00 pm (CBS)
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Believe it or not, The Masters has not always been called The Masters, at least not officially.
Tournament co-founder Clifford Roberts wanted that name to be attached to the tournament right off the bat, but he was overruled by the legendary Bobby Jones, a paragon of humility, thought the name sounded boastful and pretentious.
As a result, the initial tournaments were given the prosaic name, Augusta National Invitation Tournament, but after five years, the tournament had become such a resounding success that Jones finally relented and allowed the event to officially be called The Masters.
The Masters began as an idea in the mind of Bobby Jones, who had achieved basically everything that could be achieved in golf. He wanted to build his own course, and hold his own tournament. He wanted to create the ultimate golf experience.
After Jones made the decision to build the course in Augusta, Georgia, he and Roberts found an old tree nursery that they felt would be the perfect place. Augusta National was created at that very spot, with help from renowned golf architect Alister MacKenzie.
The inaugural Masters teed off in 1934, with Horton Smith becoming the first champion. What helped the Masters really take off, however, was Gene Sarazen’s double-eagle on 15 on Sunday in 1935, known today as “the shot heard around the world”.
Sarazen would go on to win that Masters in a playoff, and it soon built a reputation for being high-end tournament worthy of the best of the best.
Over the years, the course and tournament format have been frequently updated, and many traditions were adopted. One such tradition, the green jacket, was originally just for club members, but the decision was made to make each year’s tournament winner an honorary Augusta member, and award them their own green jacket.
Other traditions include medals for winners and runner-ups, honorary tournament starters, the annual par-3 tournament and the Champion’s dinner, a feast hosted (and paid for) by the previous year’s winner.
Tournament winners have included many of the all-time greats, including Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson, and Tiger Woods, among many others. Nicklaus holds the tournament record with six green jackets, followed by Palmer and Woods with four apiece.
Woods’ first Masters win (1997) was by an unfathomable 12 strokes, a tournament record. Jimmy Demaret, Snead, Player, Nick Faldo, and Phil Mickelson are three-time winners, while Horton Smith, Nelson, Hogan, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Ben Crenshaw, Jose Maria Olazabal, and Bubba Watson have won twice. The winner is famously given a lifetime Masters exemption.
1934-18: The Masters
2017: Sergio Garcia (-9)
2016: Danny Willett (-5)
2015: Jordan Spieth (-18)
2014: Bubba Watson (-8)
2013: Adam Scott (-9)
2012: Bubba Watson (-10)
2011: Charl Schwartzel (-14)
270 (-18) Tiger Woods (1997), Jordan Spieth (2015)
6 – Jack Nicklaus (1963, 1965-66, 1972, 1975, 1986)
4 – Arnold Palmer (1958, 1960, 1962, 1964)
4 – Tiger Woods (1997, 2001-02, 2005)
3 – Jimmy Demaret (1940, 1947, 1950)
3 – Sam Snead (1949, 1952, 1954)
3 – Gary Player (1961, 1974, 1978)
3 – Nick Faldo (1989-90, 1996)
3 – Phil Mickelson (2004, 2006, 2010)
After so many near-misses, it could finally be said: Sergio Garcia is a major champion.
After a downright gutty final round at The Masters that was unbelievably up-and-down, the 37-year-old who had gone 0-for in his 73 career major starts finally came through in the clutch in 2017.
With an incredible birdie on the first playoff hole, minutes after missing a championship-clinching putt on the 72nd hole, Sergio defeated Justin Rose to win the green jacket and finally bring some validation to a tremendous career.
Of course, it wasn’t easy. It never is for Sergio. On Sunday, he had just as many “wow” moments as he had “here we go again” moments.
He started off hot, was declared dead by many after a wayward drive on the par-5 13th hole; bounced back; hit some championship-caliber iron shots; missed putts on the last two holes in regulation; and then when his birdie putt fell on the 73rd, the long major wait for the much-criticized Spaniard was finally over.
It coming on the 60th birthday of legendary Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros made it even sweeter.
No DJ? No Tiger? No problem.
Despite the absence of the world No. 1 and the maybe golf’s all-time best No. 1, The Masters managed to deliver another thrilling edition.
FINAL TOP 10
1 Sergion Garcia -9
2 Justin Rose -9
3 Charl Schwartzel -6
4 Matt Kuchar -5
4 Thomas Pieters -5
6 Paul Casey -4
7 Kevin Chappell -3
7 Rory McIlroy -3
9 Adam Scott -2
9 Ryan Moore -2
The field is small this year, with just 86 players — the smallest in 21 years — but it is mighty.
The collection of star power who can realistically entertain hopes of being swathed in a nice, new green jacket on Sunday evening feels almost like a once-in-a-generation gathering.
We’ll start with the kids. You have world No. 2 Justin Thomas at age 24, world No. 3 Jon Rahm at age 23, and the youngest of the so-called “Young Guns” of a couple of years ago, world No. 4 Jordan Spieth, who is also 24.
Then you have a pack of those Young Guns, who are getting just a bit older, some who have won majors and others still seeking their first major victory — world No. 6 Hideki Matsuyama at age 26, world No. 7 and four-time major champion Rory McIlroy (who would complete a career grand slam with a Masters title) at age 28, world No. 8 Rickie Fowler at age 29, and world No. 12 Jason Day (who won the 2015 PGA) at age 30.
Next you move to a strong group of players in the prime of their careers, between ages 30-40. Dustin Johnson, the world’s No. 1 player who was born only 75 miles from Augusta in Columbia, S.C., is still looking for his first Masters title at age 33, but has his only two top 10 finishes in the last two Masters he’s played.
World No. 5 Justin Rose, at age 37, is perhaps the most conspicuous player not to have won a Masters title, having finished second twice in the last three years. Sergio Garcia, world No. 9 and 38 years old, is, of course, the defending champ. World No. 20 Matt Kuchar, now age 39, has three Masters top-five finishes in the last six years. Then there’s world No. 21 (and rising) Bubba Watson, age 39, whose mercurial form has twice resulted in Masters titles, and who is coming off two victories already this young season.
Finally, you have the 40-somethings showing sparks of magic — Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Mickelson, age 47 and ranked No. 18 in the world, won the WGC-Mexico Championship in February and loves Augusta, having three titles to his name. Nearly everyone is aware of Tiger’s journey back to being healthy enough to play tour golf again at age 42. He’s amazed many by posting top five finishes in the two PGA Tour starts he made in March and, like Mickelson, loves Augusta and would dearly love to add a fifth green jacket.
Those are just the headliners. There are so many directions this tournament could go, often frequently thrown in less familiar directions by the strong international contingent that is always part of the mix. (Heck, can you ever totally rule out 58-year-old Fred Couples, the former Masters champ who has finished in the top 20 six times since 2010?)
Honorary starters Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player will officially open the tournament with tee shots at 7:45 a.m. Thursday. From there, let the drama unfold!
Credits: PGA Tour Media, Getty Images