Oh, I'm there...and now my brain has burned into it the beautiful views from Augusta National since I visited http://www.masters.com/ and saw a nice flyover of part of the course. Can you smell the azaleas? I can.
As I say every year, Masters week is my favorite week of the year. I'm usually busy with our last curling event of the season and hopefully watching our final snow melting, but I can already guarantee you that I will be home on the couch for the duration of the final round and will not be answering my phone. Last year I had the TV on and my lap top streaming Augusta's live coverage just to make sure I didn't miss a thing.
There are already 98 players who have qualified to play this year (April 7-10, 2011), with 17 of them being first time Masters participants. There are 19 different categories in which player can qualify to play. Major winners, top money earners, PGA Tour winners, and top 16 finishers in last year's Masters are just some of the ways a player can get their invite. Tiger Woods still leads the pack by qualifying in 7 of the 19 categories. Zach Johnson is right behind him with 6 qualifying categories, followed by a small group, including Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker, meeting 5 of the qualifiers.
I love the Masters.
With the Top 50 players on the OWGR the week prior to the event also being invited, there is some work to be done by a few players. Anders Hansen from Denmark is currently sitting at #43 in the world. If he hangs in the top 50 through March 28, he's in! A few other players on the outside looking in, that either need a win in the next few weeks or need to move into the top 50 on the OWGR, are: Matteo Manassero (#55), JB Holmes (#58), and Thomas Bjorn (#63). They can bump out just about anyone inside the top 50 because those guys qualify in some other category besides the current top 50 OWGR status.
Manassero is in the field this week at the Transitions, and Holmes is scheduled to play next week at Bay Hill. Bjorn, who eliminated Tiger Woods at the Match Play and won the Quatar Masters in the beginning of February has already moved up 61 spots on the OWGR since the end of 2010, but he's still on the outside looking in on that top 50 rank. This European Tour player doesn't have a playing schedule posted so I'm not sure if he has a chance or not. Even though Manassero beat Steve Stricker in the first round of the WGC Match Play (on Steve's birthday!), I'd love to see him in the field at Augusta.
Amateur players also have a special opportunity to play the Masters. The US Amateur Champion and US Am runner-up, the current Asian Amateur Champion, the current US Amateur Public Links Champion, and the current US Mid-Amateur champion all get invites to play Augusta each year. The Masters committee also reserves the right to invite anyone else they'd like, so you just never know who might be coming.
It's probably important to note that this is the 75th playing of the Masters at Augusta. According to the official web site, the first Masters was played in 1934, but there was no golf from 1943-45 because the grounds were used to raise cattle and turkeys during the war. Wow, 75 years - Happy Anniversary! (I made need to bake a cake to celebrate)
My mind is flashing back to numerous green jacket ceremonies...how can we forget 1986 (the 50th Masters) when Jack Nicklaus had that memorable win...Phil's first win in 2004, and last year's emotional victory with the magical shot from the pine straw...Tiger's 4 wins...Freddie's win in '92. And then, at least for me, there are the "almosts"...Greg Norman's loss to Larry Mize, and the unforgettable final round in '96 where Norman shot a final round 78 to let the lead slip away to Nick Faldo. The most recent Masters heartbreak for me would be Kenny Perry's almost in 2009...that whole final round, which ended up in a 3-way playoff with Perry, Chad Campbell, and eventual winner Angel Cabrera, was some of the most exhausting golf I've ever watched!
My two current favorite players, Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker (yes, I know you are surprised by this!), don't exactly have the greatest history at the Masters (although Kuchar will often be remembered for his great T21 finish as an amateur in '98), but I just have this feeling that THIS year might be the year for a Stricker win!! Okay, okay, I know I say this every year, but I'm telling you, Stricker is SO due to have a Major...and the Masters just seems like the right one.
If you've got a few minutes and are a Masters nut like I am, take a few minutes to check out the "past winners" page at the official web site... http://www.masters.com/en_US/discover/past_winners.html I know the memories will flood back as you scan over the final leader boards. Can you believe that in 2007, when Zach Johnson won, the winning score was +1??!! Tiger's first Masters win in '97 was a 12 shot victory (-18!!)! Can you remember who was 2nd that year? (I didn't!) It's well worth the visit!
I'm excited to watch the Par-3 contest again and soak in all of the beauty of the course. I think the Masters has done a great job in expanding its coverage and using the internet to bring more of the magic to the "patrons" all over the world. It's amazing to see the crowds stacked dozens deep and yet hear the birds chirping away as players get ready to hit a shot. And the camera set ups and views almost make you feel like you're right there in the gallery. I love that.
But don't let the beauty of it all fool you...this course takes no prisoners - one less than perfect shot is all it takes to make a player's name fall off the leader board. For some guys it's about battling back and for others it's all about just hanging on. There will be dreams made and hopes dashed in a few weeks and I absolutely can't wait to take it all in. See you in a few weeks, Masters!!
Filed under: Spring, Masters, Greg Norman, Fred Couples, Augusta, Steve Stricker, TIger Woods, Matt Kuchar, OWGR, Cathy Erickson, azaleas, Zach Johnson