The ultimate challenge: mastering Augusta

Doug Ferguson has 10 great storylines to follow as the world's best players prepare to tee off tomorrow on Georgia's famous course in the year's first major.

Even practice rounds are drawing big crowds as Masters fever grows. Photo / AP
Even practice rounds are drawing big crowds as Masters fever grows. Photo / AP

1 The guy in a red shirt wants another green jacket

Tiger Woods won the Masters four times in his first nine years on the USPGA Tour. Since then, he has been shut out. Woods has gone seven years since he last won at Augusta National, his longest drought in any of the majors. Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus first played a practice round with Woods when he was an amateur, and they predicted he would win more green jackets than their 10 combined. And at age 37, Woods is not even halfway there.

2 Halfway home

Rory McIlroy is only 23 and already is halfway home to the career Grand Slam. He already has won the US Open and the USPGA Championship. A green jacket would give him the third leg of the Grand Slam. McIlroy had a four-shot lead going into the final round at Augusta in 2011 and shot 80. He was one shot out of the lead going into the weekend last year and went 77-76. If he wins this year, Boy Wonder would join Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as the only players to win majors in three successive years dating to 1960.

Pretty strong company.

3 Two women in a green jacket

The biggest change at the Masters is the membership. For the first time in the 80-year history of Augusta National, the club invited two females to join. That means former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore have something dozens of players at the Masters want, a green jacket.

4 A boy among men

Now this will make Tiger Woods feel old: one of the players at the Masters wasn't even born when Woods won his first green jacket in 1997. Guan Tianlang, a 14-year-old from China, won the Asia-Pacific Amateur in November to earn a spot in the field. Guan is the youngest player in major championship history.

5 Stars & stripes

After three years of another "golden era" in European golf, look who's winning all the tournaments. Four Europeans had been at No 1 in the world for 125 consecutive weeks until Tiger Woods returned to the top. Along the way, Americans began the year by winning the first 14 events on the USPGA Tour, the longest such streak since Americans opened the 1984 season with 14 straight wins. There's little chance of a record streak, though. Americans won all 44 tournaments on the tour in 1982.

6 Anchors away

The Masters is the only major that no one has won using a belly putter or a broom-handle putter pressed against the chest. Golf's ruling bodies have proposed a rule that would outlaw the anchored stroke used with long putters. A final decision is expected in the spring. One reason for the proposed ban is that three of the last five major champions used a belly putter: Keegan Bradley at the 2011 US PGA Championship, Webb Simpson at the 2012 US Open and Ernie Els at the 2012 British Open.

7 Lefties get it right

This is the 10-year anniversary of Mike Weir showing the way for southpaws. Throw in the three Masters won by golf's most famous "Lefty" Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson's victory last year, and left-handed players have won five of the last 10 green jackets. Could Ted Potter Jr. be next?

8 Return of the big easy

Ernie Els felt his heart get ripped out in 2004 when he was on the putting green hopeful of a playoff until he heard the ground-shaking roar of Phil Mickelson making a birdie on the 18th to win. Worse yet was the Big Easy failing to qualify last year, missing the Masters for the first time in 18 years. He returns as the British Open champion, giving the South African at least five more tries at the major he wants so desperately to win.

9 The three amigos

Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player were the original "Big Three," and they combined to win every Masters from 1960 through 1966. They get together once a year at Augusta National, where they officially start the tournament by hitting a ceremonial shot off the first tee. They last played a full round at the Masters in 2001. Nicklaus shot 75, and Palmer and Player each had 76.

10 Wither the azaleas?

So much for that myth that Augusta National puts ice on the azalea bushes to ensure they bloom during tournament week. Due to an early spring in the South last year, the azaleas, camellias and dogwoods bloomed before the opening tee shot. The few flowers remaining were wilting fast. The Masters had gone green. The course was beautiful. But it was green.

- AP

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 06 Dec 2016 05:22:35 Processing Time: 714ms