10 Reasons to Watch the Masters
by John Gettings
Not many golf fans missed last year's historic Masters Tournament . An estimated 13.7 million households tuned in, making it the most watched golf event ever.
This week's 62nd edition of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club should top that record as long as last year's 21-year-old champion, Tiger Woods, is among the leaders. But if you are not a golf fan, or if you are hesitant about straying from your favorite spring programming, here are 10 reasons why you shouldn't miss this year's tournament:
10. John Daly - Last April, Daly didn't - or rather couldn't - play in the Masters. He had checked himself into an alcohol rehab program for the second time in five years after falling back to alcohol dependence in 1996. This week, Daly is back. The 1991 PGA Championship winner and 1995 British Open champion celebrated one year of sobriety last month and is playing the most consistent golf of his life. He currently ranks #1 in putting and #1 in driving distance on the PGA Tour. A celebrated big hitter, Daly has to have his putting stroke working this week to stay competitive. His best finish at the Masters was a tie for third place in 1993, and he should be back in the hunt, come Sunday.
9. "Bantam Ben" - It was 45 years ago that Ben Hogan won his second Masters tournament by shattering the record of 279 by five strokes. The victory premised an amazing streak in which Hogan captured the U.S. Open and British Open and became the only golfer to win three of the four golf grand slam events in the same year. Hogan watched his final Masters last year, succumbing to a stroke last July at the age of 84. His historic hat trick in 1953 would not have happened if he had quit the game when a doctor told him he would never walk again after a bus/car collision shattered his legs in 1949. His bold, heroic perseverance is forever linked with that historic year of golf and the Masters. Will this year's Masters champion have what it takes to win multiple grand-slam events in 1998?
8. Playoffs - Sure, it's not hockey, but some of the greatest moments in Masters history have occurred after the first 72 holes of regulation. There were the legendary 18-hole slugfests: 1942, Byron Nelson edges Ben Hogan, 69-70, with Nelson going six-under-par during an 11-hole stretch, to pick up five strokes on Hogan; 1954, legends clash again when Sam Snead holds off Hogan by one stroke, 70-71. The two would end their respective careers #1 and #3 in career victories. And when the format switched to the TV-friendly sudden death format in 1979, dramatic golf classics resulted. Like Augusta native Larry Mize's incredible 140-foot chip shot to beat Greg Norman on the second hole in 1987. The Masters has resulted in a playoff 11 times since 1934. But the last one was eight years ago, in 1990, when Nick Faldo became the second golfer to win back-to-back titles, by shooting par on the second hole of the playoff to beat Raymond Floyd. The tournament is overdue. Don't tune out too early.
7. Greg Norman - His story is well known but still not easy to accept. Eight times Norman has finished in the top six at the Masters. And three times the world has had to watch him labor to a second place finish - each more heartbreaking than the last. In 1986, he birdied four straight holes to tie Jack Nicklaus after 17 holes in the final round, only to lose the tournament with a bogey on the final hole. In 1987, he was the victim of Larry Mize's miracle chip shot. In 1996, Norman dominated the competition for three rounds and built a six-stroke lead. He watched it quickly disappear on Sunday in an emotional loss to Nick Faldo. In the past year, Norman's clumsy houseguests have made more news than he has, but this "Great White Shark" is one of golf's most charismatic players and is always in the hunt for this elusive title.
6. Arnold Palmer - Arnie won his first of four Masters (1958, 60, 62, 64) 40 years ago. It was at the dawn of the television age, and for more than three decades Palmer has been the fans' favorite. It was during that first Masters victory that "Arnie's Army" of fans first fell into place. Local papers made reference to soldiers at nearby Fort Gordon manning the scoreboards in 1958, and the tag for Palmer's supporters stuck. At 69, Palmer is playing in his 43rd Masters tournament and hasn't been near the lead in quite some time. He missed the cut last year but insists he's going to play the tournament until he can't stand. He's one of golf's legends, and he's reason enough for tuning in early.
5. The X-Pack - The next generation of golfers has arrived. And they're early. The current group of Generation Xers topping leader boards around the world will converge at Augusta this week. Led by 22-year-old defending champion Woods, the final round should include names like Ernie Els (28 years old), Justin Leonard (25), Phil Mickelson (27), David Duval (26) and Jim Furyk (27).
4. Jack Nicklaus - Tournament officials announced earlier this year that the Tuesday before tournament play this year will be called "Jack Nicklaus Day." The ceremony will recognize the Golden Bear for making his 40th consecutive Masters appearance. He'll also extend his record for appearances at the four grand slam events, to 145. That means he's played at every Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and British Open since 1962. He held the distinction at one time (B.T. - Before Tiger) of being the youngest (23 years old in 1963) and still has the record as the oldest (46 in 1986) Masters champion. His six green jackets are unmatched. He's finished in the top 10 of this tournament 21 times and amazingly, he's only missed the final round cut three times. Don't look for him to be cut this year, and remember: nobody thought he could win in 1986 either.
3. You're not getting tickets - That is, unless you plan on shelling out up to 50 times the tickets' face value of $100. The toughest tickets in the sports world - Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby, Final Four - can't compete with the Masters. The last step came in 1995, when overcrowding at the three-day practice rounds forced the club to implement a lottery system for those days. Golf club officials have a tight reign on their secretive system, which ends up forcing most of the new tickets into the black market. Augusta co-founders Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones started a patron list in 1934 that gave preference to members of area golf clubs. Tickets for the entire week were $5. That list was closed in 1972 after reaching between 30,000 and 40,000. A waiting list was started immediately and was stopped in 1978 when officials said it had reached approximately 50 years. Save your money.
2. Augusta - Forget about all the "Tigerization" of the course nonsense you've been hearing. Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. has been the sight of the previous 61 Masters tournaments, and it isn't going to change just because last year Tiger made it look like it should have had a windmill and loop-de-loop along the way. The course has been through close to 80 alterations since 1937, but the layout has changed little in the last 62 years. Every golfer dreams of playing at Augusta. Each hole is named after one of the many shrubs, trees or flowers along the course. The most famous three - No. 11 (white dogwood), No. 12 (golden bell) and No. (Azalea) make up "Amen Corner," a picturesque grave for several championship dreams. It got the name "Amen Corner" from a magazine article by Herbert Warren Wind, who borrowed the name from an old big band recording, "Shouting at Amen Corner." The real beauty of the course, however, is that virtually every hole forces the golfer to either take a risk or play it safe. As course designer Bobby Jones said of Augusta, "There isn't a single hole out there that can't be birdied if you just think. But there isn't one that can't be double-bogeyed if you ever stop thinking." It's man versus nature, only no Hollywood gimmicks. See who survives through Sunday.
1. Tiger Woods - The kid's got game. And if Arnie had an Army...Tiger must have everyone else. To give you an idea of the effect Tiger has had on the sport consider this: the National Golf Foundation released a study last month that said the total number of golfers ages 12 and up rose 7 percent last year. That's the first significant increase since the NGF began the study in 1990. People forget that Woods had a horrible start to his record-setting performance in 1997. Woods carded four bogeys on the front nine, and his 40 was the highest score of any winner. From the 10th tee on, however, Tiger was unstoppable. His average driving distance for the tournament was 323 yards - 25 yards longer than the next player. The highest club he used to hit into a green was a 6-iron, and he didn't three-putt a single green. Only Nicklaus and Faldo have successfully defended a Masters championship. Look for Tiger to be the third.
John Gettings is Assistant Editor, Sports, at Information Please.