The course plays roughly 7,400 yards, but varies by day and by year. They have a tremendous irrigation and ventilation system which allows them to control the soil moisture on each green, thus allowing for slower or faster conditions (this is mostly between rounds, or maintaining speed during a round). But there are tremendous elevation changes on the greens themselves, and these are some of the fastest pros will play all year. The course is no walk in the park, if you consider the downhill 10th and the uphill 18th. The rolling hills make turn the par 5 2nd into second-guessing, and the 9th green can cause a man to give up the game. Not to mention "Amen Corner" with the par 4 11th where grown men plan beforehand on bailing out, the par 3 12th where a creek crowns champions, and the par 5 13th that defines comebacks and dashes hopes. And they purportedly can affect the timing of azalea blooms with horticulture means. All I know is they put on a great tournament, and on an incredible stretch of land just west of the Savannah River.
This is the first major of the year, and heralds the unofficial start of spring. At least for those who live north of the Mason-Dixon line. It is an invitational, and very few are those who turn down the invitation. Social media has tons of photos of those golfers receiving their invite in the mail. So we know it’s exclusive, it’s played in a tremendous setting, and is pretty much the most prestigious golf tournament in the year. Now let’s talk about who is actually teeing it up come Thursday morning.
It’s a 92-man field with 6 amateurs (this year – it changes depending on qualification rules). Founder Bobby Jones, the last man to win the Grand Slam of golf, retired as an amateur and the Masters holds a special place for those who haven’t turned pro. The others comprise past Masters Champions, past major winners, winners of PGA and other big golf events over the last year, and those who have high world rankings. There’s a list of about 20 ways to earn an invitation, but I’ll just clue you in on a few, especially as it relates to the former Georgia Bulldogs in the field:
Harris English - qualified for last year’s Tour Championship. A two time PGA Tour winner with over $9M in career earnings, the 2011 graduate from Valdosta is a big guy with plenty of distance. He’s made 8 of 11 cuts so far this season, but 2 of those have been his last two full-field tournaments. Currently # 70 in the world.
Chris Kirk - won the 2015 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial last May. Has also missed 3 of 11 cuts, but is trending nicely after a T42, a T12, and a fifth-place finish in the Dell Match Play. He broke his hand last summer and I think he’s finally comfortable with the healing. He's 31, from Atlanta, and finished his UGA career with several individual records and a national championship. Currently #53 in the world.
Bubba Watson – two-time Masters Champion, won this February’s Northern Trust Open and the Travelers Championship last June, qualified for last year’s Tour Championship, top 50 in Official World Golf Ranking at end of 2015. This season Bubba has 5 finishes 35th or better, including a win, a 2nd, and a win in an unofficial event. He left UGA and turned pro in 2002, but came back to get his degree in 2008. Currently #4 in the world.
Kevin Kisner. Won the 2015 RSM Classic, qualified for last year's Tour Championship, top 50 in Official World Golf Ranking at the end of 2015. Kisner had a truly breakout year in 2015, with 6 top-10 finishes including 4 runners-up before capturing his first title on St. Simons. He followed that up with two top 10s in Hawaii this January, and a good showing at the WGC Cadillac. This is his first time competing at the Masters, and with his 22nd world ranking, I don't think the nerves will get to him.
Georgia had 6 former Bulldogs in last year’s Masters, but many have fallen out of the world rankings after an unprecedented run in 2014 and early 2015. If you’d like to get a primer on the Masters, and to see who played last year, just follow this link.
World #1 Jordan Spieth is returning to defend his title, and to try to live up to the incredible expectations heaped upon him from his demolition of the field and scoring records in 2015. World #2 Jason Day has won 6 of his last 11 tournaments worldwide, and is fresh off a victory in the Dell Match Play two weeks ago. World #3 Rory McIlroy returns to the site of some bad memories, where he infamously held the 54-hole lead before imploding with an 81 on the final day, yet with a win can become the 6th man to complete the career Grand Slam. Phil Mickelson has done everything this season but win, and Phil the Thrill seems to have his game pretty sharp. Tiger Woods will not compete for the 2nd time in 3 years, this time due to multiple microfracture surgeries on his back. He may return to competitive golf this summer, but there is no timetable. Adam Scott has a runner-up and consecutive wins over the last month and comes in as a favorite as well.
If there are others golfers you’re interested in, just drop a line in the comments and I’m glad to opine (heck, I’ll probably opine anyway… it’s a character flaw). But no matter what....
Wednesday, April 6th ESPN 3-5pm EST (Par 3 Contest)
Thursday, April 7th Live Coverage ESPN 3-7:30 pm EST, CBS Radio 2:00 pm, ESPN Replay 8-11:00pm EST, CBS Highlights 11:30-11:45 pm EST.
Friday, April 8th Live Coverage ESPN 3-7:30 pm EST, CBS Radio 2:00 pm, ESPN Replay 8-11:00pm EST, CBS Highlights 11:30-11:45 pm EST
Saturday, April 9th Live Coverage CBS 3-7:30 pm EST, CBS Radio 2:00 pm
Sunday, April 10th Live Coverage CBS 2-7:00 pm EST, CBS Radio 2:00 pm