Golf tournaments happen every week, but the Masters arrives.
The Masters marries anticipation and imagination better than perhaps any other sporting event. It’s the one place, Rory McIlroy says, that he still gets butterflies on the first tee.
“This is, in my mind, the greatest place in golf,” Jordan Spieth said.
The Masters manages to be old and new and timeless all at once.
There are things you can count on at the Masters. The green beauty of Augusta National never grows old. Seeing Arnie, who wobbles more than walks now, is still a thrill. Egg salad sandwiches on white bread wrapped in green wrappers for lunch.
Even the street corner preacher who stands outside the main patrons entryway barking about the wages of sin (he should add three-putting) feels like a part of the place.
“There’s no other tournament in the world like this,” Tiger Woods said.
A group of friends making their first visit to Augusta National wanted to arrange a moment to say hello on Wednesday. Because cell phones are forbidden at Augusta National – it’s not a suggestion, it’s a mandate – emails were traded about a time and place to meet.
“It’s like making plans in the 1980s,” they responded, overlooking the fact that email was as far away as HD television in the ‘80s.
It’s a modern-day inconvenience, but because it’s the Masters, it’s a small price to pay to retain a portion of the tournament’s charm while refreshing the dying art of conversation.
“This is ‘The’ event,” Phil Mickelson said.
This year, McIlroy can make history at a place built on it. McIlroy, who has transformed himself from a chubby-cheeked youngster into a chiseled model for the now-trendy athletic fit shirts, has won the past two major championships played and can become the second-youngest player (behind only Woods) to compete the career Grand Slam if he wins here Sunday.
The build-up began last summer when McIlroy won the Claret Jug at the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, intensified with his mud-spattered PGA Championship victory last August and peaks here.
For whatever reason, McIlroy was surprisingly low key in his pre-tournament media session on Tuesday, seeming more like a man just awakened from a nap than someone chasing a third straight major championship. Of course, he was asked to talk about the six sixes he had on his scorecard last year and the five rounds of 77 or higher in his six Masters starts, which can be a mood killer.
McIlroy is the game’s new front man and took another step toward rock stardom by having a member of One Direction – Niall Horan – caddie for him in the par-3 event. Should McIlroy win Sunday, he will become only the sixth player to win all four professional major championships – and he’s still young enough to be a fan of boy bands.
Then there’s Woods, who was literally bopping around Augusta National on Monday, practicing his short game with hip-hop music beating through his ear buds. Woods said he wanted to “rock out” like he does when he practices at home, and while the Masters may not allow cell phones on site, earbuds on the range are apparently allowed, a small nod to a new day.
Woods was also giving out man-hugs on the range to friends he hadn’t seen in a while and had his kids – Sam and Charlie – caddying for him in Wednesday’s hit-and-giggle par-3 event.
Why is this man smiling?
Maybe he believes we all made too much of his short game troubles and he’s the only one in on the secret so far. Maybe he’s whistling past the graveyard. He was excited before he played in Phoenix earlier this year, too, and that’s where things came unraveled.
Woods’ presence at Augusta National had the rare effect of increasing the anticipation of this Masters. It already had McIlroy’s quest, Bubba Watson’s bombs-away potential to go back to back, Spieth rolling in after a 1-2-2 run in his previous three starts, Dustin Johnson’s re-emergence, Adam Scott bringing back his broomstick putter and Ben Crenshaw promising to put a tear in every eye Friday afternoon as he climbs the 18th fairway for the last time.
The dogwoods are in bloom. The azaleas are popping. Rory’s ready.
The Masters has arrived.