With all due respect to the other three majors, there’s nothing quite like the Masters. In fact, there’s nothing quite like the Masters in all of sports.
The NCAA Tournament is exciting and wonderful and dramatic, but we need to wait three weeks for a winner. Opening Day is timeless and nostalgic and full of hope, but it’s one day, it takes place in 15 different ball parks and, well, there’s still 161 games to go.
But the Masters? The Masters is magic. The Masters is four days to immortality.
“Well, it’s the only major that goes to the same place year after year,” Golf Channel analyst Notah Begay said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “The players just have such a great understanding of what the holes look like, what shots are required to play here and which players hit historic shots en route to their victories during certain years. No. 1, that’s what sets this apart. The second thing is the venue itself is such an extraordinary sports experience for the patron that walks through the gate. (Every person’s) expectations are completely exceeded by what they experience at Augusta National – from the changes in elevation on certain holes, to the actual size of the greens, or the fact that you can get drinks and sandwiches and snacks for your entire crew and you’re not going to spend $100 like you do at most sports facilities just because they’ve kept prices down. It’s just a really kind of great way to almost go back in time.”
Which is why winning a green jacket is at the top of every golfer’s wish list.
“It means you set yourself apart and you’re a part of something that year after year will continue to be acknowledged,” Begay said. “The Masters – more so than any other of the major championships – completely acknowledges its past champions. Jack Nicklaus comes back to play in Par 3 Tournament. Gary Player, the ceremonial first tee shot with (Jack) Nicklaus, Player and (Arnold) Palmer will be out there. Ben Crenshaw is playing in his final Masters. You don’t necessarily see that in any of the other sports where the legends of the game are truly a part of the week’s activities out there and are revered and respected – and rightly so.”
The Masters has given us some of the best moments in the game’s history. It’s also given us some of its greatest heartbreak.
“Some of the biggest nerves and the most pressure a golfer will ever face,” Begay said of the event. “Which is why it’s sort of taken so many potential contenders. It’s victimized them. It really breaks a lot of people’s hearts, this golf course and this tournament – because of the pressure.”
Tiger Woods has overcome that pressure time and time again over the years. He has four green jackets, but he hasn’t won the Masters since 2005 – or any major since 2008.
Is Woods, 39, capable of contending this weekend?
“Well, we had a really candid discussion when sort of he took a step back from competitive golf and decided to take some time off,” said Begay, who played with Woods at Stanford. “And it basically ended with him deciding that he wasn’t going to play until he was ready, until he felt his game was in a place that he could contend, (that) he could win. I reminded him that’s how he approached every other level of golf that he was at. He showed up to win. And I mentioned that you shouldn’t show up to an event unless your game is intact, you have enough confidence in all facets of your game to take on the challenges that golf provides to all of these players on a daily basis. And he obviously feels like he’s in a good spot based on his press conference and his body language on the course and in the practice area. He’s really in a good place mentally. Maybe the time off allowed him to refresh his mind a little bit and gain some perspective. Maybe we’ll see a rejuvenated Tiger Woods this week.”