By Ann Liguori
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Don’t fret. Even with you-know-who out of the Masters for the first time ever, there are many other exciting scenarios. I’ve never been one to overdose on talking about the top player in the world, or any one player, believing there are always a variety of fascinating stories in golf to share.
But in golf, Tiger Woods seems to make the world go ’round, at least as far as ticket sales and attendance goes. And as mentioned in last week’s column, “Tiger talk” will probably still dominate many of the conversations. As a matter of fact, this point was proven to me, yet again, on my way to Augusta National on Monday morning when the local Augusta radio station covering the Masters spent most of the time I was in the car (25 minutes) talking about him!
But there really are so many other stories to focus on. Putting star power aside — for the moment — with three-time Masters champ Phil Mickelson, defending champ Adam Scott and the ever-so-talented Rory McIlroy among the favorites, one story that immediately stands out is the fact that there are 24 players competing in the Masters for the first time. That’s a huge number! It’s the most rookies in the field at the Masters since 1935. And with the talented crop of first-timers here, any number of these guys can win.
Some of the Masters rookies who have a chance to steal the headlines include 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, the 2013 Rookie of the Year who had nine finishes in the top 10 last year, is coming into his first Masters as the 13th-ranked player in the world. Spieth picked up his first PGA Tour title last year at the John Deere Classic, becoming the youngest winner on the tour since 1931.
Patrick Reed won his first career PGA Tour victory at the Wyndham Championship last year and has grabbed two more titles already this year: the Humana Challenge and the WGC Cadillac Championships. Reed, who helped lead Augusta State University to back-to-back NCAA titles in 2010 and 2011, said “it feels like a dream come true” to be here. “All I ever dreamed about was playing at Augusta for a green jacket.”
Twenty-four-year-old Harris English won the St. Jude Classic last year and the OHL Classic at Mayakoba early this year. He’s familiar with Augusta National, having played here every year while playing for the University of Georgia Bulldogs. An ace on the 12th hole on Sunday was a highlight in one of his early practice rounds.
Matt Jones, one of several talented Aussies in the field, after telling his caddy he would chip-in from 42-yards on Sunday, did just that, to beat Matt Kuchar in the first play-off hole, winning the Shell Houston Open title and an invite to Augusta National this week.
Jimmy Walker, at 35 years old, says he doesn’t feel like a rookie. But after winning his first PGA Tour event at the Fry’s.com Open, he got the Masters invite. Walker continued to shine, winning the Sony Open in Hawaii and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am to put together quite an impressive resume leading up to this week.
Any number of these rookies, if they bring their ‘A’ game and strong mental psyches, could grab the spotlight. Fuzzy Zoeller was the last rookie to win the Masters in his debut in 1979.
And as these Masters rookies know, anything is possible in golf if you can find the magic, play lights out consistently and control your nerves.
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