So, it begins. The quest for the Green Jacket in this, the 79th Master’s Tournament, the first of the Majors in 2015.
The Stories Within the Stories:
Fifteen professionals will be playing in their first Masters, with Robert Streb the only pro appearing in his first Major.
World’s number one ranked Rory McIlroy will begin his quest to win the modern day Grand Slam---winning all four current Majors in a career. At the tender age of 25, McIlroy already has under his belt the U.S. Open, The Open Championship, (also known as the British Open), and the PGA Championship. “Before The Masters was founded, the national amateur championships of the US and the UK were considered majors along with the two national opens; only Bobby Jones has ever completed [the original] Grand Slam.” Jones completed this feat in 1930, (winning all four Majors in the same calendar year), and later retired as he began his career, an Amateur. Only Tiger Woods has come closest to winning the Modern Grand Slam by winning all four Majors “consecutively”, but over the span of two calendar years.
The Career Grand Slam:
Only five golfers have won all four of golf's modern majors at any time during their careers, an achievement which is often referred to as a Career Grand Slam: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus*, and Tiger Woods. Woods and Nicklaus not only have a Career Grand Slam, they have won each of the four majors at least three times.
Of the golfers who have failed to complete the Career Grand Slam, Phil Mickelson has yet to seal the deal by winning the U.S. Open where Mickelson has finished second a record six times. At the age of 42, “Lefty” may have only a few years left to fulfill this quest.
The Masters is an invitational tournament and is unique in a few respects: It’s played every year at the same location, the Augusta National Golf Club, and previous winners have a life-time exemption. As a tradition, three former greats and past Master’s Champions will be the first on the tee this morning to kick-off the tournament, but will no longer compete---Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player. “The Big Three of Palmer, Player, and Nicklaus dominated the Masters from 1960 through 1978, winning the event twelve times among them during that span.”
Last year’s Master’s Champion Bubba Watson, (age 36), who also won in 2012, is returning to defend his title, and has to be considered a legitimate contender. Other favorites to win this year’s title include the 21-year old phenom, (and last year’s runner-up), Jordan Spieth, World #1 McIlroy, current Fed-Ex leader Jimmy Walker, former winners Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson, along with Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, and, the rejuvenated Dustin Johnson. Also returning to the field after a month long layoff is the four-time winner Tiger Woods, who will have the world’s eyes on him to see if his game has returned to competitive form. Many Tiger fans are hoping he makes the cut, but Woods didn’t win four times here without knowing how to negotiate the difficulties of Augusta.
Playing in his final Masters, (and teeing off at 10:08 am ET), will be two-time winner, (1984, 1985), Ben Crenshaw. Born just a month before yours truly, (1952), the 63-old nineteen-time winner on the tour had never won any other Major, yet he finished runner-up five times in other Majors. In 1973, Crenshaw became the second player in Tour history to win the first event of his career winning San Antonio Texas Open. “Gentle Ben”, as the fans and sportswriters fondly called him, was considered one of the most prolific putters in the game.
Even Jordan Spieth, (who played a practice round with Ben earlier in the week), listened intently as Ben explained how putt the greens of Augusta. Tears of joy are allowed as we say goodbye to this longtime fan favorite.
The field is wide open, and it's packed with tons of young talent and wily veterans who know you can't win the Masters on Thursday, but you can lose it.
* At the tender age of 75, Jack Nicklaus---The Golden Bear---all-time leading Major Winner, (18, with a record 19 runner-up finishes), hit his 21st career hole-in-one in the Par-Three Contest.
(this post was written prior to the first round, but not posted until today, (Saturday, 04-11-15)