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As Always, Masters Will Be Won By Someone Who Gets on a Roll


AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Masters begins today, so choose which one is faster: the greens at Augusta National or Tiger Woods charging out of the gate with a chance to hold all four major titles at the same time?

It's probably a dead heat, but there is no question that coming up with players with a chance to beat Woods is much easier than coming up with ways to beat these greens.

Actually, there are really only two factors that make the infamous Augusta National greens so treacherous, according to the experts: They are fast and they have undulations. Presumably, other than that, the putting surfaces are a piece of cake.

Only it doesn't work out that way.

Phil Mickelson says Augusta National is the only course he plays where he tries to two-putt from 20 feet.

Davis Love III says the greens can deflate a player's confidence before he even marks his ball.

"They have a lot of slope. . . . The speed of them is really the biggest thing [players face] and the slope," he said.

"They are still probably the most severe we play. You can get some putts that you know you do good if you just two-putt them and it's more of a different kind of a strategy and a patience that you have to have. There's a lot of tricky things that happen out there."

And they're going to start happening today. The weather made a big move Wednesday, from a gray, drippy morning to a warm, sunny afternoon. Conditions are expected to remain the same the rest of the week, which means the greens will become firmer each day.

But that is not expected to be the case on opening day, when the greens should be much softer than usual because of the rain Monday and Tuesday.

"The course has been made a little easier with the rain, but before the rains came, the greens were pretty firm," Woods said. "You had to make sure you came in with the right trajectory and the right spin to hit those slopes, because if you are on the wrong side you are going to get into some spots where it's just going to be extremely difficult to make par."

Love has enough experience at Augusta National to know all about its difficulties.

In his last six Masters appearances, he has five top-10 finishes. He came close to winning in 1995, when he shot a closing 66 but lost when Ben Crenshaw birdied the 16th and 17th holes to win by a shot. Love's 13-under total was the lowest non-winning score in Masters history.

In 1999, Love chipped in for a birdie on the 70th hole, finished with a 71, but lost by two shots to Jose Maria Olazabal.

Love won at Pebble Beach, but he missed the cut at the Players Championship two weeks ago and got ready for the Masters when he was 11th at the BellSouth.

Love, whose 1997 PGA Championship victory at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., is his only major title, says he still has time to win the Masters.

"I don't feel like I'm done," Love said.

But Love isn't the only player who must feel there is some unfinished business at Augusta National.

* Ernie Els: Second to Vijay Singh last year, Els was 44th at the BellSouth because he shot 81-73 over the weekend. The two-time U.S. Open champion hasn't had a top-10 finish since he was third at the Sony Open in January.

* Colin Montgomerie: One top 10 in nine previous Masters? That's Montgomerie's record as he searches for his first major title. Montgomerie has played two PGA Tour events this year and did not distinguish himself with a tie for 51st at Bay Hill and a tie for 40th at the Players Championship.

* Phil Mickelson: A victory at Torrey Pines and three other top 10s since mid-February make Mickelson a solid contender this week. Like Montgomerie and David Duval, he hasn't won a major, but the only player who outdrove him last year at Augusta was Woods.

* Sergio Garcia: This is his third Masters and he's only 21, but Garcia is someone to consider seriously. Few are more accurate with their irons--Garcia has ranked 11th in greens hit in both of his Masters appearances--and he tied for fourth at Bay Hill.

* Greg Norman: Don't laugh. Norman was third in 1999 and tied for 11th last year, his 20th Masters appearance. Norman appears sound again and he tied for fourth at Bay Hill.

Singh's task is to try to repeat, something that was done last by Nick Faldo in 1989-90.

Woods' task is to try to close his history book on the Grand Slam pages. He holds the last three major championship titles and a victory at Augusta would mean he is the champion in all four of the modern majors at the same time.

Whether that constitutes an actual Grand Slam is a matter of debate, because the first three of Woods' titles were won in 2000. That discussion is left for another time. The best idea right now is to be patient and coax the ball to roll into the hole.


Masters Records


6 Jack Nicklaus: '63, '65, '66, '72, '75, '86

4 Arnold Palmer: '58, '60, '62, '64

3 Jimmy Demaret: '40, '47, '50

3 Sam Snead: '49, '52, '54

3 Gary Player: '61 '74 '78

3 Nick Faldo: '89, '90, '96

2 Horton Smith: '34, '36

2 Byron Nelson: '37, '42

2 Ben Hogan: '51, '53

2 Tom Watson: '77, '81

2 Seve Ballesteros: '80, '83

2 Bernhard Langer: '85, '93

2 Ben Crenshaw: '84, '95

2 Jose Maria Olazabal: '94, '99


* Craig Wood: 1941

* Arnold Palmer: 1960

* Jack Nicklaus: 1972

* Raymond Floyd: 1976


* 12 strokes, Tiger Woods: 1997



7 strokes, Nick Faldo: 1990


8 strokes, Jack Burke: 1956


8 strokes, Jack Burke: 1956


9 strokes--Jack Burke, '56 (final round)

8 strokes--Gary Player, '78 (final round)

6 strokes--Nick Faldo, '96 (final round)

5 strokes--Art Wall, '59 (seven to play)

3 strokes--Fuzzy Zoeller, '79 (three to play)

3 strokes--Nick Faldo, '89 (three to play)

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