Doug Ferguson sets the tone by suggesting Wednesday was so relaxed that it didn't feel like a major. There's also the wide-open nature of the affair adding to the mix.
PGA champion Martin Kaymer is No. 1 in the world and will try to win his second straight major. He considers the favorite to be Luke Donald, who beat Kaymer in the Match Play Championship earlier this year. Then there's Westwood, who has been no worse than third in four of the last five majors. Throw in the likes of Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney, Rory McIlroy and Paul Casey, and the smallest field of any major suddenly has a long list of contenders.
Some of that is a new generation arriving. Some of that is Woods no longer standing in their way.
"In the past, a lot of guys used up a lot of energy thinking about Tiger and what he's doing. Now they're doing their own thing and thinking about what they're needing to do," Faldo said. "There's genuinely 20 guys who could win this. I'm hoping we have a dozen guys coming down the back nine Sunday with a shot."
Jared Diamond on a university study that says the Masters is the easiest of the four majors to win. Who'd a thunk it with the smallest field and about 25 AARP junk mail recipients?
Richard Rendleman, a professor of finance at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, and Robert Connolly, an associate professor of finance at the University of North Carolina, recently conducted a study that ranked professional golf events by how difficult they are to win. They determined that the PGA Championship is the toughest major, followed by the U.S. Open, the British Open and the Masters. The hardest overall tournament to win was actually the Players Championship, and the easiest—among the tournaments still in existence—was the Puerto Rico Open.
Billy Byler on favorite Phil's Wednesday, that included a rare wildlife sighting. Rare because no animal could survive the chemicals? Oh I don't know.
The reigning Masters champion was the first on the course Wednesday when he teed off at 8 a.m. with 1992 Masters winner Fred Couples and Kevin Streelman. The threesome hit their usual tee shots on the eighth hole but had to pause on their walk up the fairway when a small deer bounded across their paths. According to the combined accounts from patrons and gallery guards, the deer entered the golf course from the right side of the first hole and raced across the first and ninth fairways before meeting up with Mickelson at eight.
The deer darted toward the second and third fairways and eventually ended up near the fifth and sixth holes, where it left the course.
"I've been out here 25 years, and I've never seen anything like that," gallery guard Steve Churm said to a group of patrons.
John Feinstein compares Tiger and Phil. You can probably guess who comes out on top in his eyes.
One guy drives down Magnolia Lane and feels the history of the game, gets chills and teary-eyed. The other guys sees a bunch of trees and can’t wait to get to the end of the road and get to work.
That’s always been a major difference between the two men: Mickelson savors victories and moments; Woods puts them in the rear view mirror almost as soon as they happen.
Thomas Boswell says that using this week as a barometer for Tiger's future is a bit much.
The impatience to decide whether Woods can pass Nicklaus now borders on comical. The debate about whether Woods is foolish to switch swing coaches — again — and tear down his game to its foundation at age 35 might miss the larger point.
First, Woods has time — and a great deal of it — on his side. Second, as he has made clearer than ever here this week, his radical changes are more necessity than obsession.
Karl MacGinty is predicting Padraig Harrington will be low Irishman.
Portrush man McDowell, Open-winner Louis Oosthuizen and US PGA title-holder Martin Kaymer all are gifted players but in a total of eight appearances at The Masters by this formidable European Tour trio, only once has one of them (McDowell in 2009) made the cut.
Yet the know-how Harrington has accumulated in 11 Masters and the self-belief drawn from those three Major wins, puts the Dubliner ahead of Lee Westwood, Paul Casey and Luke Donald among those capable of clinching a first-ever Euro-Slam.
The luck of the Irish may be needed, but what else would you expect in the race for a green jacket?
Bernie McGuire on Sandy Lyle's advice for fellow Scot Martin Laird:
“But my advice to him is that he has to try and win the Masters at his first try, because he might never get in again. That’s the big thing about Augusta – you have to put in 100% preparation and try and win it, because you know what happens if you do succeed, you know that it is going to be for life.”
Lyle certainly knows what he is talking about. He was speaking from the ‘Former Champions’ car park, located in front of the former practice range that’s now used only by Augusta members. It was an experience he was evidentally eager to enjoy.
“It’s great we’ve now got this car park and that’s what happens when you win here,” he said. “We have seen many near winners here and they’ve just then disappeared off the planet and they’ve not qualified again and again.”
Gene Wojciechowski breaks the field down by player, uh, brands.
Mike McCallister offers a "momentum" index for you last minute pool players.
Jim McCabe files a variety of notes, ranging from the reason Graeme McDowell skipped the Par-3 (Manchester United game on), Gary Woodland getting to play with fellow Kansan Tom Watson and Tim Clark's elbow flaring up again after the Par-3.
Rex Hoggard with more on K.J. Choi's hybrid setup.
The hybrid replacements, all of which are Adams Golf models, came slowly, first the 3-iron (21 degrees), then a 4-iron (24 degrees) and finally a 5- and 6-iron (28 and 32 degrees) in the days before the season’s first major.
The plan seems to be working. On Monday, Bann said Choi hit his 185-yard approach into the 18th hole pin high and it rolled out 3 yards. It’s a shot he would have been unable to hit with a long iron. Of course cutting edge has come with its share of curious glances.
“Poor (caddie Andy Prodger), he was looking down at the bag the other day saying, ‘I have seven wood covers,’” Bann said.
David Westin profiles Carl Jackson working his 50th Masters, a record since his 35th in 1995, and who Jim Mackay says the club should name the caddie facility after.
Crenshaw said he doesn't mind that his 40th Masters appearance is being overshadowed by Jackson's feat.
"Forget me - it's him," Crenshaw said, pointing to his friend.
According to an Augusta National spokesman, the club has no plans to publicly recognize Jackson's feat, other than a piece about him on the club's Web site and an article in the 2011 Masters Journal.
That's fine with Jackson.
"They've got the Masters; they don't need to do anything," Jackson said. "It's not going to bother me. As the outside world has looked at me as an Augusta National caddie, I think I've represented them well. I believe I've carried myself with integrity and dignity."
Chris Gay with the Augusta Chronicle's take on Billy Payne's presser performance and notes this about the ticket policy change.
At his briefing, Payne also mentioned giving more people an opportunity to walk the grounds at Augusta National. He said tickets became available because of attrition.
"Somebody thought we would be adding just to do this," Payne said, "but we have, in fact, reduced modestly the number of tickets we sold the last five years.
"So it's just a supply of tickets that replenishes itself annually and predictably, and what you're not going to get is an exact number; but it's fair to define it as a significant number."
Alan Bastable on Billy Payne's lone Tiger question:
Payne fielded just one question about Woods, regarding the club's decision to partner with EA Sports on a video game bearing Woods's name. The chairman was evasive, saying "we continue to believe Tiger is one of the greatest golfers of all time, and we hoped and prayed that his comeback would go forward in a very positive way."
Ryan Herrington breaks down the amateurs' chances of making the cut and visiting Butler Cabin on Sunday.
Matthew Futterman talks to the Uihleins about Peter's journey to the Masters and writes:
He's also had to deal with an added burden as long as he's been playing golf—constant whispers about nepotism. On the junior golf circuit there were plenty of complaints about his privileged childhood, his high-end coaches and visits to the Titleist Performance Institute, which is considered the game's top training center. "I heard all the snickers, all the rumors," he said. "But I don't play golf to prove anybody wrong."
Still, growing up at the top of the golf world has its perks. As a child, Uihlein's family spent summers vacationing with the family of the renowned instructor Peter Kostis, a close friend of his father's who became Uihlein's first coach.
That's a perk?
Paul Mahoney on winner Luke Donald, whose game is firing on all cylinders.
Donald warmed up for the Masters by practicing last week at the Bears Club in Florida. He shot 62 and broke the course record while taking just 19 putts.
Donald has failed to improve on his 2005 Masteres debut, when he finished third while playing the last eight holes in six under par. This week he plans to channel the memory of that storming finish.
"You can still feed off it," he said. "If you have done it before you can do it again."
History, '86, Flora, Fauna
Naturally, this went missed by ESPN while it was showing Romper Room: Jack Fleck at 89 playing the Par-3. Thankfully, Jeff Babineau has the details.
With the help of Gaylord Sports player/manager Bobby Schaeffer, who served as his caddie, Fleck and his wife Carmen traveled to Augusta from their home in Fort Smith, Ark., and have been on the grounds since Monday.
When he looked at the crowd assembled at the golf course at 9 a.m. Monday, Fleck could not believe his eyes.
“Bigger,” he said. “Everything about this place is bigger.”
There's a fantastic Champions dinner video on the goofy official Masters site that won't let one send a direct link. But you can't miss it on the Highlights page. Amazing behind-the-scenes footage.
Will Durst on what's hot in the merchandise tent, and who is there to help the customers: sommeliers!
And the hats. Holy jimmy-john-jack-cracked-corn, the hats. Sixty-nine different varieties, including one sold only on Wednesday, a white Par 3 Contest hat (a second year for this edition). All 69 versions are displayed along a 50-foot wall, attended by 15 or more hat sommeliers, present and eager to assist you in choosing the appropriate chapeau. "Perhaps, for the lady, something in a pink visor?"
Bill Fields on the backstory of Jack's 1986 yellow shirt is a must read.
Stephen Goodwin believes Bobby Jones isn't getting his due as a writer and compiles a "scrapbook" of his best moments.
Michael Bamberger talks to Bruce McCall about how his New Yorker cover art came about and it turns out McCall doesn't even like golf.
About two weeks ago, the magazine's editor, David Remnick, told his art director, Francois Mouly, that he wanted something springy and golfy for the mid-April cover. Mouly called McCall. McCall, who is also a writer, got artist's block. Two days of sitting around produced nothing. He doesn't really like golf.
As a kid outside Toronto, he would caddie for his father and then wait several hours to get stiffed. Years ago, he wrote a piece for Esquire, called "The Case Against Golf," which included this ode to the olde shepherds game: "It's easy to see golf not as a game at all but as some whey-faced, nineteenth-century Presbyterian minister's fever dream of exorcism achieved through ritual and self-mortification."
Jeff Ritter on the unglamorous job of the 350 volunteer "gallery guards."
Guards receive their assignments on Monday morning, the first day of practice rounds, and they work the same hole throughout the week while rotating around the tee, fairway and green. Guards are often given the same hole year after year, although transfer requests are sometimes granted. Working alongside the same crew each Masters week creates some special bonds among the guards.
"You don't see every shot of the tournament, but what I love about it is that you get nice friendships out of it," says Steve Slaughter, a Chicago native stationed on the first hole. "You see the same people for one week out of the year, and you get to see some great golf."
Mike Snider gives the Masters iPad a rave review.
And The Masters Golf Tournament App for the iPad ($1.99) does more than merely complement the TV experience for golf fans. Video is a major stroke in what makes the app appealing. Nine live high-def video stream channels will be available for viewing, including a featured group on the back nine, tournament action at Amen Corner (holes No. 11-13) and play at holes No. 15 and 16. Post-round interviews will be streamed, too, and there will be on-demand highlights.
J.D. Cuban captures the tree going down near No. 15 while working on a photo essay on Masters fans.
And finally, the Augusta Chronicle offers a special kids-only gallery from the Par-3. I've bookmarked this one so I can relive the day over and over again.