AUGUSTA, Ga. — The echoes amid the pines at Augusta National provided evidence Wednesday that the excitement of the 78th
But the serious business begins Thursday with 97 players teeing it up and many eager to see just how wide open the doors to contending will be.
Finding an obvious favorite seems as difficult as ever, particularly with the absence of the world No. 1
"I would say 70," McIlroy said. "There's a few past champions who play that might not be able to compete. There might be a few first-timers or a few amateurs that won't compete. But then you've got the rest."
So, yeah, it would be wise to keep a close eye on
And watch out for
But don't overlook
A Tiger-less Masters — the first since 1994 — may lack some of the usual juice for TV ratings and casual fans, but it shouldn't be void of Augusta's trademark roars and weekend drama.
You also have to believe
So just how wide open is it this week?
Mickelson said it would depend on the firmness and speed of the course, noting Tuesday that the greens were "getting back to Masters speed" after rain and thunderstorms Monday.
And if that persists, he noted, the class of potential victors shrinks significantly, to less than a dozen.
"Because if that happens," Mickelson said, "the subtleties and the nuances and the penalty of Augusta National will come through."
Across the board, players assert that Masters first-timers — numbering two dozen this year — will face a greater challenge acclimating to the awe, pressure and intricacies of the course.
By the same token, Mickelson said, previous Masters winners — he's one of nine in the field under 45 — gain a greater serenity for handling the week's roller coaster.
At least that was the case for Mickelson after his breakthrough win in 2004. Each subsequent trip to the Masters found him far more at ease.
"Unequivocally, yes," Mickelson said. "Absolutely. Because you want it as a player and as a kid growing up so bad to win the Masters and to be part of the history here that sometimes you get in your own way.
"Sometimes you force things when you shouldn't. Sometimes your mind goes where it shouldn't and starts seeing what you don't want to have happen. And it's sometimes difficult to control your own thoughts."
Finding peace of mind, along with control off the tee and around the greens, seems a prerequisite to winning. But as the tournament begins, the doorstep for potential contenders seems plenty crowded.