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Tiger Woods finally gets to defend his title at a very different Masters

Tiger Woods watches a shot during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament, which begins Thursday.
(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)

The golf course seems shorter than ever — under assault by Titleist-detonating long drivers — yet the wait has been longer.

At long last, the 2020 Masters is upon us.

Tiger Woods has been defending champion for an unprecedented 19 months, with the world’s most exclusive tournament postponed from spring to autumn because of the pandemic.

“It’s been incredible to have the jacket, and to have it around the house to share with people,” said Woods, a five-time Masters champion. “But to have it this long, it’s not the way I wanted to have it. I wanted to earn it back in April, but obviously we didn’t have that.”

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No patrons. No ropes. No azaleas in bloom. But still lingering in the air is the memory of Woods’ incredible revival, his first major championship victory in 11 years. It came after four back surgeries that, as recently as three years ago, left him unable to get out of bed, let alone play golf.

“I’m still getting chills thinking about it,” he said of the victory, when at 43 he became the second-oldest Masters winner behind Jack Nicklaus, who was 46 when he won his sixth green jacket in 1986. “Feelings, just coming up 18 and knowing that all I have to do is just two-putt that little 15-footer, and to see my family there, and my mom and kids, and all of the people that helped support me or were there for me in the tough times.

Tiger Woods celebrates after winning the 2019 Masters.
(Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

“It still gets me … you know … a little teary.”

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There’s a place at Augusta for sentimentality, but not in Bryson DeChambeau’s bag. He has to make room for that thundering driver, and perhaps a new one that’s a half-inch shy of the maximum allowable 48 inches.

The bulked-up DeChambeau, who won the U.S. Open in September, is going to try to use his overwhelming power to wrestle this storied course into submission.

“If somebody is hitting a driver off the tee, and I’m hitting a hybrid or four-iron off the tee to hit it the same distance, that’s an advantage I will always have,” said DeChambeau, the Tour’s longest driver by an average of nearly 13 yards. “Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can really do about that.

“From a course setup standpoint, people can try to do certain things, and I don’t think there’s anything we can really do anymore.”

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Bryson DeChambeau is the talk of the tournament with his near 48-inch driver, bulked-up body and intense routine. He’s not only aiming for his second major championship this year but to change the game itself.

Augusta will try, just as it strived to “Tiger-proof” the course two decades ago, adding distance to 10 of the holes when Woods seemingly bled the challenge out of them.

“I’ve been reluctant thus far to make any major changes regarding adding distance to the golf course,” said Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National. “I think sometimes when you do that there are unintended consequences that come out of that. The scale and the scope of the hole, it changes when you add distance. It changes more than just adding distance. The look of the hole changes. And the design philosophy of the hole changes.

“Having said that, I think we are at a crossroads as relates to this issue.”

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Ridley said the club will look at studies due to be released in April about the impact of huge hitters on courses and recommendations about what can be done.

“All I can say is that, as it relates to our golf course, we have options,” he said. “And we will take the necessary action to make sure we stay relevant.”

Bryson DeChambeau hits his tee shot on the 10th hole during a practice round at Augusta National on Nov. 1.
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Some changes at the Masters will be immediate, if only for this autumn version, and not necessarily the 2021 tournament slated for April. There will be no putting green celebration for the winner, as that’s mainly for the spectators in attendance, although the traditional green jacket ceremony in Butler Cabin will take place.

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“We may be seeing or viewers may be seeing part of that room that they haven’t seen before because we are going to be more spread out, but we will have the same people in the cabin with the same basic ceremony,” Ridley said, “but I think we can do it appropriately.”

To make up for approximately two hours’ less daylight, the Masters for the first time will utilize a two-tee start in threesomes with morning and afternoon waves for the first two rounds.

On Sunday, in order to avoid a possible conflict with NFL games, the Masters will start three hours earlier than usual on CBS, with the network broadcasting from 7 a.m. to noon Pacific, presumably enough time for a wrapup by host Jim Nantz, and possible sudden-death playoff coverage.

It looks like sand from a tropical beach, but the material gleaming from the bunkers at Augusta National actually comes from the mountains of North Carolina.

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Without question, this is a different Masters. Players have been asked all week about the crowds that won’t be in attendance, the buildings never erected, the foliage they won’t be seeing ...

“The azaleas on 13 and everything in the spring is nice,” Rory McIlroy said. “I’ve had a closer look at them than most people. I’ve hit it up into those azaleas left of 13 too many times. It’s a different look.”

But he also sees what is, as opposed to what isn’t.

“It’s November,” he said, “and I think everybody just has to embrace that we’re here and we’re playing, and that’s a great thing.”


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