Masters prepares for a mixed field, with no Tiger

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This Masters is all about a green jacket, not a red shirt.

Tiger Woods, who has slipped that coveted coat over his Sunday shirt four times, was finishing up his senior year of high school in southern California the last time he wasn’t at Augusta National the first full week of April. That was 20 years ago.

Jose Maria Olazabal won the Masters in 1994, making him the 14th player to win the last 14 majors. Greg Norman was No. 1 in the world, but golf didn’t have anyone truly dominating the game. Phil Mickelson was 23 and already had three PGA Tour victories, but he missed the Masters with a broken leg from a skiing accident.

The landscape is so much different without Woods and his red shirt, his power color that he has worn in every final round of his career.

He already was hobbling on his road to the Masters. Woods withdrew from the Honda Classic in the final round with lower back pain. He withdrew as two-time defending champion at Bay Hill before the tournament even started. And nine days before the opening round of the Masters, the world’s No. 1 player disclosed he had surgery for a pinched nerve in his back that will keep out of golf until the summer.

“Tiger in any golf tournament creates an unbelievable atmosphere,” said Steven Bowditch of Australia, the last man to qualify for Augusta after winning the Texas Open. “To not have him there at the Masters is not the greatest.”

Golf goes on.

The 78th Masters, which starts Thursday, typically brings the most anticipation of any of the four majors and gets the highest television ratings. It sets the tone for the year, and it was seen as particularly important for Woods, who is going on six years without a major.

The anticipation is different now. Maybe it’s more of a curiosity. The Masters has the smallest field of the four majors - 96 players this year - and for years had the shortest list of candidates to win the green jacket.

Now, the list keeps getting longer.

“I don’t think it’s just the Masters,” Rory McIlroy said. “Golf in general is just very wide open at the moment.”

In some respects, the landscape is not much different from when Woods last missed the Masters.

Twenty-one players have won the last 24 majors, with only Mickelson, McIlroy and Padraig Harrington winning more than one since 2008. Woods remains No. 1 in the world on the strength of eight wins in the last two years, though he has won only one time in the last 11 months as his body slowly has started to break down.

Winning has never appeared to be more difficult - for everyone.

Through 20 tournaments on the PGA Tour this season, the only multiple winners are Jimmy Walker (three times) and Patrick Reed (twice). Both will be playing in the Masters for the first time. The 23-year-old Reed, who wears a red shirt and black pants on Sunday as a tribute to Woods, has never played in any major.

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