Masters primed for a newcomer in a green jacket

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Fuzzy Zoeller has lost track of how many interviews he’s given before the Masters, surprising for a guy who plays a limited schedule on the Champions Tour and stopped competing at Augusta National five years ago.

He doesn’t need to follow golf to figure out what’s going on.

Jordan Spieth started his rookie season without a card, finished at No. 10 on the money list, became the youngest American to play in the Presidents Cup and ended his remarkable year at No. 22 in the world. This will be his first Masters. Patrick Reed won three times in seven months, including a World Golf Championship, and told a national television audience he felt he was among the top five in the world. This will be his first major.

They are joined by plenty of others, most of them in the top 50 in the world, who until now have only seen the Masters outside the ropes or in front of a television.

And that’s why Zoeller’s phone keeps ringing.

“I think I’ve done a hundred interviews now,” Zoeller said with a laugh. “Hell, I don’t have any answers.”

There’s really only one question: Why has it been 35 years since a Masters rookie left town with a green jacket?

That was Zoeller in 1979. He leapt in the air when his birdie putt dropped on the second playoff hole at No. 11 to join Gene Sarazen (1935) and inaugural winner Horton Smith (1934) as the only players to win at Augusta on their first attempt.

“All the talent that has gone through that marvelous place, it’s kind of weird that it hasn’t happened,” Zoeller said.

Dan Pohl almost did it three years later. He made up a six-shot deficit on Craig Stadler, only to miss a 6-foot par putt on the first playoff hole in 1982. John Huston played in the final group in 1990 in his Masters debut, two shots behind Raymond Floyd. Nick Faldo beat Floyd in a playoff. Huston shot 75 and tied for third.

Most recently, Jason Day had a share of the clubhouse lead with Adam Scott in 2011 until Charl Schwartzel birdied his last four holes to win by two.

Is this the year? The odds have never been so stacked.

Spieth and Reed are among 23 players in the Masters for the first time, which accounts for nearly 25 percent of the field. That includes six amateurs, as always. It also includes 20 percent of the world’s top 50 players.

“I don’t think it’s out of the question to win,” said Spieth, who doesn’t turn 21 until July. “If my game stacks up and I catch the right breaks, then sure. I don’t see why not. I’ve been playing against these guys for a year now, so I feel comfortable.”

Harris English is getting as much attention as anyone, and knows the course - maybe not the way it is for the Masters - better than most rookies. He played college golf at Georgia, so the Bulldogs played Augusta National once a year.

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