- The Augusta Chronicle - Sunday, April 6, 2014

It wasn’t what the early arrivals for the 78th Masters Tournament saw on an overcast Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club that was so jarring to them.

It was what was missing — the Eisenhower Tree and the limbs from some other pine trees, not to mention Tiger Woods.

This will be the first Masters without the Eisenhower Tree, and the first one Woods hasn’t been a part of since 1994.

Woods, a four-time Masters champion, had played practice rounds on the Sunday before the tournament for years, but he is recuperating from back surgery and withdrew Tuesday.

He’s already listed among the non-competing invitees on the big scoreboard next to the first fairway.

The absences didn’t detract from the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals. The competition aimed at helping golf attract young people featured 88 boys and girls who competed on the same grounds as Masters participants.

The 65-foot Eisenhower Tree, which was more than 100 years old and 210 yards from the tee on the 17th hole, was lost to a mid-February ice storm. It has not been replaced, and Augusta National Chair­­man Billy Payne said at the time of its removal that “we have begun deliberations of the best way to address the future of the 17th hole and to pay tribute to this iconic symbol of our history – rest assured, we will do both appropriately.”

Payne will elaborate on the future plans for the 17th in his annual news conference Wednesday, but players have been speculating about the hole for in the weeks leading into the Masters.

Most thought there would be a replacement tree in time for the Masters.

Lee Westwood ventured a guess that “I’m sure they’ve got a backup for a backup, knowing them. I’m sure they do.”

Instead, there will be no tree this year.

Two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, who will be playing in his 43rd Masters, joked that he helped cause the demise of the Eisen­hower Tree.

“I’ve hit that tree so many times I put it in a weakened condition,” he said.

Mark O’Meara, the 1998 Masters champion, said the look from the tee on No. 17 “certainly looks way different” without the tree.

The Eisenhower Tree wasn’t the only tree lost in the ice storm, just the most iconic. The tops of some trees were noticeably sparse Sunday, the first day the media were allowed at the course.

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