- The Augusta Chronicle - Monday, April 7, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Fuzzy Zoeller is the only living member of the most exclusive club in Augusta National history — rookie Masters Tournament winners.

The time might be ripe for another one to join him.

“I don’t see why not,” said Jimmy Walker, one of the most accomplished first-timers in the largest and arguably best freshman class in Masters history.

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Eighty years of evidence suggests that it typically requires experience to win the Masters. Excluding the inaugural Masters in 1934 — when Horton Smith beat 71 fellow rookies — only Gene Sarazen in 1935 and Zoeller in 1979 defied the odds and won with zero prior Augusta experience.

As two-time winner Tom Watson once said, “It’s not written in stone that first-time players don’t have a chance to win, but anyone who’s playing it for the first time has a difficult chance.”

Jordan Spieth hits from a sand trap on the 10th hole during the first round of the Valero Texas Open golf tournament, Thursday, March 27, 2014, in San Antonio. Play was delayed for more than two hours Thursday due to rain and fog. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Jordan Spieth hits from a sand trap on the 10th hole during ... more >

A demanding golf course and charged major atmosphere are typically the impediments to the uninitiated. But Jason Day nearly “pulled a Fuzzy” with a runner-up charge in his debut in 2011. He’s an example of the fearless young golfers who arrive on tour oozing confidence that once was considered something players earned.

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“Usually it takes a few years on tour before a player can win, but that seems to be less and less the case,” said two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange. “These guys come out more ready.”

Patrick Reed, the 23-year-old from Augusta State, won three tour events before ever appearing in his first major and promptly announced that he felt like one of the top five players in the world.

“I’m very confident,” Reed said Monday.

He’s not alone. Jordan Spieth is just 20 years old and already ranked No. 13 in the world. Walker is 35 but bloomed late with three victories already this season. Harris English is just 24 with a pair of wins since last year’s Masters.

In all, 14 of this year’s first-timers are ranked among the top 60 in the world — which has proven to be a threshold for previous Masters champions as No. 69 Angel Cabrera in 2009 was the only winner to ever be ranked higher. Those 14 players have a combined 24 victories on either the PGA or European tours, seven of them with more than one.

“I think kids these days, like I said before, they are coming out confident,” said Day, who at age 26 already has a second and third in the Masters. “They are coming out stronger, faster. Their game is a lot tighter and every year that goes by, they are just coming out tougher to compete and play against.”

There are plenty of theories as to why that may be the case. Day believes that young players today are coached better in all aspects of their game than generations before. Davis Love III thinks the things that used to make Augusta National a feared venue have dissipated as the rest of the golf world tries to emulate the club.

“It used to be you’d go to Augusta and those would be the fastest greens you putted — there and Memorial,” Love said. “Now, every other week is really, really fast. There are a lot of things guys are a little more prepared for.”

Defending champion Adam Scott, who finished tied for ninth in his Masters debut in 2002, thinks the nature of the golf course has changed to invite more styles of players to compete.

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