Even without Tiger, Masters can still make Augusta roar

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — In case you haven’t heard, Tiger Woods is not at the Masters Tournament this week.

The last time Woods, who is recovering from back surgery, wasn’t the focal point of the Masters was in 1994. There was no such thing as Twitter back then, but had there been O.J. Simpson, White Bronco, Tonya Harding, Jeff Gillooly and Lorena Bobbitt would have been trending.


PHOTOS: Even without Tiger Woods, Masters still ready to roar roar


Twenty years later, some fans aren’t willing to accept a Masters without a Tiger. The day after Woods announced his withdrawal, 250 customers canceled cars at one Atlanta airport rental company. Weekly tournament badges on the secondary market dropped $1,200 in value. Woods‘ odds of winning the tournament fell from 7-1 to 1,000-1. Some bookmakers are just that scared of him.

Augusta National, however, elected not to cancel the Masters. Seems that having survived the Great Depression and 60 years of tournaments before Woods came along, they figured they could survive without him for one year.

ESPN and CBS Sports still plan to televise the tournament without shearing a single minute from their intended broadcast windows.

So, if you’re not too torn up about Tiger’s absence to tune in, here are five things still worth watching at Augusta National this week:

Adam Scott

The defending Masters champion takes over as the highest-ranked player in the field and could take over Woods‘ No. 1 ranking in the world.

Scott is reluctant to follow protocol and leave his green jacket in his champions locker at the end of the week, and the only way to do that is to win again. The list of repeat Masters winners is short but illustrious: Nicklaus (1965-66), Nick Faldo (1989-90) and Woods (2001-02).

Australians have won three of the past four PGA Tour events, and the only reason it wasn’t a sweep is because Scott blew a three-shot 54-hole lead at Bay Hill.

Rory McIlroy

Europeans practically owned the Masters with 11 wins from 1980-99, but none has won it this century. McIlroy should have in 2011, but he melted down in spectacular fashion on the back nine Sunday. His best finish in five Masters starts is 15th, yet he is installed as the favorite despite his string of hiccups.

Perhaps that is because in all four majors Woods has skipped with injuries, Irishmen have won: Padraig Harrington, 2008 British Open and PGA; McIlroy, 2011 U.S. Open; and Darren Clarke, 2011 British.

First-timers

Not since Horton Smith beat 71 fellow rookies in the inaugural Masters have so many inexperienced players teed it up at Augusta. This 24-man freshman class, however, is arguably the deepest ever.

Fourteen of them are ranked in the top 60, with 20-year-old Jordan Spieth leading the way at No. 13. Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed each won three times since last summer, and former Georgia Bulldogs Harris English and Chris Kirk won twice. Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, 23, nearly won the WGC Match Play with a short game that turned heads, and he won’t have any cactus to deal with at Augusta.

Odds are higher than ever that Fuzzy Zoeller’s rookie win in 1979 won’t be the last.

Phil Mickelson

It’s true, Mickelson has withdrawn twice this season with injuries (back and strained oblique), and he turns 44 this summer. But forget all that when the left-hander pulls into Magnolia Lane.

No other course in the world is more suited to Mickelson’s aggressive style, and he rises to the occasion even more than Tiger with three green jackets in the past 10 years. While many want to see whether Mickelson can complete the career slam at the U.S. Open in Pinehurst in June, he is not looking past Augusta.

Tree damage

A once-in-a-lifetime ice storm in February decimated trees all over Augusta, but its most prominent victim was the Eisenhower Tree. The 125-year-old loblolly pine dominated the left half of the 17th fairway and frustrated the former president so much that he lobbied to have it cut down.

Nature finally finished the tree, and the club hasn’t replaced it. But the scars of removed limbs are in every remaining tree at Augusta National, and the canopy is significantly thinner. How that will affect the echoes of the trademark roars that define the Masters will be seen this week.

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