- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2001

AUGUSTA, Ga. The Masters is absolutely unmatched.
Ask the world's fraternity of touring pros which major they would most like to win, and the vast majority will immediately choose the Masters. Take a poll at a local muni, and an overwhelming percentage of the slaps sampled will dub Augusta National as the course they would most like to play. Take a look at TV ratings over the last three decades, and you will find that no golf tournament, and in fact few events on the sports calendar, comes close to capturing the attention of the masses like the annual April extravaganza.
Quite simply, the Masters stands out as golf's major major. And yesterday, the field assembled for this week's 65th edition of the event helped us choose the top 10 reasons why the Masters is the game's most popular and most prized championship.
1. Bobby Jones Much of the Masters' mystique can be directly traced to Augusta National's founder and its co-creator. Between 1920 and 1930 the Atlanta attorney and lifetime amateur became golf's first true icon, winning 21 times in 45 starts. He concluded his career in 1930 when, at the age of 28, he won all four major championships of his day (U.S. Open, British Open, British Amateur and U.S. Amateur).
Jones was an ultra-charismatic, ultra-talented sports hero at a time when the depression-stricken United States desperately needed an entertainment opiate. When he suddenly retired from competitive play at the conclusion of the greatest year in golf history, the layout he shaped with Dr. Alister Mackenzie, on the grounds of an abandoned nursery, became endowed with the power of his legend.
"His personality is everywhere," said two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw yesterday. "In so many ways, the Masters is the distillation of pure Jones the player, the creator, the gentleman. You can feel him out there in every step and shot."
2. Historical hippo Only St. Andrews can claim to have witnessed a more ponderous bulk of golf history than Augusta National. Consider the fact that the Masters has brought us both the most famous shot in the game's history (Gene Sarazen's final-round double-eagle on No. 15 in the 1935 event) and the most famous tournament in the game's history (Jack Nicklaus' comeback coup at the age of 46 in 1986).
3. Green jacket Can you name a similarly unique prize in the sports world? Can you name a prize that would more perfectly highlight the bipolar nature of the game's roots? The coveted coat, which was first given to the winner in 1949, not only symbolizes the class and prestige of the game, but also its exclusivity and stuffiness.
4. Amen Corner Nos. 11, 12 and 13 at Augusta National make up the most recognizable and most dramatic stretch of holes in golf. The fact that the holes need no further description is a testament to their place in the game's lore.
"When people think of Augusta National, they think of Amen Corner," said 1992 champion Fred Couples, the most notable beneficiary of the usually demonic par-3, 12th. "If people had their way, we'd probably just play those holes over and over and over again."
Why? Because Amen Corner represents the perfect risk-reward microcosm for Augusta National's 6,985-yard, par-72 layout.
5. Shrine in the pines Perhaps no piece of property on the planet is as thoroughly manicured or as obsessively beautified as Augusta National. From the 1,600 azaleas bordering the 13th green to the flawless fairways, triple-cut greens and whitewashed clubhouse, no facility is so fastidiously prepared and maintained.
6. Capistrano effect Because the Masters is the only major played at the same venue every year, golf fans are more familiar with Augusta National than any other high-profile course. Perhaps only one golfer in five could tell you what course is famous for its church pew bunkers, but every player is familiar with Augusta National features like Rae's Creek, Ike's Tree, the Crow's Nest and Magnolia Lane.
"People all over the world feel a certain kinship with this course, because they see it year after year, and for most players it marks the beginning of the golf season," said Ireland's Darren Clarke yesterday. "When I was growing up, I knew more about the layout and the traditions at Augusta than I did about some clubs that were in the next county over."
7. 13 on the stimp Take away its tradition and history, and Augusta National would still stand out because of its outrageously slick, impossibly undulating set of enormous greens. How large are Augusta National's greens? The average green on the course measures 6,150 square feet; a basketball court measures 4,700 feet. How fast are Augusta's greens? Players routinely prepare for the Masters by practice putting on bare cement or linoleum.
8. Flak free In today's sponsor-sullied sports world of FedEx Orange Bowls and AT&T; Pebble Beach Pro-Ams, the Masters is practically immune to the marketing machine. There is no blimp hovering overhead. There are no items bearing logos other than the Masters insignia sold or displayed on the property. The tournament broadcast has just two commercial sponsors, and commercials are limited to an unheard-of four minutes per broadcast hour. The Masters might be stuffy, but it's definitely not for sale.
9. Bargain badges While weeklong Masters' badges are practically impossible to come by, they are still one of the best deals in sports at $125. Only two regular tour events this season represent a cheaper ticket.
10. Living legends Though the Masters has often been criticized for its field, which is routinely the weakest among the four majors, no event offers the chance to watch so many living legends compete. And let's face it, wouldn't you rather watch Nicklaus, Palmer or Player than Billy Mayfair or Bob Tway, a pair of the top-30 players left out of the Masters mix?
"It's a special week for me," said 1970 champion Billy Casper, one of the field's elder statesmen. "But, you know, I think it's a special week for just about everybody who loves golf. There's just something about this place and this tournament."

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